What to do and what not to do in Montmartre, Paris

Montmarte is a large hill in the north of Paris. Montmarte is also one of the most famous neighborhoods in the city. And perhaps the most touristic and crowded one as well. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of tourists, illegal street vendors, artists who want to draw your portrait “for free”, street musicians, pickpockets, selfie-takers and annoyed Parisians asking you to move out of their way.

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Souvenir shops are lined up, one after another, selling plastic Eiffel Tower’s (made in China) and poor quality graphic tees – and all those handbags you think are oh, so Parisian, but Parisians wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. Don’t even get me started on the berets…

Large groups of tourists line up to buy crêpes from fast food joints and street vendors, while others go to the nearest brasserie with “service continu” written in capital letters, to reassure you they don’t follow the typical French dining hours. Generally, these restaurants have an overwhelming list of dishes to choose from on their menu, and none of these dishes will be made from scratch. Tourists visit these establishments because they wanna dine like locals. Most likely, they will ask the waiter for suggestions.

Let me guess…

Escargots or soupe à l’oignon for starters, magret de canard or perhaps some moules-frites (which is Belgian, by the way) as a main, and a nice little crème brûlée or a mouelleux au chocolat for dessert? Accompanied by a glass of wine?

How obvious.

Well, as delicious as all those dishes are – because they are – you can do better than going to an overpriced touristic brasserie eating something that might not even be freshly made. More on that later…

So, while you’re eating your half decent Nutella-filled crêpe or your overpriced onion soup, you may find yourself wondering why you’re still pretty much only surrounded by other tourists. Where are the locals? And where are the local shops? Is there really nothing in Montmartre but so-called “tourist traps”?

Of course there is!

Montmarte has so much to offer for everyone, whether it’s tourists looking for an authentic experience, expatriates looking for something familiar or locals looking for something they know, as well as something they don’t know at all. Montmartre has always been a neighborhood for artists and all kinds of creative people, and today it’s also a melting pot of different cultures.

But, you can’t go there and not visit the main tourist attraction, can you?

Sacré-Coeur – or, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris – is one of the most famous sights in Paris. In my opinion, it’s also one of the most beautiful. I made the mistake of missing out on the Sacre Coeur the first time I went to Paris. Good thing I came back – and stayed!

This Roman Catholic church may look like it’s been around for a very long time, but the construction was actually only finished in 1914!

While you’re there, admiring the Basilica, please watch your belongings. Pickpockets love tourists, and they go where tourists go. Even if that means climbing up the stairs all the way to the top, just to grab your phone, your wallet or whatever else you may have that’s valuable.

Also, beware of the bracelet scam!

There are people who make a living trying to sell tourists “free” friendship or relationship bracelets. Nothing is free in Paris. Tell them “non, merci” and walk away. Don’t stop, or they’ll put the bracelet on you, and finish making it right there on your arm. Sometimes these people can be quite aggressive and threatening as well. You don’t want that!

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Salon de thé, Bubble tea or Coffee Shops?

Like I said, Montmartre is a melting pot of different cultures, which also affects the food culture in the city. When I first moved to France from Norway, I missed my coffee-culture more than anything. I hated (and still hate) french espresso and got tricked when ordering café noisette (hazelnut), as I thought it’d be a latte with hazelnut syrup. Turns out it’s just a basic espresso with a tiny bit of milk in it. Yup. Really. What does hazelnut have to do with any of this? I’m as confused as you are.

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But the past two years there’s been quite a coffee revolution going on in France – especially in Paris. At first, Starbuck’s started popping up everywhere. Then expatriates, primarily from Anglophone countries, who’ve settled down in France for whatever reason, have taken their coffee-passion and hipster culture to the next level, and thanks to them, Paris now has lots of cool coffee shops to go to, with or without a laptop, camera, book or someone to drink coffee with. As Montmartre is one of the preferred neighborhoods for expats to live in, it’s no surprise that a lot of the coffee shops are located here.

I recommend: Lomi, Cuillier and KB Cafeshop (photo above: iced coffee and iced tea from KB Cafeshop)

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And then there’s bubble tea. Not quite as trendy as coffee these days, but I sure like it and I’m glad this Taiwanese invention has made its way to Paris!

I recommend: Ô bubble

For a more local experience, visit a salon de thé. Although tea, and tea houses are not at all a french invention, the atmosphere in a Parisian salon de thé is a lot more french than in a coffee shop. Also, a lot of those places offer varied brunch/lunch menus and wine, so it’s not only about the tea and pastries.

I recommend: Pipalottes Gourmandes and La Bossue

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Montmartre will always be home to artists and creatives

The definition naive art is used to describe any form of visual art that is created by someone who doesn’t have the formal education and training that a professional artist would have. In Montmartre, there’s a museum and changing art exhibitions dedicated to self taught artists and naive art (Halle Saint Pierre). This former indoor market also houses a book store.

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If you’re passionate about designing your own clothing, you’ll find any fabric/material of any color and pattern – and all the supplies needed – at one of the many fabric stores in Montmartre. Best part is, it’s not even that expensive!

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Now, let’s talk about restaurants, shall we?

As mentioned earlier, there are many bad restaurants in Paris. Especially close to all the tourist attractions. My best advice is to stay as far away as possible from any restaurant with an enormous menu. So they offer seafood, steaks, ten different salads, five different pasta dishes, ten different pizzas, five kinds of burgers, multiple soups, multiple sandwiches, curry, tartar, snails, duck, ten different desserts? Turn around and leave. Nobody can be good at everything, and those guys are generally good at nothing but reheating stuff from the freezer.

Other red flags? Restaurants that are open from morning/noon until late night, without any break between lunch and dinner service are often touristic restaurants, as the french never eat dinner before 7 pm. Another thing, plastic menus with pictures of the food they offer is tacky as hell, for a Parisian restaurant. Don’t expect anything decent to come out of that (although, there could be exceptions).

Small restaurants, especially bistrots, with small menus are generally quite good – based on my own personal experience.

I recommend: Le Grand 8 , Le Lamarck and Crêperie Brocéliande

How about a cinema date – in French?

As you may know, I have previously collaborated with Lost in Frenchlation, who create subtitles for french films and arrange screenings every Friday in Montmartre for non-french speakers. If you happen to be in the area on a Friday night and want to see a subtitled french movie at an old traditional movie theater, here’s your chance!

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Any other tips?

Well, pick up a fresh croissant in the morning from Le Grenier à Pain, visit the Place du Tertre – the artist’s square, wander around, take photos, enjoy your stay – and grab a glass of wine at the wine bar Caves des Abbesses.

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If you’re wondering why I haven’t written anything about cabarets, such as the famous Moulin Rouge, it’s because I will soon write a completely separate guide to the cabarets, bars and sex shops in Pigalle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beer bars and balcony breakfast in Haarlem (the Netherlands)

Just so you know, this post is about Haarlem in the Netherlands, not Harlem in New York (formerly known as New Amsterdam). Harlem (NY) is however, named after Haarlem in the Netherlands. But apart from it all being Dutch at some point in history, those two Ha(a)rlem’s have very little in common.

So, where’s Haarlem?

The city has almost 156 000 inhabitants and is the capital of Noord-Holland (Holland is not the name of the country, but two provinces) – and you’ll easily get there from Amsterdam, as it’s only  a 15 minute train ride away.

