New York City’s Top Ten Traveler

 

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel Writer

Who is the Top Ten Traveler?

“I’m a 37-year-old guy named Moshe Huberman. Originally from Israel, I’ve lived in New York City for the last four-and-a-half years and have been happily married to my wonderful husband for almost five. He is the best partner I could have ever asked for in everything we do, including traveling. We have a beautiful seven-year-old mixed-Labrador Retriever, and we live a vegan lifestyle together.”

When did you begin traveling?  

“The first time I got on a plane was at the age of ten with my parents. We were on our way to Paris, France. We landed late at night, and everything was closed — even in the airport! The streets were incredibly dark and far too quiet, so my first impression was a bit traumatic. The next morning, when we woke up to our first day in Paris, however, I felt astounded and extremely charmed by everything. I still remember it so vividly. I learned the metro lines by heart after one day and I led all the conversations in English (not my native language). To boot, I even learned a few words in French from the people at the hotel’s front desk. I developed traveler skills at a wonderfully young age.

An image of New York City from a pier, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

After that, I traveled a few more times in Europe and in the US with my family. When I finished my service in the IDF at the age of 21, I packed my bag and flew to Australia, then New Zealand, for three months. That trip was my first big trip as an independent traveler.”

What started your travel bug?

“I guess it was the first trip to Paris with my parents. Ever since I was a young kid I was a big fan of the world’s countries and cultures. I memorized the world’s capitals and flags. Plus, I read all the volumes of the Geographical Encyclopedia. My older siblings’ Atlas was my favorite book. I always felt excited to watch the Olympics’ opening ceremony just for the Parade of Nations. I had, and still have, the world’s map on my bedroom wall.

An image of New York City from the River, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

So, the moment I could leave my country for the first time to start seeing and experiencing the things I had only been reading about, was mind-blowing. From there, I just had to see more.”

Why do you like traveling?

“I always felt fascinated by diversity. I grew up in Israel. It’s a small country, but it has an amazing mixture of cultures. The Jews in Israel came from all over the world, bringing their unique traditions, stories, and foods. Even my family’s roots are from both Syria and Poland, which I always liked to explore with my grandparents — where did they come from? What was their childhood like? Etc. For me, traveling is the ability to take this exploration one step further and get to know the diversity of the entire world. I want to know and see how other people live, what their history is, what language they speak, what religion they practice, and, of course, what food they eat.”

Why are you The Top Ten Traveler?

“After I graduated from university and started my first real job, I realized that I could not travel three to four months out of a year anymore. My trips now must align with the vacation days I receive and with my work responsibilities. It changed my perception:  more short trips in a year, rather than one exceptionally long. Now, when taking shorter trips, your time is limited. You need to know well in advance what you want to see and do. This is where the top ten come in. Ten is a magical number; if there are not ten things to see or do in a place, it’s not worth going. If there are more, I really tried to focus on the top ten things I could not miss.

When I started The Top Ten Traveler, I did it for two main reasons. First, to share my experiences and to re-experience them through writing. Secondly, to give people an easy summary of the main ten things to see and do in each destination. I think listing the top ten things is easier to read, easier to remember, and easier to execute when you travel.”

What is the best trip you have taken in the last five years and why?

“I would say my trip to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Mexico. On one hand, it was the first trip in which I have learned how to relax on the beach for a few hours without becoming bored. On the other hand, we traveled and learned about the interesting history of the Mayan culture in sites like Chichen Itza and the ruins of Tulum. Plus, the Mexican food was amazing. It was the perfect combination of exploration, relaxation, shopping, and partying.”

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel writer, at a Mayan ruin.

If you had one place to recommend to someone who has never traveled before what would it be?

“That is an easy one:  Argentina. It is an amazing country for travelers (but not for living, unfortunately). It is huge and has everything to offer from glaciers to deserts, from mountains to beaches, from awesome cities to a beautiful countryside. The people are some of the nicest and warmest in the world. It is one of the safest countries in South America (though you always need to keep your eyes open when you travel, all over the world) and it is relatively cheap, so you can get more with your foreign currency. Therefore, for a first-time traveler, this is the ideal place.”

Which place do you want to visit the most but haven’t had the chance yet?

“There are so many places in the world that I want to visit, each for its own unique reasons. However, if I need to choose only one, it would be Syria. Although not the country you would think about for traveling, I feel really intrigued to see where my family came from. More than that, I follow other people who traveled in Syria and they always fall in love with this country. The food is said to be one of the best in the world (which I grew up on, so I can definitely relate to that). They also have many historical and archaeological sites, like Palmyra, which dates back to over 3,000 years ago, and the old city of Aleppo, which has now been partially destroyed after the war.”

