It's been a bit since I last posted, but that was mostly because nothing was happening. I have been working to get back a small portion of the money lost on my last airplane ticket and planning how to return to Europe.
I decided to simply skip the portion in which I would visit the UK at the beginning of my trip, thus I will start in Paris. Upon seeing my plans on social media a friend that I have not seen in three years contacted me. She offered for me to stay with her family in Paris while I was traveling. I honestly could not believe this act of friendship of hospitality, but I will be staying with her family for my first week abroad. After that I will continue on as originally planned, to the South of France, then Italy and Austria. On my way home from Austria I will stop in London for a couple of days, my return plane ticket in hand as I approach the immigration desk.
Speaking of immigration and my previous escapade, I contacted the French consulate in Washington to learn if I needed a visa and how to apply for one, since their website was horribly vague. Upon calling, I was told to refer to the website, which incidentally was already open on my computer as I had looked for a way to contact the consulate. So I thought I would try to email them, asking if what I planned to do was considering working. This is the response I received:
I sent the same email to the US embassy in Paris, who responded (in a much pleasanter fashion) that they did not believe so, but that I should contact the French consulate for a final say in the matter. So I will be traveling without a visa, yet much more prepared to face immigration and customs.
Setting out again was hard. In some ways I now knew what to expect, how to pack more efficiently, and how to get through security quicker. But it was probably scarier than the first time. Now I knew just how bad it could be. What if I was turned away again? What if I lost my luggage or it was stolen? What if I missed my flight?
I tried to breathe and relax, I really did. It was an accomplishment that I only felt like throwing up once or twice. What got me through was my recent reading of Siddhartha. I didn't meditate or fast--I simply thought about the Great Om. Yes, the humming sound made during meditation. Siddhartha explains this as the hum of the universe: all the people living and dying, all of nature, all the workings of the world. It is a reminder that life goes on. And so I would just think of how I wanted to witness that buzz of life and people and culture.
While it didn't resolve my fears and anxieties completely I felt a little calmer and less nauseous.
I did things a bit differently this time. I decided to take a direct flights everywhere. Thus I was comfortable checking a piece of baggage. Last time I was quite proud of how economically I had packed, yet after my short prelude of a gap year I realized that my packing before wouldn't allow me to buy anything new. I have no clue how I would have carried the winter coat that I will be buying in France or gifts for my friends and family.
This go-around I did not struggle to shove my bookbag under the seat in front of me nor did I nearly fall over from walking to my gate. However the flight was less pleasant. I had booked a flight earlier in the evening than before, meaning that the time difference felt much more prominent. A nagging leg cramp kept me from sleeping too much, as if sleeping in economy seats isn't uncomfortable enough. So before we landed, what my body thought was 2:30 am, I downed a cup of coffee knowing that this was my only hope at navigating the metro. I find that often the hardest part of traveling is understanding the public transportation. Then I got off the plane and made my way through the airport with my passport grasped between sweaty palms.
Upon arriving at the immigration desk I faced the man behind the glass. I had proof of funds, plane reservations, insurance documents, and more stuck in my purse to defend myself.
" 'Allo," I handed him the passport, 'tourism' at the tip of my tongue.
"Merci," he stamped it and gave it back with barely a glance at my ID photo.
I thought I might fall over laughing. It was actually that easy. I didn't even have to fill out a form on the plane. I triumphantly made my way out of the airport and to the RER or metro stop. After thirty minutes consulting multiple maps and quite a long time in which I stumbled from one train to another (I actually got on all the correct trains, in all the right directions), I got off and walked to where I was staying.
The family I am staying with took me on a quick driving tour to orient myself in Paris and get out and see the Eiffel Tower. Then I helped run errands and shop for dinner ingredients--witnessing the boulangerie in its crusted, flaky glory and the bins of fresh fruits and veggies at a stand. I was then treated to a delicious meal including gazpacho, cheese, salad, veggie pasta, melon, fig, and more. It was truly a french meal with many slow courses.
I can honestly say that although I am peeling at my eyelids to stay awake and post this, that it has been an amazing day in Paris.
Originally I took a 21″ eBags suitcase from Amazon and a bookbag that was only slightly smaller, with my purse shoved in the backpack. This time I took the suitcase as my carry-on and checked an unstructured overnight bag of about the same size.
I recommend taking a large handbag in order to hold everything you might possibly need. Also, it attracts less pickpockets than a camera bag if you are traveling with a DSLR.
My purse holds: my Nikon D5100 and a second lens, my wallet (but I spread my cash between different places), a small fold-up umbrella, a glasses case, sleepmask and earplugs, a puzzle book for the plane, facial oil blotters, iPad, phone, a snack (I like a protein bar or a packet of organic almond butter), sunglasses, earphones, and hairbands.
My checked shoulder bag holds my makeup, sketchbook, international adaptor, any books, an emergency box of mac & cheese, makeup remover/exfoliating facial wipes. Also I put my black sturdy boots, flip flops, and old sneakers for getting muddy in this bag. In the bottom of the bag I had two vacuum-sealed bags with my sweaters and jacket.
My suitcase was only clothes, since it was so small. I saved space with Roll Bands for most of my clothes. I brought good sneakers and short heeled boots (which I wore on the plane). I bought a microfiber towel called a Bear Skin that is lightweight, but can be used for the beach or bath. Plus I put my liquids and contacts on an outer pocket so I could easily extract the for customs.