What does beer have to do with Haarlem?

Haarlem has a long history of beer brewing – a very important industry in the city. Until the 16th century, the water used for beer, was taken from the canals in the city. But, as the canals got more an more polluted, the water could no longer be used. From the 17th century, water was transported to the breweries from Brouwerskolkje (I bet you a pint you’re not gonna remember that name). The canal that leads to there, still exists and is now called the Brewers’ Canal (Brouwersvaart).

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What did I get up to in Haarlem (besides drinking beer)?

While my significant other and I were road tripping through the Netherlands, Haarlem just happened to be our destination of choice. Conveniently located near Amsterdam, which is where I celebrated my 30th birthday, the day before visiting Haarlem – and close to Alkmaar and the famous cheese market (went there, did that). And it’s also close to Zaanse Schans, a charming little windmill village.

We went to all of these places – and many more. We followed a busy “to-do” list most of the time while visiting the Netherlands, and frankly, scheduling in two days of downtime in Haarlem was probably the best idea we had, while creating our itinerary. We needed that. And we needed those two nights of self-pampering at Haarlem Hotel Suites.

The suite had the comfiest beds ever, and our balcony was spacious enough for the two of us to hang out in the sun, drink beer, eat chips and dip and just take a breather – and get fat and drunk while doing so.

Waking up to the staff serving us a large, varied and tasty breakfast in the room, just made the experience even better. I felt like a queen. Privileged, spoiled and pretty effin’ fabulous, I dined on the balcony, wearing nothing but an oversized bathrobe and slippers. The sun was shining, the church bells were ringing and my boyfriend was just as happy as I was. If I could do this every day, I would. Hands down.

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When we weren’t busy stacking up on calories while relaxing on the balcony or while cocooning on the couch in front of the TV, we visited downtown Haarlem and its many beer bars. Our absolute favorite was the Jopenkerk – a former church converted into a bar, restaurant and brewery. The beer menu was so overwhelming I had to ask the waiter for suggestions. The first beer I tried was slightly too bitter for my liking, but the second one was a very pleasant surprise. When the waiter introduced it to me as a sour (open fermentation) beer brewed with algae, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It sounded strange, but I trusted his opinion and gave it a try. And to my surprise, it was oh so delicious, and I just couldn’t resist ordering a second one. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with old sour dark beers!

We also discovered a nice – and very instagrammable – little cafe called Native, while strolling along the streets and doing a bit of shopping. As a self proclaimed coffee addict, I am sure I would have ordered a latte or a cappuccino, if it hadn’t been so warm outside. Besides, most of the other guests at the cafe were sipping on lemonade, so I ended up ordering the same thing. An ice cold glass of elderberry lemonade. Tasty and refreshing!

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Haarlem is more than just beer and lemonade (or coffee), but checking out the bar scene is definitely a must-do while in town. If you’ve already been to Jopenkerk or you’re looking for yet another beer bar suggestion, I’ll advice you to check out Uiltje Bar, Brewery and Taproom . They offer free tours in the brewery every weekend, host events and serve great craft beer and finger food.

And the city, what does the city of Haarlem look like?

It looks like a typical Dutch city. Charming Flemish architecture, nice little canals, quaint town square (Grote Markt) , beautiful churches, busy restaurants and lots and lots of bicycles everywhere.

It was the perfect place to be for two people in need to calm down and throw that itinerary out the window, tune out and just take some time to really appreciate high quality beer and blend in with locals.

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Missed it this year? Make your trip to Spain unforgettable by attending the Flower Festival in Girona next year!

Planning next year’s spring vacation is probably at the bottom of your priority list right now, as I am sure you’re currently busy vacationing with your family or friends (or solo), sipping cocktails by an overcrowded pool or hiking somewhere “off the beaten track” far away from everyone and everything. Hotel swimming pools, fruity cocktails, beach parties, or tranquility and soul searching is kinda what summer is all about. You might even be vacationing in Spain – as this country is quite popular among tourists and travelers alike (in case you’re one of those people who don’t like to label yourself as tourist).

Perhaps you’re currently vacationing in the city of Girona?

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In that case, I’m sure you’re having a great time visiting this charming Catalan city and I hope you’ll be back in May – when the city is even more gorgeous, more colorful, more vibrant than ever.

Yes, dear ladies and gentlemen, every year in mid-may, Girona is transformed into a magical flower haven!

I’m talking rainbow magic. Unicorn magic. Every bridge, every monument, every building, every street – everything is decorated with beautiful flowers, arts and crafts and colorful fabrics, to celebrate the wonderful season of spring.

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What is the story behind the festival?

It all started out as a small exhibition contest at the Municipal Theater Hall of Rest in 1954. The event received great feedback and plenty of interest from people who visited the exhibition that year and the success was repeated the following year. With growing involvement of citizens, the event grew bigger and better, year after year. In 1979 it was (for the first time) organised on behalf of the l’Associació dels Amics de les Flors i dels Jardins (Association of Friends of Flowers and Gardens), and in 1983, the l’Associació d’Amics de la Girona Antiga (Association of Friends of the Old Girona) was also involved. This allowed the opening of many more patios and private gardens that remained closed to the public during the rest of the year. Since 1992 the City Council has also been involved in the organisation of Temps de Flors. What once was a small exhibition has over the years evolved into a large festival, as we know it today. It’s a celebration of spring, flowers and the city of Girona!

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How did I hear about it?

While planning my solo trip to Toulouse (France) and Narbonne (also France), I knew I wanted to cross the border and visit a city in Spain – but I wasn’t quite sure where to go. While doing a bit of research, Girona caught my interest. Not only did it look like a charming city, but according to the city’s official website I’d be there just in time for a flower festival? And just like that, it was settled. I was going to Girona!

How did I experience it?

I arrived at my hotel, which happened to be located right next to a bunch of colorful, decorated tents displayed side by side, all along a large shopping street. I didn’t want to spend more time than necessary in my beige and boring hotel room, as I didn’t wanna risk missing out on all the spectacular photo opportunities waiting for me outside, on every single corner. My camera battery was fully charged, my phone was dying. I went to the bathroom, peed as fast as I possibly could, and ran out the door faster than you could say “have fun”. I was impatient. Just like a little kid in Disneyland, waiting in line to meet their favorite princess, I was ready to witness magic firsthand.

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I snapped a few pictures of the colorful tents, and made my way to the nearest bridge. Did I want to do a little shopping from the vendors selling handmade products? Did I want to photograph the view of the colorful buildings and their reflection in the water? Was I feeling hungry yet? I was too excited about everything to even make up my mind and focus on just one thing.

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I went photo-crazy and paparazzied everything that looked even remotely colorful. A lot of those pictures didn’t even turn out that well, and many were photobombed by selfie-takers, ice cream-eaters, angry old people, careless children, tour groups and other photo-crazy tourists just like yours truly.

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Whether I was strolling along the narrow streets, crossing the different bridges or exploring the Sant Pere de Galligants medieval church and monastery, I was always surrounded by colorful art in different shapes and forms. Sometimes even in the cheeky shape of a butt with a flower sticking out of it (those pervs!)

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Every now and then I asked strangers to take pictures of me, but most of the time the result was worse than anything I could ever imagine. While visiting the monastery, I found a lady who had a Nikon – just like mine – and asked her to take a photo of me. Thanks to her, I have at least one nice photo of myself from the festival.