You live in New York City — Is this by choice or for work?

“My workplace relocated me from Israel to New York City at the end of 2015. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live abroad, so we jumped on it. After all, exploration is at the heart of the Top Ten Traveler. I didn’t know how the move would affect my husband and I as a young couple, but after experiencing the New York City way of life, we liked it and decided to stay. New York City is amazing and it never ceases to surprise me. I still don’t think I know all of its hidden gems.”

An image of a New York City bridge, provided by the Top Ten Travel Writer

What would you recommend to do if someone only had a day to visit New York City?

“Explore the city by foot. The streets and avenues of the city are amazing and different. Fifth Avenue is nothing like Ninth Avenue and is nothing like the streets of Soho, Financial District, or other neighborhoods. So strolling between them, you can catch all the important landmarks of the city while also enjoying the unique charm of each area or neighborhood. I once had a 12-hour layover in the city on my way from Israel to Argentina. To kill some time, I walked from Central Park to Battery Park, just to see the statue of Liberty. It was so much fun, and on the second flight, I slept like a baby. For a lunch or dinner break, I’d recommend trying one of my favorite vegan restaurants in the city, as described in my Top 10 Vegan Restaurants in New York City post.”

What would you recommend a frequent traveler to do in New York City?

“Many people come to New York City to watch a show on Broadway. I have watched a few and I really love the theater, but there are crazier and more special theatrical experiences than Broadway. One that comes to mind is Sleep No More. It’s an interactive show performed in a five-story building designed to look like an old hotel. You can follow the actors and move from one scene to another whenever you want. Two tips: come in your sneakers and walk alone.”

by Moshe Huberman

Visit Moshe’s website, The Top Ten Traveler, to find the top ten best sites to visit on your next travel destination! 

 

Introducing 2020’s Mid-Year Most Popular Travel Articles

We are halfway through 2020! A couple of years ago, we started publishing a mid-year review to see which articles were read the most. This has been an interesting year so far and thanks to you, our Dreams Abroad community, we are proud to release our mid-year review. Here are your favorite articles of the first half of 2020 to remind you which topics were at the top six months ago. 

So far, 2020 has been a year filled with backpacking, travel tales, teaching in Cambodia, and the impact of COVID-19 on our team in different countries. We are pleased to share our most popular travel articles with you.

How I Traveled to Cambodia and Stayed to Teach

In this illuminating interview, Ed Gagnon caught up with Michael Carter, a fellow Canadian he met while Michael was working in the restaurant industry. Ed explains Michael’s affliction for wanderlust coupled with his move to southeast Asia in 2000. Michael has been living, teaching, and traveling abroad for 20 years. 

Traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodi Travel Articles

If you would like to know more about how to stay and teach in Cambodia, this is undoubtedly a great travel article to read. Since this interview, Michael Carter has joined our team. Be sure to check out Michael’s second interview as well as his own articles. 

Why Everyone Should Try Backpacking Southeast Asia

Why Everyone Should Try Backpacking Southeast Asia

Emma Higgins taught in Phuket, Thailand for a year before deciding to backpack around southeast Asia for three months before heading home to the United States. In this article, she gives 10 reasons why you should backpack around southeast Asia. Emma discusses some of the cultural complexities that transform you into an especially strong traveler. In addition, she points out how you’ll learn new languages, the many different foods you’ll encounter, and how to get out of your comfort zone and discover a new one. 

The Multifaceted Effects of Coronavirus in Our Education System

children being creative

Bebe Bakhtiar is a teacher who has been working during the COVID-19 pandemic. She takes a moment to shed some light and share her concerns about the impact of the virus in addition to what its impact will have on our international education system. This article covers the positive and negative effects of the Coronavirus on students and teachers. In this powerful piece, Bebe urges all community leaders to fight harder for our education system and its teachers. 

Arriving in Mexico City

Arriving in Mexico City

Tyler Black read about Leesa Truesdell’s trip to Mexico City and decided he wanted to also visit, too. Upon arrival, he talks about the view from the plane and how large the city is. He arrives in Mexico City and discusses the first day of his itinerary. Tyler certainly enjoys tasting the local food, touring the downtown city center, and seeing the nightlife. He provides recommendations for a taco and churrería in the city — be sure not to miss this article. Anthony Bourdain ate at the same street taco vendor! 

My Tour of Paris by Night

Moulin Rouge in paris

Leesa Truesdell shares her tour of Paris by night. She talks about the rippling effects of her canceled flight through a series of articles. In this last piece of the series, she spends a very special birthday touring Paris, living a dream she had had for years. This article talks about the different places she explored with her tour guide and the different ways to approach Paris at night (if you are a beginner). If you enjoy reading about Leesa’s solo travel adventures, then this one is a must-read. It has been one of her most popular travel articles. 

