On Going Solo

Here’s a little piece I wrote for my Psychology of Creativity class. Hope you enjoy!

I wake to the sound of feet stomping and zippers zipping. My body aches from the cramped, single bed; the lack of sleep; the endless travel. Rolling over, I spot Judy shuffling about. It’s not even 6 a.m. and already she’s prepping for the day ahead. Travel guides: check. Sensible shoes: check. She’s only in Florence for two days, she says. She doesn’t want to miss out.

Judy – a divorcee from Stratford, Connecticut – is the first English-speaking traveler I’ve met since arriving in Italy. At 53, she’s a far cry from the hostel-hopping backpackers I’ve been rooming with these past few weeks, but she’s warm and friendly and likes music and doesn’t snore, so we get along just fine. Today, though, Judy has a plan and she’s sticking with it. She’s gone before I can haul myself out of bed, and once again I’m alone at Ciao Hostel.

It’s been three weeks since I landed in Europe, and the instability of travel is beginning to wear on me.  At first, everything was an adventure: riding the trains, seeing the sights, meeting new people. Now I miss the familiarity of home. I miss knowing where to find a good cup of coffee. I miss having someone to talk to. I miss my queen-size bed. 

Wasn’t this supposed to be fun?

I try recounting the trip in my head to remind myself why I set off in the first place, and why it was so important that I go it alone. In the past few weeks I’ve spent time in eight different countries. I’ve ridden trains through the French and Swiss Alps. I’ve gotten horribly lost while navigating the wilds of Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. I’ve visited Cesky Krumlov, a medieval town in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. I’ve twice had to explain to Slovenian border control why I’m traveling alone across Europe and why, exactly, I’ve collected so many passport stamps along the way. I’ve drunk too much wine in France, traced Mozart’s history through Austria, and fallen in love with Croatia. 

It’s not until later in the day, when an email from home arrives in my inbox, that I realize what’s been missing. Memories are a powerful thing, and the days I’ve spent backpacking around Europe will no doubt remain some of my fondest memories for years to come. But shared memories are something else entirely, and if there’s one thing that’s been true of this entire trip, it’s that most of my key moments have been experienced alone. New sights and cities seem less significant when there’s no one to share them with; my loved ones will know my experiences only through the photos I take and the stories I tell.

With this in mind, I decide to get up and pull myself together. Camera and notebook in tow, I set out to explore the city, just as I’d intended to do when I first woke. The Uffizi, The Duomo, The Boboli Gardens — I would see and record them all.

Exiting the hostel, I’m reminded of Judy’s parting words to me: I’m only in Florence for a few days, I think. I don’t want to miss out.

France part two: Lyon

I arrived in Lyon pretty late at night, which meant my original plan of traveling by subway to my hostel was out of the question. (Navigating foreign public transit, I’ve discovered, is stressful at the best of times. When it’s dark, and you’re tired, it’s an absolute no-no.) And so I caved and ordered my first cab ride of the trip.

Now, I took French immersion in elementary school, and I like to believe I’ve retained at least a small fraction of what I learned. But throw in the slightest hint of nerves and I become an incoherent, stammering mess. After trying and failing to translate the address to my driver, I eventually admitted defeat, pointed to my reservation, and whispered, “Just take me here, please.” Ten minutes and 13 euros later, we had arrived. My heart sank when the driver gestured toward a dark alleyway and shouted, “There you go!” But I quickly realized my hostel was actually above this creepy cavern, and it turned out to be quite quaint.

Even though it was after midnight when I finally checked into the charmingly named “Cool and Bed Backpacker Hotel,” I was greeted with a warm welcome and a friendly smile from Julia, the receptionist. After such a busy day, however, I was anxious to get some rest. So after a quick tour and a couple of emails I opted to tuck in for the night.

**

Because I was only staying in Lyon for one day, I arose early the next morning to explore the city. But first: another complimentary hostel breakfast. This one was mediocre, consisting of yogurt, cereal, and my least favourite French food to date: warm, boxed milk. (Just the thought of this stuff still gives me shivers.) But there was plenty of tea and coffee to go around, and tons of friendly backpackers eager to socialize.

After some knock-off Corn Flakes, an ice cold shower, and a bit of packing, I was ready to wander.