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The only time I let my feet (and camera) rest, was while I was busy eating tapas and drinking wine or vermouth at local restaurants. Good thing I don’t live in Spain, because all those croquettes and Spanish ham can’t possibly be good for me. To make matters “worse”, I ordered a healthy salad….with delicious pieces of deep-fried cheese inside of it. Just like everything else I’ve ever eaten in Spain, it was amazing.

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And how can anyone possibly resist eating ice cream from the famous gelateria Rocambolesc while wandering around town in twenty-five degrees Celsius? I sure couldn’t!

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As much as I enjoy traveling solo, the beauty of this festival was giving me the blues and made me miss my boyfriend. I shared the entire experience with him through photos, videos and texts, but it just wasn’t the same. This festival is an experience that needs to be shared with someone. With your partner, your children, your parents, your friends. It’s not something you should keep to yourself. And frankly, no matter how good your photos are, they’ll never capture the essence of being there, experiencing it and seeing it all with your own eyes.

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Are you as excited about this as I am?

Because I sure will be returning next year!

Dates for next year’s festival are not yet announced. Visit the official website of Temps de Flors to stay updated. Hope to see you there!

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Australia for Students: Travel Tips and Advice (guest post)

As a student in the 21st century, you have a chance to use your wits and the flexible academic infrastructure to make this the most adventurous period in your life. Don’t believe me? Well, I decided to turn my life into an adventure by applying for studies at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

After a year of an incredibly hectic life filled with side-splitting mistakes and delightful moments, I felt compelled to share some travel tips and advice with all students who choose to apply for studies at any of the amazing universities on the Australian continent.

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Why Australia?

It simply has everything you need. It is a place of economic stability, developed industrial infrastructure, high-quality life standard, warm climate and incredible, breathtaking landscapes. From alien dreamscape of pink Lake Hillier to out-of-this-world Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia and Whitehaven Beach, in a few semesters, you’ll spend on the continent as a foreign student, take the time to visit at least some of them.

As a freshly arrived student, you will plunge into a vibrant cityscape filled with countless opportunities and fun activities (and that’s before you “get off the boat”). The nightlife is dynamic and you can get anywhere you want really fast. It’s a country that cultivates the culture of young people; therefore, if you are a student, it’s a perfect place for you.

There are a few basic things you should know as a newcomer before you arrive, but it’s mostly a country that has thrived on western culture, so adapting won’t be too big of a problem.

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Be sure to embark on a road trip as soon as possible

Australia is a continent of many natural wonders. It’s a place with unique flora and fauna as well as some of the most impressive topography you’ll ever witness. If you enroll in one of the colleges, grab a first chance you get to travel around and enjoy the beautiful scenery. After all, what’s a student life without some road tripping?

A 928 kilometer-long coastline highway between Brisbane and Sydney is a rite of passage for all freshly arrived road trip enthusiasts. It’s definitely one of the most traveled Australian road trips also known as Legendary Pacific Coast. You’ll come across everything along this corridor – beautiful beaches, picturesque hills, quaint towns, sprawling wineries, etc. It will take you a little over ten hours to arrive to Sydney, one of the most popular cities in the world, so if you embark on this trip early enough, you can spend most of the afternoon and early evening enjoying the sights.

If you can spare enough time out of your busy academic schedule, convince your friends to visit the aforementioned Whitehaven Beach. Its gentle mixture of crystal clear water and shining white sand will leave you gob smacked. Hanging Rock and Uluru in Northern Territories are also legitimate choices. Uluru is especially interesting – a huge sandstone rock formation taller than the Eiffel Tower lies in the middle of the desert, 280 miles away from Alice Springs, the closest hint of civilization.

You’ll be glad to know that the road trip culture is very well developed in Australia, so you won’t have to search hard to find a group of people who probably don’t even know each other, but getting to know them on a road trip is a part of the adventure (more on that later). The only thing you should be worried about on your transcontinental adventure is how to travel on a budget.

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Campus life

The most amazing thing about all of this is – there’s absolutely no need to be anxious. All the people on the campus (and citywide) are actually very pleasant. The most daunting thing for all new arrivals is probably the language. Even though they speak English, Australians have their own slang that includes words like mozzie (mosquito), stoked (excited), or barbie (barbecue), but getting the hang of it is not all that difficult. Most of the words are pretty logical once you think about their roots, so you’ll be able to speak like a true Aussie in no time.

Now that we are on the topic of campus, all the universities around the country are very well organized when it comes to student accommodation, and no matter what city you end up being in, you’ll hardly be anything less than comfortable. Just check out the impeccably designed Iglu Student Accommodation in Brisbane, the peak of an off-campus lifestyle and you’ll understand what I mean.

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People are a part of the adventure too

Australian universities are some of the most diverse environments in the world both culturally and ethnically. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s one example – Brisbane accepts a whopping number of 50,000 students from different corners of the Earth every year. So that’s good news for you – you’ll never feel like an outsider.

This sort of environment also means that you will have many opportunities to meet people that come from strikingly different backgrounds when compared to your own. It’s a true social adventure through which, if you are brave enough, you can forge unforgettable and long-lasting friendships. In the end, who knows, maybe one of those bonds will open up another door for you, an opportunity that might just lead into a different adventure altogether.

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In spite of the rising tensions around the globe, I adamantly stand behind the statement that there has never been a better time to experiment and go out into the world. As a student, you have a once in a lifetime opportunity to educate yourself in one of many universities around the world, and Australia certainly offers the most diverse mix of academic endeavors and adventures. It was an inspiring journey, and I’ll definitely remember it for the rest of my life.

About the author

Marie Nieves is a student and a lifestyle blogger who loves unusual trips, gadgets and creative ideas. She is an avid lover of photography who loves to talk about her experiences. You can find Marie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

5 times I was “rescued” by strangers abroad (and how you can avoid making my mistakes)

Whoever said being a solo traveler is easy and everything will go smoothly if you just believe in yourself, has obviously never been much of a traveler. Heck, even traveling with your best friend or your parents or even an organized group can be quite a bumpy ride. Life is – and never will be – smooth as butter.

Shitty situations can arise at anytime, anywhere, to anyone.

As much as I try to take the precaution of avoiding seedy neighborhoods, learning the train/tram/bus schedules by heart, trusting myself more than I trust my friends, learning the city maps instead of following my GPS blindly and making sure I have absolutely all the right documents printed – sometimes, I fail to do so. Sometimes I even fail to walk straight without tripping over my own two feet. Other times I fail to eat without spilling sauce everywhere (even in my hair), as if I was a little baby. Sometimes that’s exactly what I am. A big baby, naive and lost. And just like you’d rescue a crying baby lost in the big scary city, strangers often come to my rescue and guide me to safety and give me a blanket and a nice warm cup of cocoa.

Okay, nobody actually did that.

Except from that one time when I was 2 years old and ran away from home (naked) with the 2 year old boy next door (also naked) and the police found us in some old folks’ garden party and gave us blankets to stay warm while driving us back to our parents.

I guess, already as a 2 year old I was ready to explore the world. These days, I usually travel with my clothes on, but I still manage to get lost and get myself into tricky situations and end up being “rescued”.

Here are five anecdotes from my travels. These are tributes to locals who could have walked away, but decided to help a stranger in need. These are people I will remember for the rest of my life, because of their kindness and selflessness. 