Mid-Year 2020 Best Travel Articles

Be on the lookout for our annual review coming in December 2020. You (our readers) decide who makes the top five by reading our content. Each time you read or click on a post, we appreciate it. Thank you so much for reading and being part of our community. If there are other things you would like to know from any of our writers, please send us an e-mail or leave a comment. We will share your feedback with them.

by Leesa Truesdell

Getting a Master’s Degree Abroad

 

kenny obiora Getting a Master's DegreeKenny Obiora was born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Africa. He lived the majority of his formative years living with his uncle, aunt, and grandmother in Nigeria while attending school. He returned to the US during his school breaks before moving permanently to the United States for grades 8-12.

When we asked Kenny about his parents’ decision to send him “home,” he answered, “they wanted me to have a good upbringing.” He later explained that this meant that his parents wanted him to be culturally immersed in his day-to-day activities and life. They wanted him to be part of the Igbo tribe and learn the Igbo tribal language. Kenny speaks three languages: English (which is the dominant language in Nigeria), his tribal language, Igbo, and French, which he studied throughout his academic career. 

Kenny is currently living in Paris, France on an APS visa. This visa class means that Kenny will have to work in a field in which he studied. Kenny recently graduated, getting a master’s degree abroad in health economics and is pursuing a career in the field. 

What was it like growing up in Milwaukee, WI? For example, your education system. Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school? 

“I had a mixed childhood. Before I was fourteen, I lived in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. I attended a private boarding school. I returned to the United States officially to complete eighth grade and high school. When I arrived, I attended a public middle school in a suburb of Milwaukee, and then a private high school in Milwaukee. 

The education system in Milwaukee is very broken. Most of the public schools are lacking — whether in quality teachers or in funding. Due to this, students are negatively impacted. My parents enrolled me in a program in Milwaukee called “Open Enrollment” which allowed me to be bussed into another school district. This program was only by application and there were selective spots. I was only able to finish middle school through the program. Afterwards, my parents decided to place me in a private high school.”

Boston CollegeDid you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to the university for your undergraduate studies? 

“No, I went directly to the university. I was fortunate to attend a college-preparatory high school, which pushed us to apply to a wide range of universities. I was most looking forward to the exciting majors and clubs at Boston College.”

Where did you study after high school? How long did it take to get a diploma for your undergraduate studies?

“I attended Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, MA. It’s funny that BC is neither in Boston nor a college! It took me four years to receive my diploma. I received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in French. College changed me in many ways. I learned independence and what it meant to do things for myself. Laundry was no joke!”

Why did you decide on getting a master’s degree abroad at Sciences Po Paris ? 

“I decided to leave the United States and move to France for a few reasons. After I graduated from college, I spent a year working part-time in a lab in the Boston area doing clinical research and working part-time as a Resident Director and Diversity and Inclusion Assistant Director at Emmanuel College. My goal was to apply to medical school during this time. However, after I was accepted officially to Sciences Po Paris, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I hadn’t studied abroad during my college years, and I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad in Health Economics would be a complement to my bachelor’s studies. The price point of a university in France was also very attractive. With all these decisions I decided to pack up and head to France!”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

Getting a Master's Degree Abroad in france“I’ve always considered myself to be a wanderer. I spent many years of my childhood in Nigeria. When I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad as a university student, I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad was a priority. Studies in France are very attractive. For example, schools are much cheaper than they are in the United States and there are many opportunities to do dual programs in other countries.”

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the   location and what changed after having completed the program?

“I was an International Assistant at Boston College, which was a program that paired together international students and BC students to make the transition smoother. I was paired with a few French students. To be honest, they tended to stick with their friends from their country and thus, I thought the French would be exclusive. While this was somewhat true at the beginning, I did learn that the French value friendship a lot. While they can be closed-off at the beginning, once they opened up, they were very kind. 

I also didn’t expect the amount of bureaucracy in France. I was so used to the efficiency of the United States. You applied for something and you could receive that service in a short period. This doesn’t happen in France. Everything takes so much time to happen and is very difficult for foreigners. Getting an apartment, healthcare, a bank account, and visa are all long processes that took weeks to months.”

What did you not expect about living abroad and getting a master’s degree abroad in Paris? 

“I expected that university life would be similar to how it was in the states. You live and learn in the same environment. I was expecting that I would have classes right next to where I lived and wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation. In Paris, the school was just for studying. Clubs and student residences were far and many students lived on their own in the city. In my first year of working on my master’s degree, I lived in a flatshare thirty minutes from school.”