Here are a few shots of the incredible Lyon:

After a morning of exploring, I headed to a local market to pick up some fresh fruit for my next train ride. (A trick I’ve learned in these first few days of travel: When there is cheap, healthy food: buy it. When there is a clean, free washroom: use it.)

I then made my way back to the train station — this time by public transit. And guess what? I made it in one piece. Think I’m finally getting the hang of this traveling business.

France Part One: Lille to Lyon

I was going to write a big post about my awful visit to Lille (my journal has a particularly long and scathing review) but I’ve decided instead to keep things brief. Basically, the city is beautiful, the people are friendly, and my hostel was lovely. There’s just nothing going on in this city for tourists — unless your ideal vacation consists of shopping and expensive nights out.

I spent most of my time resting at the hostel (jet lag was starting to hit me in a big way) and just wandering around the city centre. I went into a couple nice churches and some pleasant cafes and bakeries, but besides that I had a really hard time amusing myself. It was an alright starting-off point, I suppose, because it gave me time to catch up on sleep and recharge a bit. I don’t think I’ll be rushing back anytime soon though.

Lyon, on the other hand, was incredible — though getting there was a bit of a challenge. I headed to the train station in Lille on February 17 with the intention of making a quick trip to Brussels, then zipping straight down to Lyon. But of course I missed my train and was forced to wait around for a later one. By the time I finally arrived in Brussels, I was told there were no more direct trips to Lyon that day. Instead I was given a seat on the next train to Paris – Gard Nord. From there I was to catch the underground to Gare de Lyon, and then continue on to the town of Sens, which would eventually lead me to Lyon.

Are you still with me?

At this point in my journey it was getting dark outside; I was exhausted from hours of traveling; and I was struggling to understand any of the announcements. I don’t know what I would have done without the kind train attendant who, upon recognizing the look of sheer panic and bewilderment on my face, came to my rescue. He made sure I got to Sens in one piece, and then pointed me in the direction of my connection. From there it was a quick and easy trip to my final destination of the day: Lyon.

London

16 Feb 2013

Well, it’s been three days since I arrived in Europe. After a quick visit to Halifax to see my boyfriend, I took an overnight flight from Toronto that saw me arriving in London at about 6 am on Valentines Day.

I had a minor panic attack when I arrived at Heathrow (something along the lines of: “WHAT WAS I THINKING? I can’t do this alone!” followed by: “Oh, crap, I don’t know how to use the subway.”) But I eventually made my way to Leytonstone, the London neighbourhood I’d be staying in for the night.

I was met at the station by Ken, one of my dad’s oldest friends who now works as an actor in London’s west end. We made our way to his place, and after some tea and conversation I had a much-needed nap. But I couldn’t stay sleeping for long. I only had one day to spend in London, and we wanted to make the most of it. Ken and I decided to take the tube into town for lunch. After spending some time wandering along the Thames and visiting Trafalgar Square, we made our way to Seven Dials, an area of London I had yet to explore but fell for quickly.

Ken was taking part in an acting class that afternoon, so I had the chance to set off on my own for a while. Even though I’ve visited London twice before, I’ve never gone alone, so it was a new and exciting experience. I mostly spent my time discovering quirky cafes and boutiques… And getting lost, once or twice.

Afterward, I joined some of Ken’s classmates at The Two Brewers, a local hangout with a quintessential English pub vibe. We shared a quick drink before making our way to the theatre district — an area Ken, of course, knows quite a bit about. He introduced me to some of the city’s most prominent stages, whilst sharing stories about his experiences in the field. We ended the evening out with a double-decker bus ride before catching the tube back home. Ken’s wife, Jacqueline, was waiting for us with freshly made Shepherd’s Pie for dinner, a perfect end to my first day in the UK.

We all opted for an early night, because the following morning I was off to…France!

Psst! Visit my Flickr page for more photos of London.

And so it begins

Oh, hey.

Remember that time I went backpacking around Europe and told everyone back home I’d be blogging every day? Well, that didn’t really happen. I did go traveling (and it was wonderful and amazing and life-changing and every other cheesy adjective you could possibly think of to describe the incomparable experience that is solo travel). I just never got around to writing about it. Until now, that is.