The Colmar Teenagers

The most recent of these stories, happened only a week ago, in Colmar – a beautiful and fairytalesque town in the Alsace region in France. My mother, her friend and I were staying at a hotel in Strasbourg, another town in the same region. We made plans to take the train to Colmar and stay there for the fireworks display and celebrate Bastille Day, drink Pinot Gris (delicious white wine) and eat Alcasian cuisine, do a bit of shopping and take hundreds of photos of the colorful half-timbered houses and bridges decorated with beautiful flowers. Little did we know how much of a fairy tale we were getting ourselves into. While my mother and her friend trusted in me leading us back to the train station from the location of the fireworks, I relied on my GPS to take us there. Big mistake.

My GPS started acting up and guided us in the complete opposite direction. No wonder I didn’t recognize any of the streets, the buildings, nothing. To make matters worse, my phone was dying. We had no other choice than asking strangers for help with directions or maybe help us call a cab. “Excuse me?”, I asked an elderly couple (in French). They ignored us. I tried again.

This time I asked a boy and a girl who didn’t look a day over eighteen.

They listened. And told us what we already knew; the train station was in the complete opposite direction and we’d never be able to make there in time for the last train back to Strasbourg. Worried, I asked the boy if he could help us call a cab, as my phone was dying. He explained to us that calling a cab would be useless. By the time a cab would get here, we’d already miss our train. “My car is parked nearby. We can take you to the station, if you want”, the boy suggested. We really didn’t except this. Especially not from an age-group who is unfairly labeled as selfish.

They took us to the station, offered to drive us to Strasbourg (free of charge) if we didn’t make it there in time, followed us to the platform and made sure we made it onto the train. Colmar does not only look like a fairy tale town. Some of its people are everyday heroes, just like those you read about in the storybooks.

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The Minneapolis Mom

While living in Florida, I spent most of my weekends off traveling to other states – even those on the complete opposite part of the country. I wanted to see as much as possible while staying in the US on a work  visa. And at one point, curiosity brought me to Minnesota. More specifically Minneapolis (and Bloomington, to visit Mall of America). One day, while wandering around downtown Minneapolis, my GPS acted up (there seems to be a pattern here). I wanted to go back to my hotel, but my GPS guided me to the complete opposite part of town instead, and lead me to believe that I was on a good path. Little did I know that I was on the path to a somewhat dangerous neighborhood. Little did I know that Minneapolis even HAD a neighborhood that would be considered “dangerous”.

While getting more and more lost, I was starting to get attention from men who could easily tell I wasn’t from around there. Some were just staring, others were catcalling. I’m not even gonna get started on what level of vocabulary they were using.

A forty-something year old woman with two kids, pulled over. “Darlin’, are you lost?”, she asked. She looked genuinely concerned. I told her about my problem with my GPS and asked her for directions to the hotel I was staying at.

“Oh lord. The reception here is terrible. No wonder you’re lost. And your hotel..Honey, you can’t get there by foot. It’s too far away. Complete opposite part of town!”

She offered to drive me to the hotel. No, I wouldn’t normally get in the car with a complete stranger like that, but considering she had her kids with her, I decided to trust my instinct on this one. And I’m glad I did. The lady was lovely – so were her children – and my day ended on a good note.

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The lady and the tramp in San Diego

After a lovely week spent visiting San Diego as a solo traveler, I packed my bags and headed to the Greyhound bus station to take a bus to Las Vegas where I’d made plans to meet some friends of mine to celebrate my friend’s birthday over a steamy Chippendale’s Show and drinks. Although San Diego had been great and I’d eaten my own weight in Tex-Mex and tanned myself into a less pale version of myself, I was ready to commit seven sins in Vegas.

Arriving at the station, I was certain I’d printed every document needed. Turned out, I had printed the wrong thing. I guess I forgot to read the fine print.

“Ma’am, this is not a ticket. You need to print your ticket”. I browsed through my emails and realized I had printed the wrong attached file. How stupid of me. I asked her if I could just show the ticket as a PDF on my phone instead of the printed version. “No, ma’am. We need to collect the printed documents. There’s a library just around the corner. They have printers”. I knew where the library was. It was not ‘just around the corner’ but a five minute walk. Five minutes are precious when you’re about to miss the bus.

“But… What if I email the document to your email address, and then YOU can print it from here. I’ll obviously pay for it”, I cried. My tears were worthless to her. She shook her head and smiled “No, Ma’am. I can’t do that. Go to the library. Now. Before you miss your bus”.

I was left with no other choice than going to the library. Which, by the way, didn’t open before 9 am. The departure time of my bus was 9:15. I was screwed. I had no way of making it to Vegas, and I knew it. I broke down crying in front of everybody who were waiting in line for the library to open.

At first I was crying because I’d miss the bus. Then I cried even louder because I felt like a spoiled brat crying over first world problems. What a misery.

A lady in her forties walked up to me to comfort me. So did a homeless man who had been sitting nearby, begging strangers for a little money so he could buy himself some breakfast. Neither of them could do anything to help me, but they listened to me, they comforted me and they both waited next to me while I called my mother to ask her if she could book me another bus ticket. She booked me a plane ticket instead. A co-worker in Florida had a daughter who lived in San Diego, who happened to be off from work that day. She drove me to the airport.

I guess in this situation, my mother, my co-worker and my co-worker’s daughter were all the biggest heroes. Still, the lady and the homeless man both deserve to be praised for their selfless act of kindness and compassion.

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The bag-man in London

London is a perfect place to go shopping if you’re from a country where everything is ten times more expensive than in good old Britain, and frankly, I can’t walk through Camden market without buying a couple of bits and pieces here and there. What I should have known then – that I know now – is the importance of a solid, high quality suitcase to carry all those items in. And you might wanna be careful when buying those things at a market. If a price sounds too good to be true, there’s usually a reason for it. Exactly how that bargain dress from eBay turned out to look like a cheap version of your grandma’s curtains or your toddler’s fancy dress costumes. My leopard print suitcase was just like that. Why on earth I wanted something leopard print is another question I ask myself a lot. I’ll blame it on Spice Girls and nostalgia.

The tacky leopard print suitcase lasted three hours before it decided to fall apart. Unknowingly, I wandered the streets of London with my bright new suitcase used for my shopping spree, and a nice old backpack on my back, carrying all my other essentials for the weekend.

And then the unthinkable happened. Half of a wheel fell off. Half. The other half was still spinning around for a little while before it followed its other half and abandoned me. How odd. I decided to lift and carry my suitcase instead, as it was pretty much impossible to drag it around with only one wheel.

Bad idea. The handle came off and my suitcase fell straight to the ground and now had a major hole in it, from where the handle was attached. This was officially the shittiest  suitcase I’d ever seen. Period. I tried to hold the suitcase with both arms, to hold onto all my things and balance it up and down staircases and while rushing down the busy streets of the city. I walked into the nearest shop and asked the shopkeeper if I could buy the largest bags he had, from him. He took one look at my suitcase and seemed quite surprised with how this could possibly even happen. He gave me two enormous plastic bags (same size as those found in IKEA) and said “take them, for free. And buy yourself a better suitcase”. You betcha, I did.

He may not have been a hero, per se, but he sure made my day a whole lot easier.