What have you done since you got your graduate degree?

“I am currently looking for a job in my field in Paris. Also, I have been keeping busy giving English lessons to families and companies in the Paris area. I have been applying to pharmaceutical companies in the Paris area in hopes of working in the healthcare field. Since graduation, I’ve been involved in acting classes in Paris. It’s a fun outlet to express myself and meet other expats and students with similar interests in Paris.” 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in Paris?

“I would tell them to go beyond a semester study abroad program. A full bachelor’s or master’s degree would not only be enriching, but it would save them a lot of money and really allow them to immerse themselves in the culture! Getting a master’s degree abroad really changed my life.”

kenny obiora paris france

Starting a Professional Career After Getting a Master’s Degree

Kenny is actively looking for a professional career in Paris in the healthcare field. While looking for this position, he has experienced firsthand how competitive it is in his field. He has also realized how being from a different cultural background has its disadvantages. In this field (Kenny can’t speak for other industries), he has noticed that Parisians tend to work amongst themselves and often exclude outsiders. This isn’t just because of the need for a visa. It’s also a cultural familiarity amongst workers. Parisians tend to prefer working with other Parisians in big pharmaceutical companies in the Paris metropolitan area. Kenny just started interviewing and is teaching private English lessons at his college for extra money. His life is thriving at the moment, and he hopes to break through the cultural barrier during an interview soon. 

by Dreams Abroad

Touring the Eiffel Tower at Night

night tour eiffel towerI had been to Paris one time before my solo birthday trip but had never toured the city to the extent I wanted… I had seen the Champs-Élysée area and some of the tourist traps that surrounded the Louvre and the river Seine. My previous trip didn’t allow me to reach the next layer of traveling beyond the initial tourist exploratory phase.

This solo trip was a trip where I would do what I call ‘a second-layer’ exploration. I could visit some of the neighborhoods that I saw on the initial trip but didn’t get a chance to explore. Plus, I could spend more time in the places that I liked rather than waste time in touristy areas that I didn’t particularly care for. On my initial visit, I was only able to spend a little less than 48 hours in Paris. It was time to peel back another layer of the city on this visit. I wanted to dive deeper into the Parisian culture and history that had me at hello!

A Solo Journey to the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower at night was something I had been waiting to do – a bucket list item! This was probably the only touristy thing I did on this trip with a group but as a solo traveler. I wanted to see Paris at night and from way up high. As I get older, I realize that some things are worth experiencing independently and some are better with friends. You can’t go wrong when traveling – however, this trip was one I wanted to do solo. In part, so that I could experience Paris at night and remember all she had to offer with an open mind. I wanted to later reflect upon this uninterrupted experience.

landmark eiffel tower night photo

When planning my trip to Paris, I came across a couple of Eiffel Tower at night tour options and went with City Wonders tour. I chose this company because I did not see any bad reviews and it seemed like a legitimate price to get to the top of the tower. I am not endorsing this company by any means; I’m sure there were plenty of other options. We were instructed to meet in front of the Architecture Museum at the Palais de Chaillot promptly at 8:30pm. Luckily, the tour was not very crowded at all.

On Top of the World

It was the end of September in Paris, so, naturally, the weather was unpredictable. In my case, it was foggy and misty, but it made for some cool photos. The tour was a pretty basic tour – nothing too special. The cost paid for the entrance up to the tower and the tour guide provided a history of the tower through our earphone audio system. They talked about the history from where we met, at the museum, until we were up on the tower.

It was really chilly while on that upper level that evening, so I don’t remember everything about what was explained by our tour guide. One can only take in so much history when their fingers are going cold! One thing that I do remember is that Parisians really do not like the skyscraper Montparnasse that was built recently(ish). They didn’t like its modern look because it does not blend with the charm of the rest of the city.

paris cityscape

After Touring the Eiffel Tower at Night

After the tour finished, we were directed where to find the nearest exit. Our guide showed us the safest place to find transportation. It was a good tour for tourists who are looking to see what the view looks like at night with a touch of Parisian history included. For a more personalized tour that includes more historical references, I am sure there are private guides available. However, they probably cost more. Overall, the trip to the top was just as I expected. Touring the Eiffel Tower at night is a memory that I will never forget.

Be sure to check out our travel resources section to see what some of our other travelers are saying about Paris.

Tune in next time for the final installment of Leesa’s adventure in Paris, where she tours the city by night.

 

 

A Meaningful Impact of Paris Fashion Week

leesa truesdell paris fashion week travel tales

It felt like the airplane was gliding through the clouds as I looked out the window with anticipation, wondering what this next trip would bring. I couldn’t wait to touch ground and get my feet moving. Since my tour would not start until the next day, where would I go first? What would be the first activity after I stepped off the plane? I did not have anything planned, which was out of the ordinary for me. I used the flight to mull over a general outline of what my day could look like. But nothing in my wildest dreams could prepare me for the unexpected joys of Paris Fashion Week.