I’ve been mulling over my notes and journal entries for months, working tirelessly to perfect each entry. But then I realized: I could spend years — decades, even! — trying to write the perfect story of my trip. For now, I just want to reminisce, and share my adventures with all of you.

So here goes nothin’.

Please excuse my absence

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself on this trip, it’s that I am quite possibly the world’s worst travel blogger. I had big plans when I headed off to Europe a little over three weeks ago. I wanted to document everything: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the culture. But that hasn’t been happening — at least not publicly. I’ve been keeping a journal (which, tragically, I haven’t updated since Vienna), but in terms of posting to my blog, I’ve pretty much dropped the ball.

Here’s the thing about travel writing, though: It’s really freakin’ hard. Since arriving in the UK on Valentine’s Day I’ve spent time in 10 major cities, in seven different countries; I’ve met incredible people from all over the world, and sampled more delicious foods than I’d like to admit. It’s a total cliché, but I’ve genuinely had the time of my life. (Cue the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, please and thanks.) Is it possible to sum up these experiences in a single post? Or two? Or three? For me, thus far, the answer has been no.

But I’d like to change that. And so, I will be spending the afternoon editing and uploading journal entries, as well as adding a few fresh posts about Austria, Croatia, and Hungary. I do hope you’ll take the time to read them.

Cheers for now,

Erica

Update!

Well, in the last week I have been to the United Kingdom, France, Belgium (briefly), Switzerland, and now Austria. It has been a whirlwind couple of days, but I have been loving every minute of it. (You may notice my writing sounds quite stiff. That is because I have yet to figure out the apostrophe function — among other things — on this Austrian keyboard. Contractions will return once I get this solved.)

Anyway, I have also been faced with dodgy, often costly internet these past few days, and my blog has suffered as a result. But do not despair, for I have been writing in my journal most nights and will be posting a proper update as soon as time and wi-fi allow.

For now, here are a few photos of my first day in London:

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square.

IMG_0088

I spy.

Vespas near Covent Garden

Vespas near Covent Garden.

Decisions, Decisions

Hey, folks.

Just wanted to update everyone on my ever-changing travel plans. I’ve been thinking a lot about my Eurail trip lately, trying to figure out how to make the most of my time and see all that I want to see. It’s been tough, but I think I’m finally getting close.

Herewith, my (incredibly rough) starter list:

  • France: Lille, Paris, Lyon, French Riviera, Bordeaux
  • Spain: Barcelona, Salamanca, Valencia, Pamplona, Bilbao, Seville, Majorca
  • Portugal: Lisbon, Porto, Algarve, Geres, Coimbra
  • Italy: Cinque Terre, Florence, Venice
  • Croatia: Hvar, Dubrovnik, Split, Zagreb
  • Austria: Vienna, Salzburg, Graz, Innsbruck, Kitzbühel, Linz
  • Czech Republic: Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Holašovice
  • Germany: Munich, Berlin, Nuremberg, Dresden, Cologne

Finally, I’ll make my way to Dublin (most likely by Ryanair) to spend St. Patrick’s Day with an old pal.

Any comments or recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Don’t by shy!  

Solo Travel: Six Reasons to Wander Alone

I came across this great little piece by Michaela Lola on Matador Network this morning.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

***

Buckling my seatbelt on the flight from New York to London, it finally struck me that I was going on this trip to Europe alone.

Call it a delayed reaction, but after months and months of planning my trip, the fear and trepidation of traipsing across a continent all by myself occurred only at the last minute.

Although this solo European adventure was not my first excursion outside my home country, it was the first time I would be traveling alone.

Why did I decide to go solo? During my previous travels, there was always a part of me that longed to separate from the group. I wanted to take in every sight, sound and smell like a greedy child. With a travel buddy, the journey felt too safe. I felt as if I had cheated and taken the sterile route.

The goal for this trip was to escape the four corners of my cubicle, the frightening comfortability of a daily routine, and my approaching quarter-life crisis. I thought of the comments and protests made by my family and friends, who told me that my plans were impossible and unsafe, and that I was “only a girl.”

Determined to prove them wrong, I reminded myself why I decided to travel solo.

Read more at http://matadornetwork.com/bnt/6-reasons-to-travel-solo/#71fPLiEb3SOMdWwK.99