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The LGBT family in Birmingham

Another one from England. I was never a tourist in Birmingham. I actually stayed there as an expat for a year and a half. But expat-stories still count. And this one is worth mentioning.

While staying in Birmingham, I often went to nightclubs with my friends there. After all, I was nineteen, and this is how a lot of nineteen year old’s spend their Saturday nights. Another thing that is sadly quite common when you’re nineteen, is having unreliable friends who’ll break whatever promises they had with you, if something better comes along. And that’s exactly what happened the one time I didn’t have enough money with me to take a taxi home, because I’d made plans to sleep at my friends’ house and was absolutely certain I wouldn’t need some kind of backup-plan. Turns out, I was wrong.

My friend took off with some guy and left me stranded outside of the club. I didn’t know any of the other people who were there, and I had no idea what to do. A girl sensed that I was sad and confused, and asked me if I needed help with anything.

I told her what happened, and she offered to let me stay at her house, together with her and her friends. “It’s my parents house, but they’re not home. They’re on holiday. If you don’t have to leave to early in the morning, I’ll cook us all a nice breakfast. If you like bacon and cheese sandwiches, that is”, she smiled. How lovely was she? How could I possibly turn down an offer like that? Again, I trusted my instinct and joined them.

The girl told me the story of her parents and how a lot of people had been mean and judgmental towards her while growing up. Her mother and father got divorced when she was a child, and the mother later came out as gay and had since been in a relationship with a lovely woman who was a great stepmother to the girl. I noticed a couple of photos of the two, on the fridge. Along with some old photos of the girl herself.

“I like both. Girls and blokes. People think it’s because of my mom, but it’s not”, she said and poured us all a cup of tea. We changed the subject and talked about music and movies until we were all too tired to stay up any longer.

The only thing I found strange in all of this, was drinking tea at 4 am. But that seems to be quite a normal thing in Britain.

If this girl hadn’t invited me to stay at her place, who knows what would happen if I’d have to walk all the way back to the house I was staying in – which was a one hour walk from the club, and near an infamous “red light area” (Gillott road, if you’re a local reading this).

Even though I’m now left with these amazing memories of everyday heroes, I might not always be as lucky. Your good Samaritan might not always be at the right place, at the right time – and who knows what would happen in a worst case scenario!

My advice is:

  • Always have some extra cash on you in case you need to take a taxi somewhere.
  • Studying a map and memorizing it is better than relying on your GPS.
  • When buying a suitcase or a backpack, quality matters. It might be expensive, but it’s an investment! You don’t wanna end up picking up your stuff from all across the street because you bought something cheap and useless!
  • Tell your friends and/or family members where you’re staying, who you’re staying with and keep them updated when bad things happen.
  • Use Facebook groups/communities for solo travelers to ask for help/advice when you’re lost, abandoned by your peers – stuck in whatever situation where you need help from locals!
  • I also recommend to write down the address and phone number of your embassy in the country you are visiting, in case your problems are way more severe than any of this!

Good luck – and safe travels!

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7 things you should do after returning from holiday

Coming home after a holiday is never a good thing. You’ve got to return to normality after a while bathing in tropical sunshine and exploring the world’s treasures, and you’re not likely to be happy about it. Don’t worry – here are seven tips to ease you back into real life after that dreaded trip back home.

Get back to a normal sleep schedule

Jetlag is a very real problem both when you arrive at your destination and when you come home. The shift in time zones means your body needs to adjust its sleep routine to fit them, and when you come back home you might find that you’re either up too early in the morning or unable to sleep late at night.

Make sure you’re giving yourself time to adjust before getting back into the swing of things – you’ll want to catch up on sleep as well as returning to your normal routine. If it means going to bed earlier than usual, do it. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

Take time before returning to work

Don’t rush to get back to work once you’ve arrived home – not that you’ll want to, anyway. You’re going to feel tired once you get home, an inevitable problem after the stress and time taken to travel.

It’s likely you’re also not going to be in a positive frame of mind once you arrive back home, with the post-holiday blues kicking in. So, giving yourself that extra day or two to adjust and settle back into normality is definitely necessary for your mental health, as well as physically.

Tackle your to-do list

It’s likely the tasks are going to pile up on top of each other quickly once you arrive home. Priorities with work and home have likely been put aside on your travels, so you’ll want to sort them as soon as you’re back to prevent the stress of putting them off further.

Expect a higher workload once you’re back in the office as you’ve been gone for a while – this is inevitable, so don’t fret and instead go in with the determination to clear the backload.

Unpack immediately

A lot of people feel to just crash whenever they get home from a holiday – 1 in 10 Britons, in factDon’t be that person. The longer you leave your suitcase full and unpacked, the less you’re likely to want to tackle it. Motivate yourself to get it empty and stowed away as soon as you’re home – it’s one less thing to worry about in the future!

Your clothes are probably going to be dirty and in need of a good wash; especially if there weren’t any facilities where you were staying. Put on a load once you’re home so that they’re fresh and ready to go when you need them.  Her Packing List has published a handy guide to get your unpacking out of the way.

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Make the following weekend a quiet one

Regardless of when you get home, make sure that you reserve the following weekend for some “me time”. You’ve probably found yourself busy and caught up in the days following your return, so having the weekend to unwind and catch up on some needed relaxation is crucial.

Try to stay home and chill out instead of finding things to do – they can easily wait a few more days. There’ll likely be nothing urgent enough for you to have to rush out, so take some time to put your priorities aside and relax.

Convert your unused currency

If you’re lucky (or clever) enough to have some money left over from your travels, don’t let it sit in a drawer until next time around – unless you’ve not got long until you jet off again, that is!

Have another look at exchange rates and see where you can get back an amount that’s as close to what you paid initially. Exchange rates do unfortunately fluctuate dramatically very quickly, so you’re going to want to have a look around and find the best deal for what you have left. Only bother if you’ve got a substantial amount, though – it’s obviously not worth exchanging a few cents for coppers.

Start planning the next trip

What better way to eliminate the blues than by booking your next getaway? CTI recommends planning another holiday once you return home as a great way to overcome the inevitable sadness of having to leave, so don’t hesitate!

Having another holiday in the future will keep you from becoming too forlorn and sad that you’re home – it really does take a toll on you. Keep reminding yourself of it to let excitement take over, instead of a longing to go back to where you just came from.

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This post is in collaboration with Ellen Collins. Photos are my own.

5 Types of annoying guys I’ve met on my travels (and I’m sure you have, too)

“It’s hard out there. The older you get, the worse they get. They’re pigs, I say. Pigs”

Those are words I’ve heard surprisingly often from an age group I surely would have expected otherwise from. And here I was thinking “they’ll grow out of it”. Guess not. People my age, my mom’s age and my grandma’s age, have all told me bizarre first date-stories of men of all ages, online and offline. Stories of how messed up they are, those poor guys who are single since forever, others who are newly divorced or divorced since God knows how long, or those who jump from one relationship to another while looking for a little rebound-action while being on the road.

The dating scene has sure changed a lot over the years. And let’s just say, I’m glad I’m not single anymore. Couchsurfing.com is no longer a great place to find somewhere to sleep, but a place to find someone to sleep with. Dating sites and dating apps are full of perverts looking for an easy lay, crazies looking for someone to troll, narcissists looking for someone who’ll admire them and their abs, loners and damaged souls looking for that one person they can confide in – and obsess with and stalk for as long as you both shall live. Yes, the internet is packed with colorful creatures. They come in all shapes, sizes, cultures and nationalities. And often you’ll stumble upon these people while backpacking solo, vacationing with your friends or exploring the new city you just moved to.