Touchdown to Paris Fashion Week

The wheels hit the ground around 10:00 AM and I made it to the hotel around noon. Much to my surprise, I was informed it was Paris Fashion Week 2017, and the city was jammed packed with events! This softened the blow when I was told that my room could not be reimbursed from the night prior because it was booked through Booking.com. I was going to have to call them directly and work out a room reimbursement (note: it was a nightmare trying to get this resolved through Booking.com).

Prior to hearing about Paris Fashion Week, I thought about touring the Louvre and checking out the Seine river scene, but hey, Fashion week sounded like the plan. Plan B: throw out Plan A, the plan I had meticulously crafted on the plane.

travel blog paris abroad

Much to my surprise, my luck got better – my hotel was right in the thick of Paris Fashion Week. I decided it was time to not have a plan at all. I went to my room, unpacked, then went and took a chance. That chance was just what I needed – I found what I was looking for without even knowing that I was looking for it.

Going in a Different Direction

As I started to walk down the streets near the Madeleine, I happened to meander down a street not realizing that I had been distracted by window displays. After looking up from the window display, I realized I was in my own nostalgic world. I felt myself reminiscing way back to the days when my passion for fashion started in the late 1980s. The iconic sequins and heavy shoulder pad days of the ‘80s were in full throttle. I was probably seven when the movie, Mannequin, was released. However, this movie, including the window displays in the movie, had a pretty significant impact in my life. Not to mention, Kim Cattrall was absolutely stunning in her early years!

ralph lauren quote fashion week travel

Back to the window displays: I walked down a side street and happened to glance up. There it was… the grand opening of Kate Spade Paris, happening right in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. I paused and stood there. Then, I took a step, and then another. As the actor says in Mannequin when he finds his Roxy, “it’s a miracle.” He thinks he finds a mannequin that came to life too. And in that moment, I felt the same way! This was such an epic and totally unexpected moment that had perfectly tied my childhood movie fantasies to a real-life window display fantasy. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Kate Spade has been a part of my life for decades. My very first Kate Spade bag was the iconic black nylon make-up bag that never wore down. It lasted my entire undergrad college career. Of course, there were other Kate Spade items that were eventually added to my collection—her wallets have always been my favorite! The opening of the store during Paris Fashion Week was probably one of the best finds on that trip. Touchdown!

The Meaningful Impact of Kate Spade

kate spade paris fashion week travelingLooking back now that Kate Spade has passed, being at the Paris opening of her store during Paris Fashion Week means so much more to me now than it did before. It reminds me to never stop telling those around you how much they mean to you. Spade’s passing was sudden and tragic, and no one will ever know what she had going on in her life. Her tragic passing reminds me even more that one small act of kindness can go very far.

In one of my earlier posts, I stated this quote; I refer to this frequently, as it makes so much sense to me:

’Cause you never think the last time is going to be the last time – you think there will be more. You think you will have forever but you don’t.”

My Kate Spade moment happened on my first afternoon in Paris. After the first day, however, most of my itinerary remained on schedule.

Find out what’s next for Leesa as she continues her adventures in Paris.

eiffel tower travel abroad tips paris france

Touring the Palace of Versailles

Catch up on my last article, Dinner in a Basement and Exploring Montmartre, to stay updated!

We were huddled on the far end of a large underground platform. The train to the Palace of Versailles was late. I paced around in circles, bored out of my mind. There was no wi-fi on the platform, which meant I couldn’t use my phone. You can only talk to a group of people you don’t know for so long before running out of things to say. Nikos bought everyone a small cake from a nearby vending machine to lift our spirits.

Palace Versailles France Kings France travel abroad paris Cassidy Kearney landmark

The Journey to the Palace

The train pulled in, almost an hour late. Almost nobody got off. As we shuffled on, I realized how large this train was. It wasn’t the ordinary subway. There were two floors, with a staircase near the doors. A few of our group members found seats, but the train was too full; there were no more seats. I wound up standing near the staircase along with Dounia and Nikos for the full 30-minute train ride.

I was bouncing my knees trying to keep them from going stiff when we finally pulled into our stop. As we emerged from the train station, I could tell we were a long way from Paris. The clustered apartment buildings and car-lined streets had suddenly vanished, replaced with wide, fenced greenways and grand government-looking buildings. The wide sidewalks were accentuated with young trees, and the street was nearly void of cars. As we rounded a corner, we saw the gates to the palace in the distance.