We live in a world where no matter where you go and no matter which website you use to meet people for whatever reason, there’s always gonna be that male (or female) traveler who believe taking a nude selfie is the best way to get your attention.

Before I met my significant other, I spent a lot of time trying, failing and dating around the world while traveling and expatriating. It was exhausting. While some of those dates developed into vacation flings, others became nothing more than an awkward first encounter. For what it’s worth, at least I’m left with a few funny stories and a lot of cringe-worthy ones.

If you’ve ever “Tindered” your way through loneliness abroad, or posted an ad/message on Couchsurfing looking for cool people to hang out with and ended up alone with some dude with hidden (or not so hidden) intentions, you’ll probably know at least some of these characters listed below. If not, well….don’t say I didn’t warn you.

1.The multitalent

He’s that cool guy who plays guitar, the drums, the piano, whatever instrument – he can do it. He also writes poetry or song lyrics and is an excellent cook. Can he dance? Of course he can. Is he bilingual? More like, multilingual! Is he bragging about his skills? Damn right he is. But we all love him. Mainly because we all want to BE him. This guy is still single because he ain’t got time for no relationship. He’s either somewhere jamming with his friends, practicing a new skill or exploring small islands and remote villages in Southeast Asia and South America.

Personal experience: He was the kind of guy I would have expected to meet somewhere a little more exotic, but no, I met him in Norway. A spicy Latino with wavy shoulder length hair and big brown eyes. We had been talking on and off online for a while, and he invited me to a bonfire party on the beach while I was visiting the south of Norway with my mother (and abandoned her at the hotel for the occasion). As cliche as it may sound, the guy brought his own guitar to the party, played a couple of self-penned songs and sang like an angel (in Spanish and English). As lovely as it all was, I just wanted him to finish up and give me a little attention. And perhaps even his jacket. I was starting to get cold. And bored, as I knew nobody there, besides him. Turned out, I had competition. All the girls at the party wanted a piece of him. Had he invited all of us as some kind of…audience? I had no idea. Nor did I stick around to find out.

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2.The child

He’s the guy who throws a tantrum if things don’t go his way. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, but he has a lot of cool gadgets. This is a spoiled brat who never ventured into adulthood and probably never will. Turn him down and he’ll threaten to trash talk you all over the internet or get one of his “important connections” to hack your laptop. And your phone. And your mother’s phone. And then he’ll steal your dog. Or something. This guy was born into money, but prefers to date outside his circle. You’ll either meet him at a high end nightclub or online while vacationing somewhere in the Mediterranean or at a luxury resort in the Caribbean. Whenever he’s not busy partying on yachts in Europe or Instagramming from St Barts, this guy is swiping left and right, searching for a Cinderella who can keep up with his antics – or shall we say, Tinderella.

Personal experience: I met this guy in Orlando, Florida.We went to a casual restaurant, nothing fancy. The guy seemed pretty normal at first. That was, until he turned the date into some kind of a sales presentation, where I was the buyer and he was the product. He talked about his car, his suit, his salary, his employees, his house, his future plans. Him, him, all about him. I was bored and couldn’t wait to get out of there. As soon as I got home, I received a text from the guy. He wanted to meet again. I didn’t reply. Five minutes later he called me. I didn’t pick up. New text. Another one. And another one. And he called again. And again. And again. I switched off my phone, then switched it back on the next day and received a nice little message saying “You weren’t even that pretty, anyway”.

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3.The lover

He’s the guy your mother warned you about. Smooth, great with words, charismatic, funny, intelligent and very easy on the eye. Sadly, by the time you’ve fallen head over heels in love with this guy, he’s already moved on to the next girl. This guy has a lot of friends and everybody seems to like him. You know he’s trouble, you know he’ll be nothing more than a fling – at best. He’s always up for Tinder-adventures while backpacking from state to state in the US or interrailing through Europe with his friends, but he’s not interested in settling down. Not quite yet.

Personal experience: I was alone in San Francisco, California, the first destination of a long solo trip. It was my third day there and I was already done with everything I wanted to see and do while visiting the city. As much as I loved to travel alone, I was starting to feel lonely. Very lonely. So I did what a lot of foolish girls do when feeling lonely; I browsed through the endless sea of men on Tinder. And there he was; a sexy French guy on a backpacking trip through California. He asked me questions like “what are you looking for on Tinder?” and I replied something along the lines of “err…I don’t know. I just wanna make friends”. Well. A lovely conversation and a nice walk along the streets of San Francisco led to a drink, that drink led to another drink, which led to a kiss, which led to… Happily never after.

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4.The creep

He’s the guy who just won’t leave you alone when you tell him to go away. He’s the creepy dude who’s following you around on the dance floor while you’re just trying to have a good time with your friends. He’s the guy who keeps messaging you on dating sites, even after you’ve told him you’re not interested. He’s the guy who’s catcalling you and following you around the block, before you manage to shake him off. He’s the guy who stays at mixed hostel dorms just so that he can catch a sneak peak of you changing your clothes. He’s the guy who believes you’ll warm up to him eventually. You just need a little more time. And a couple more pictures of his private parts.

Personal experience: Now, where do I even start? Oh, yeah, I might as well tell you the worst story of them all! Once, while traveling in England, I was waiting for a train from Manchester to Birmingham. At the platform, I saw a guy who looked exactly like Quentin Tarantino, who for some reason started moving his hand up and down in his pocket…while moaning and breathing heavily.  For some reason, the guy was staring at my low heeled leather ankle boots the entire time. And this is when it hit me. He was touching himself and using my boots as pleasure-material! I was disgusted. And frightened. Even more so when the sweaty Mr. Tarantino-look-alike walked up to me, still breathing heavily while sweat was dripping from his forehead. His eyes still fixed on my ankle boots, and he asked; “Can I kiss your shoes?!” Thank God, the train arrived – just in time to save me from this awkward situation. In case you wondered, I never wore those ankle boots again. Ever.

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5.The polyamorous 

He’s the guy who’s desperately looking for participants for a threesome, foursome or group-stuff in seedy clubs. He says he’s a free spirit, a curious soul, a nature’s child, a man filled with so much passion he can’t just keep it for one person. This guy loves to party – obviously with some help from either something organic or something synthetic – and loves to be surrounded by beautiful women at all times. He never seems to be looking for a relationship. Just friendships. With benefits. This is the kind of guy you might run into at festivals/festival campsites, and hostels in cities and islands known for their crazy nightlife.

Personal experience: I met this guy in Tampa, Florida. He was a model – and yes, he was obviously quite a looker. Sadly, he was all kinds of crazy. The guy was high on pretty much every drug known to mankind, and he spent the entire evening trying to get me and some girl to hook up with each other, and with him. The guy seemed obsessed with the idea of getting some ménage-à-trois action going. I wasn’t having any of it. Never had I ever indicated that I wanted anything like that. And never in my life had I been happier to return “home” from a Saturday night out. What a mess!

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Thankfully, there’s also a lot of amazing men out there, who are genuine good guys, just waiting for us wonder women to sweep them off their feet!