The Gardens of Versailles

Past the gate, we walked down the long, gravel driveway to the entrance. It was swarmed with visitors waiting in line for tour guides. Nikos told everyone to wait nearby while he went to check in with our pre-scheduled tour. After about 15 minutes, he returned and told us we had about an hour until the tour started. He passed out tickets to the Gardens of Versailles, so we could explore while we waited. I was simply happy to get out of the surging mass of people.

Versailles palace garden Palace Versailles France travel abroad paris Cassidy Kearney

Although I had heard about the Gardens of Versailles before, I’d never really thought about them. I didn’t know any details about it, like how big it was, what was in it, and what made them so beautiful. I was extremely surprised as I walked towards the balcony to look across the largest piece of manicured landscape I’d ever seen. My jaw hung ajar and then slowly curled into a smile. This place was awesome! There was so much to explore, they were renting out golf carts to the tourists. I immediately was disappointed that we only had an hour to see as much of this gorgeous garden as we could. There were several gold-encrusted fountains, a large reflection pond, mazes, pathways, topiary gardens, and probably much more.

Unfortunately, it was still cloudy and rainy. Even though the sun wasn’t out, the gardens were magnificent. I can only imagine what it looks like in the sun, with the gold reflecting off the pools and the shade of the trees stretching across the paths. I feel like I had barely scratched the surface of the gardens when it was time to return to the palace for the tour.

Kings France paris

Crowded is an Understatement

When we met up near the tour’s entrance, we were each given a small listening device. This way, the tour guide could speak into a microphone and all of us could easily hear what she was saying. This was especially important, and I quickly realized why once we got inside.

I’ve never quite felt exactly like a sardine until the tour of the Palace of Versailles. Everyone shuffled inches at a time. Both of my shoulders were touching three or four different strangers while I tried my best to reach my group. There were people everywhere. I felt like I couldn’t quite get a clean breath of air because there were so many bodies in such a small area. The room we were in was lined with beautiful paintings and had a large mural on the ceiling, but I couldn’t really enjoy it because of all the people in that first room.

As we continued the tour, the people began to thin out and I started to relax. There was gold everywhere we looked, it seemed like. Red was everywhere. Red walls, red curtains, red blankets on the bed, a red and gold bedazzled throne. There was a wood floor throughout the entirety of the palace that we toured. The tour guide took us from room to room, explaining what each was and what they had been used for. Then, we went into the Hall of Mirrors.

A Look into the Past

The Hall of Mirrors was, by far, my favorite room in the castle. The ceiling housed another gorgeously done mural, with golden ornamentation along the molding of the ceiling and walls. On one side of the hall, there was a long row of windows that looked out into the gardens. On the other, there were massive mirrors. They were old and slightly translucent. They weren’t the quality of mirror you’d typically see today. There were flaws and spots were age had gotten to it. My face was a little distorted when I looked into it.

Palace of Versailles

I was almost confused about the quality, as I assumed that people would have figured out mirrors by then. This, as I found out, was a very wrong assumption. As we roamed around the hall, the tour guide told us that peasants would come to visit the palace simply to look into the mirrors for the first time in their lives. They’d never seen themselves before! I was looking into the exact same mirrors as someone from centuries before had, where they saw themselves for the first time ever. I thought that was one of the coolest things I’d seen within the palace.

A Stamp in Time While at the Palace of Versailles

What was so bizarre to me about the Palace of Versailles is that there were places that were dripping with wealth: gold encasements, draperies, ceiling murals, extensive artwork, expensive furniture, and more. Then, there were places that seemed like any other old building. What was strange about the palace is that it was divided into public and private faces. The public saw the lavishly decorated side of the palace, while the family lived on the side that was almost plain. The walls were white and undecorated. The rooms were largely empty. It seemed like any other old house, not the Palace of Versailles. Learning about the history of the building and the almost double-life the family lived was fascinating.

After we finished the tour, we explored the area a bit, hoping to catch a bite to eat before heading back to Paris. We wound up in a tiny restaurant off of an alleyway, where our group was ushered to take up the entirety of the upstairs dining area. After a wonderful home-cooked French dinner, we made our way to the train, which was (thank god!) empty. I settled into the chair and napped the rest of the train ride.

Be sure to check out my next installment of our trip up the Eiffel Tower and exploring the Louvre.

Dinner in a Basement and Exploring Montmartre

 

Be sure to check out my last article, where I took an underground train into Paris!

After a bit of time exploring Paris, Dounia and I joined Bill, Ulyana, Sara, and Nikos downstairs. We were heading to the Quartier Latin, or the Latin Quarter, for a traditional French dinner. Another tour group joined us along the way.

We were a sight to be seen: 40 young, noisy, American tourists walked in pairs down the narrow Parisian alleyway sidewalks at dusk. I hadn’t realized that we had gotten there when we finally arrived. It was dark, and we were suddenly being ushered into a building that had small, residential windows and no sign. Judging by all outward appearances, I would have assumed this was just another apartment building. As we passed through the doorway, we were greeted by a line of jocular waitstaff, told to go down the stairs, and were seated one by one.

Dinner in a French Basement

Bill Dounia Basement paris travel abroad

The basement looked like it was straight out of a catacomb. The walls were made of unfinished stone. A long row of booths pushed against the wall sat proudly. The basement was dim and lit by candles and a few spotlights. My group sat at the end of all the tables. Because it was just the six of us, I was finally able to get to know my travel companions a little more. Ulyana (Uly for short) was studying acting at a fancy New York university. Bill was taking a gap year (I believe) and lived on the East Coast. Sara was from a small Michigan town and she spent her summers working at a local bakery. Nikos was Greek, and he his whole career was centered around helping tourists. These month-long trips were always his favorites.

We drank and joked the night away, as our waiters both served and acted as entertainment, coming up with songs and limericks on the fly! After dinner (and a taste test of Bill’s frog legs – not bad), Dounia and I, both tipsy and happy, hiccupped our way back to the hotel room to get some rest for exploring Paris the next day.

Through the Red-Light District

Before dinner the night before, Nikos had suggested we spend the next morning exploring Montmartre before we left for our day trip to the Palace of Versailles. Dounia and I decided to swing by since it was so close to the Versailles day trip meeting point. We went in barely remembering the name of whatever it was we were visiting and were astounded as we stepped off the subway and looked around. Montmartre is a beautiful church that sits atop one of the tallest hills of the city. The morning had started off wet and drizzly, so I donned my new polka-dotted raincoat and gave Dounia a grin as we looked around to discover exactly where we had wound up.  Just as we took our first steps towards exploring Montmartre, my purse broke.

Just Around the Corner

My purse had been breaking the whole trip, but it had finally decided to give out at the entrance. Luckily, in order to get to the church, we had to pass by hundreds of cheap, touristy vendors, restaurants, and shops. I found out later that this was part of the Red-Light District. Originally, I had planned on avoiding the Red-Light District entirely since I had no desire to shop and, to be quite honest, some portions of it seemed kind of sketchy. Besides that, I also felt like I was too young to explore Moulin Rouge, which was also nearby. During the bus tour, all I could think about as we drove past Moulin Rouge was how nervous I’d be if we ever went inside. Now, after traveling a bit more and being a few years older, I think I’d love to go back and explore this side of Paris.

I wanted to get up to the church and start exploring Montmartre as soon as I could, so I rushed through shopping. Perusing wasn’t my goal: I grabbed a Paris-themed knapsack and ducked out of the store. I was excited to get up to the church. As I leaned my head back to look up at the church, the clouds rolled around it. The grass was a rich green and the drizzle made everything just dark enough to look mysterious but inviting.

A Lesson in Stairs

exploring Montmatre travel abroad paris beautiful

I don’t think I’ve ever gone up so many stairs in one go before! We went up what could have been five flights it seemed like, only to arrive three tiers below the entrance. We took a break to look around the small plaza and take some photos. There were more vendors here, however, they were the kind that walked around and tried to sell you things from a blanket they laid on the ground. One went as far as to grab me by the wrist to try and drag me to look at his goods. Dounia helped yank me away, but it was a little scary nonetheless.

exploring visiting Montmartre Paris travel abroad

We continued our journey up, up, up, up, and up again until we finally arrived at the entrance. I was huffing and puffing and regretting not exercising before my trip. There was a small line to get into the church, along with a list of rules for the tourists. Montmartre was still an active church, so the rules were there to ensure that tourists respected the services and the churchgoers. I felt a little weird about snapping shots left and right as the Mass was going on, so I didn’t take any pictures. I looked around at the stained glass and tried to keep as quiet as possible. Every once in a while, I tried to listen to the priest deliver the Mass in French, Latin, and Italian.

A Chocolate Palace

After we had poked around and finished exploring Montmartre, we still had about an hour to kill. As we were making our way back down the stairs, we ran into a trio of girls from our group. We decided to head down and explore the stores below. What followed was basically an entire hour of me bickering with myself on whether to spend my euros on a “big” souvenir item this early in the trip. Ultimately, I decided not to get anything, but it was really cool to explore the area below Montmartre’s steps.