(Manneken Pis and all the other sculptures/statues are used in this post as illustration only. I don’t think they’d actually be a bunch of creepy dudes if they came to life)

 

Tattoo discrimination and traveling: Do I deserve to be ridiculed and harassed?

As a female traveler, part-time solo adventurer and an expatriate for the third time (so far) you can bet your sweet booty I’ve experienced quite the amount of discrimination for different reasons by different people. Sometimes it’s because I’m female. Other times it’s because I’m a foreigner. But most of the time it’s because of my tattoos.

Yes, tattoos. You either love them or you hate them, and we all have our own opinions on them. Whereas some people keep those opinions to themselves, others simply can’t wait to shout it out loud and tell you exactly how much they like or dislike what you’ve done to your body.

When I was 18, I got my first tattoo. When I was 22, I got my last one. Some of them have personal meanings, others do not. None of them were ever made to offend anyone, and not once did it cross my mind that people would view me as controversial and provocative for simply just being decorated with permanent body art.

Little did I know that my butterflies, flowers and stars would complicate traveling to the extent that I can’t even wear short sleeves or visit public swimming pools or hot springs in certain countries. And please don’t tell me I should have known better before getting them done, because it’s far too late to change that. In the western world, there’s a lot of people like me. Tattooed men and women who travel the world and want to be treated with the same respect as their non-tattooed friends and family members.

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I don’t expect countries like Japan, where people fear tattoos because they’re mainly associated with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia), to change their tattoo-ban in public places just to please people like me. Nor do I expect conservative countries in the middle east to make exceptions for people like me, when their own citizens are not even allowed to get any tattoos themselves. I respect their rules and don’t wanna cause any inconvenience.

I do, however, expect more from people of the same or similar culture as myself, of my generation or the one above.

I mean, it’s just body art. If you have a haircut I don’t like, if you’ve been under the knife and had something surgically enhanced, reduced or removed, or you simply just wear an outfit I don’t like, I’m still gonna let you be you and not try to knock you down for being different. Why can’t you do the same with me?

I’m not asking you to like people’s tattoos or compliment them. I’m just asking for mutual respect. Politeness. You know the saying; “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all”?

Because, those nasty comments (or, honest opinion, as you like to call it) are actually quite hurtful.

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Just to put you in my shoes for a second, here are some of the experiences I’ve had with tattoo discrimination while traveling.

“…You are a disgrace! You will burn in hell!” – Old lady, Gdynia, Poland

My mother is Polish and we travel to Poland together quite often so that she can fill both her suitcase and mine with Polish products (did anyone say vodka?), magazines, cheaper clothes (than back home in Norway) and shoes and whatever else she wants to take home with her. When we’re not busy shopping, we head down to the nearest spa and get ourselves some nice massages and manicures and go out for lunch and cocktails. In other words, the ultimate mother-daughter vacations. While we usually go to Krakow or Warsaw, we once decided to check out the Baltic coast for a change and spend two weeks sunbathing, swimming and having fun in the sun in Gdynia, Sopot and Gdansk. While for the most part, we did have a lot of fun, there were quite a lot of old people there ready to make sure I wasn’t gonna be TOO happy or have TOO much fun. Because I am tattooed. And tattooed people shouldn’t be smiling. They should be ashamed. As much as I can deal with people staring at me and whispering, or even saying something along the lines of “your arms are ugly”, I couldn’t hold back my tears when an old lady screamed “Such a beautiful young woman, ruined. You have destroyed your body. No one will love you now. You are a disgrace. You will burn in hell” and my mother, who understood absolutely everything, translated the parts I didn’t understand. Not only did the old lady ruin my day, but she also upset my mother.

“I’m sure you’re crazy, spontaneous and up for anything in the bedroom” – Random guy, Oslo, Norway

Let’s just get one thing straight. Walking up to a person in a bar and randomly start licking their arm without even saying “hello” first, is totally unacceptable and frankly just messed up. Who does that? Oh, right. Because I have tattoos, you have the privilege to touch, kiss, bite or lick them as much as you want, within seconds on laying your eyes on them. Random people touching my tattoos when I’m out somewhere getting drunk with my friends, is something I’ve actually gotten used to. Yes. I’ve gotten used to weirdos touching my arms without my consent. However, what I didn’t expect was that one time when I went to a bar in Oslo and some random guy started licking(!) my arm. Not only did he lick my arm, but he also said something along the lines of “I’m sure you’re crazy, spontaneous and up for anything in the bedroom. I mean, your tattoos. They’re hot. I’m sure you’re really kinky”. Last time I checked, flowers, butterflies and random stars and candy doesn’t exactly scream kink. Let’s just assume he was fifty shades of drunk.

“Oh…Wow…I have to go” – Scared woman, resort, French Countryside

My partner and I often book romantic weekend-getaways to maintain the spark in our relationship. I guess that’s why we’re still madly in love with each other and happier than ever, despite our differences. He’s sort of conservative and is not at all a tattoo-enthusiast, nor was he ever a big fan of mine, and  you know what? I’m totally cool with that. Traveling with someone like me, has its consequences, though. Just like my mother, my boyfriend has also witnessed quite a lot of mean stares, bad comments and strange reactions. Like the one time, when we had a couple’s massage and the masseuse asked me a whole lot of questions about my tattoos, and that time when we had a lovely conversation with a lady by the resort pool, while I was still wearing my bathrobe. As soon as I took off my bathrobe and got into the pool, her eyes were on my tattoos and she had a look of fear and disgust on her face. “Oh… Wow.. I have to go” she mumbled, and took off faster than I could say “well, it was nice talking to you”.

“Oh no, this is not nice. Not nice at all. You’re a woman. This is ugly” – Pool Attendant, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

A few years ago, my boyfriend and I traveled to the Dominican Republic and stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Although I’m not much of a fan of organized trips and the concept of all-inclusive, I couldn’t say no when my boyfriend showed me the gorgeous photos of the hotel’s amazing swimming pools. Most of the staff was extremely friendly towards me and I had a great time talking to them while we were staying at the resort. The exception was the female pool attendant who was in charge of the towels one day when I went to drop off our used ones and replace them with new ones. Before receiving any towels, I had to stand there and listen to her criticize my look. She looked at me, shook her head and said; “Oh no, this is not nice. Not nice at all. You’re a woman. This is ugly. Why are you doing this, girl? It’s ugly!” she said and laughed in my face. After she was done mocking me, she finally gave me those towels.

“I’ve never fucked a girl with tattoos before” – Random guy, Orlando, Florida, US

First of all, let me apologize for using the F-word. I hate that word and would never have used it if it wasn’t to directly quote someone. Why should I censor what people say to me? It’s them who should have censored themselves before spitting out such nonsense in the first place. And we all know drunk people talk a lot of BS. Especially when trying to impress a woman. How on earth that stranger  in Orlando believed that saying “I’ve never fucked a girl with tattoos before” would ever get him any luck, is beyond me. He looked me in the eyes and probably waited for me to say something corny like “You poor thing! Let me change that for you!”. Instead, I turned around and ignored him the rest of the evening.

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Please note that I’ve also encountered a lot of lovely people from all around the world who had nothing but nice things to say about my tattoos. The issue is simply just that the rude people are generally those who talk loudest – and are sadly also the ones who leave the biggest mark.

Have you ever experienced tattoo discrimination? Share your story in the comment section below!

 

 

Happy 1 year Blogiversary! (the story of how it all began)

Today is the one year anniversary of ExploreLoveTravel.net!

I honestly never thought I’d ever reach this milestone, but here I am. Still telling stories, still sharing photos, still climbing up, falling down and getting back on my feet again. Then falling straight on my big fat butt once again, before getting back up and trying over and over again. Ah, the life of a blogger. Incredible, isn’t it?

I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for my muse and my “motivational coach”, my amazing boyfriend who always believed in me and always told me to follow my passion and never ever give up on my dreams. He told me I can be exactly the person I want to be, if only I believe in myself. Such a cliche, right?

But guess what, since one year ago (and for the first time in my life) that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. The road is as bumpy as they get, and boy have I been facing my fair share of obstacles. Nobody ever said it was gonna be easy, did they?

Well, when life gives you lemons, make the most freakin’ brilliant lemonade anyone have ever tasted. Or spice it up with a little rum, and call it a margarita…Because, after all those bumpy rides and obstacles, mama needs her drink!

Thanks to my male muse, I am currently working on my first novel (written in my native language; Norwegian) and I’ve started treating this blog like a business and not just some random online diary.

Still, my blog and I both have a lot of growing up to do in this crazy world of social media marketing and the endless sea of travel blogs, and I hope I’ll one day get to be where I want to be. Fingers crossed.

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And where exactly is that?

Well. Ever since I was a little girl, my dream has always been to become a writer. A writer of short stories, travel novels, memoirs, fiction, poetry, articles.

Writing has always been my therapeutic outlet for my social anxiety and all the darkest moments I’ve had to go through in my life. When I was bullied as a child and when my parents got divorced, I wrote poetry and short stories to cope with the sadness and loneliness I was going through. Just like I did when my father passed away. And all the times I’ve had my heart broken. And all the times I’ve moved from city to city, country to country, to start a new life – a better one – somewhere else, hoping that the grass would be greener on the other side.

I always dreamed it would be.

I dreamed of big city lights and endless possibilities. Those dreams brought me to the capital city, but that was still not enough. I dreamed bigger, and somehow ended up in England. As I continued searching for my purpose, still not satisfied with the path I had taken, I returned to Norway and took a break from it all. I had given up on the idea of becoming the person I wanted to be. I had given up on me.

That is, until the day I got back on the horse again, ready for battle. This is when I decided to chase the American dream, many years after running back to Norway, defeated and disappointed.

In the land of the brave, I landed a job at the happiest place on earth (Disney World, duh), where I spent most of my free time traveling from state to state – and this is when I started getting closer to realizing what I should have known all along.

I am, and always have been, destined to become a storyteller. Well, at least I feel that way.

Yes, I am aware of the fact that I’m no freaking Hemingway. Nor will I ever be as good as Bill Bryson. Nor will I ever win the Pulitzer Prize. Now that’s certain!

But there is room for everyone, even writers like me. Writers who laugh at their own shortcomings and find inspiration in embarrassing moments and awkward scenarios. Yes, that’s me. The girl who laughs at her own jokes and doesn’t have a lot of friends because most people think she’s just weird.

 

In the world of blogging, I’ve found my audience. People who enjoy my style of writing and my sense of humor. People who search for imperfection in a world full of glitz and glamour and pretentiousness.

My novel, as well as future e-books, are/will be written for these people. For the travelers who can’t navigate without getting lost. And those who can’t eat without spilling sauce all over that new, white tee.  And the ones who can’t hike on a rainy day without tripping and falling into the mud at some point. Those who accidentally fart loudly in front of their crush, thinking it would go unnoticed. Those who realize they just told the most inappropriate joke ever and wasted every opportunity they had to become friends with the cool crowd. Those who can’t even form a sentence without messing it up. Or buy train tickets. Or even hold their liquor.

You are my crowd. I write for you.

Ever since the day I created my WordPress account, while on a trip to Sweden with my mother, I knew I had made a life-changing decision. I hadn’t quite figured out my blog’s identity yet, but I knew I was on the right track. I knew how much I wanted to dedicate all my time to travel blogging. I knew how much I wanted to become a writer. I had no idea how hard it would be, but I wanted it. Now more than ever.

In the world of blogging, one year means your blog is still just a baby. But even as a baby, my blog has blessed me with freebies, a couple of paid articles and some sponsorships and affiliate links. Those are the extra compliments I need, in order to stay focused and motivated.

So guess what, I’ll keep that smile on my face and wish my blog a happy happy birthday. May there be many more!

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Hidden gems on the French-Spanish border: Make Portbou (Spain) more than just a pit stop!

While booking my train tickets from Narbonne to Girona, I knew I’d have to change trains in Portbou, so I asked myself; should I stick around for a couple of hours and see what Portbou is all about, or should I just leave it and take the very next train to Girona?

Before writing this post I also wondered if anyone would be even remotely interested in reading about this place as it’s such a small, unknown town and doesn’t have any famous tourist attractions and one might ask why you should choose Portbou over other, better known towns in the Costa Brava region.

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And maybe that’s exactly why you should go to Portbou. Without the pressure of a tight schedule filled with stuff you need to get done within a set amount of time, and without having to rush from one tourist attraction to another, you’ll have more time to relax and unwind. And to appreciate a place for what it really is.

Portbou is a small, beautiful Catalan town perfect for those lazy days on a quiet beach or an adventurous mountain hike in the Pyrenees. As the town is conveniently located on the border to France, the locals are used to tourists passing through while on their way to Girona, Barcelona or to French cities like Perpignan and Narbonne. You’ll hear Spanish, Catalan and French in every bar and restaurant. I am absolutely certain you’ll get by just fine with English too!

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While strolling along the streets of Portbou, I stumbled upon some pretty cool street art dedicated to the environment, peace and love. Empty plastic bottles were used as wall decor alongside the street art.

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I also noticed a couple of cute boutiques that caught my interest, as I was wandering around, observing, photographing, enjoying my own company – as you do, when you’re a solo traveler!

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So what are the top 3 things to do in this charming little town?

  1. Go to the beach. Even during the summer months when most people go on vacation, the beach in Portbou never gets overcrowded. Bare in mind, it’s a pebbled beach, so you might wanna wear your flip flops!
  2. Hike the Walter Benjamin Trail. Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher and literary critic who in 1940 committed suicide in Portbou, rather than being captured by the Gestapo. The hiking train will take you to his memorial; a piece of art created by Israeli artist Dani Karavan. Following the hiking trail, you’ll get a spectacular view of the turquoise blue sea and the mountain ranges. For more information, click here.
  3. Eat all that tapas. Because, when in Spain, you simply just can’t allow yourself to miss out on some tasty tapas (nor wine, for that matter). Riky is a restaurant known for their authentic, non-touristic tapas and Gastro Bar Passa la Veu serves modern, creative tapas. For the best view, check out Xiriguito Campaner Guinguita.

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Want to spend a night in Portbou?

It’s a small town, so options will obviously be limited. Hotel Comodoro and Hostal Juventus are both conveniently located close to the beach and most of the restaurants, and they both have mostly just positive online reviews.

Besides all the reasons mentioned above, I just wanna let you all know that Catalonia is always a brilliant idea. And Portbou might just be perfect for that quiet little weekend getaway you so desperately need (because, who doesn’t?)

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