There were Latin Quarter-themed sweaters, hoodies, and scarves. The Eiffel Tower was printed on everything you could imagine: clothes, shoes, accessories, mugs, magnets, keychains, postcards and more. I’m sure the streets would have been flooded with tourists if it had been a sunny morning. Luckily, it was just busy enough to be fun and not overwhelming.

Suddenly, the five of us got a strong whiff of something delicious smelling. After more perusing, we finally found it: a chocolate shop. It was warm both in temperature and in the atmosphere. There was a line of parents and their screaming kids at the counter, in line with handfuls of goodies. The best part of the whole shop, though, laid right in front: a four-foot-tall chocolate replica of Notre Dame. Done entirely with chocolate, the detail was immaculate. Afterward, we soon ended exploring Montmartre to meet the rest of our group at the nearby subway station.

Be sure to tune in next time to read about the Palace and Gardens of Versailles!

fountain Montmartre travel tales abroad paris

by Cassidy Kearney

Traveling to Europe

I’ve recently graduated from college. The rural Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan has been my home since birth. It’s an area known for its vast, dense forests, waterfalls, immense freshwater lakes, beautiful scenery, and mind-blowing snowfalls in winter. While I can’t argue that it isn’t beautiful, it can definitely feel secluded and even boring from time to time. For this reason, any UP native harbors a dream of one day escaping the chilly forest to visit warmer, more populated, or just plain different areas. A few years ago, I began to feel this urge for myself. Europe was calling me.

Where It All Began

One summer morning, as the sun stretched its rays through my window, I woke up in a panic. I wasn’t sure where the panic had come from. An overwhelming feeling that there was something that I needed to be doing washed over me. It was as if I was behind on a deadline or about to miss a bus. Once in a while, I get the feeling that my life is stagnating – like I’m stuck in some sort of rut, and I need something to change. This was that feeling.

I was in between my junior and senior years of college and decided that perhaps it was time that I take a vacation for myself. Even if it was just an eight-hour car ride through endless, dull farmland in Wisconsin to visit my grandparents, I’ve always loved to travel. I needed the chance to breathe air that was just a little bit different from home; to eat food and see animals or scenery that was different has always been exciting to me.

So, as any good millennial would, I took to the Internet to find myself a travel destination. From the time I was young, I had always told myself that one day I would stand in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and even Big Ben. I eventually came across a travel company called Education First which seemed reputable. They offered an educational tour through Europe where you could learn the history, tour the cities, and taste the foods of different cultures. Of course, this sounded extremely appealing to me. With the possibility of a payment plan, I was immediately sold. Within 45 minutes of waking up, I had scheduled myself a month-long tour through nine countries in Europe, and I was going to be doing it completely alone.

The Build Up

I spent the next 11 months before my trip bouncing back and forth from excited to terrified back to excited again. I had never taken a vacation by myself. Although I had only left the country once before, and I really had no idea what to expect. The night before I was supposed to leave, I remember trying to talk myself out of going. I told myself that it was okay if I decided I didn’t want to go. The decision had been spur of the moment and that sometimes things seem right at the beginning but sometimes weren’t right in the end. I kept telling myself that it would be okay to change my mind. But the next morning, I woke up, drove to the airport, and boarded my flight, palms sweating the entire way.

That spur-of-the-moment decision ended up being what I consider to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Aside from the amount of understanding you can gain for others and for the world around you through travel, you can also gain an incredible amount of understanding within yourself.

Freedom is Everything

The great thing about traveling alone, even in a group tour like the one I went on, is that it gives you a greater amount of freedom than traveling with a partner or a group of friends. You have the opportunity to do everything you want to for every minute of your trip every day. The opportunity to spend 32 days absolutely free to learn about, understand, and be immersed in different cultures gave me a better perspective of the world.

I learned that even all the way across the ocean, where people speak different languages, eat different foods, and have different customs, there were still so many similarities to home. It was incredibly eye-opening to learn that even though we seemed so different, we were actually very similar. For me, taking the time to travel made me a much more understanding person. I think that to become more understanding and empathetic, travel can be beneficial for everyone.

Travel is Power

Along with the greater understanding of other cultures, I also gained a boost in self-confidence. To be able to successfully navigate a foreign country and interact with the locals in a way that you know is respectful is something that’s extremely empowering. Knowing that you are capable of achieving your goals in a foreign environment (even if that goal is just finding a restaurant) gives you a feeling of independence and a boost in your self-confidence.

Personally, I think that travel can benefit everyone. Along with providing educational opportunities to learn about culture, religion, geography, or politics, travel can also provide opportunities for self-growth. You can gain a greater understanding of other people and what their everyday lives look like. Though stepping outside of your comfort zone is definitely nerve-wracking, it can provide irreplaceable benefits alongside incredible memories.

by Sara Sands