The Story of my trip to Narbonne (South of France) – and why YOU should visit!

“Seriously?! You’re going to Narbonne….without me?”

Those were the words that came out of my boyfriend’s mouth after I told him I’d continue traveling for a week, instead of going home right after my trip to Toulouse. Little did I know that he had planned for us to explore that town together. Little did I know that he even knew anything about Narbonne at all – because I sure didn’t (then again, I’m not the French one in this relationship).

My reason for booking a night in Narbonne was no other than it being conveniently located as an overnight stay, before continuing my journey to Spain. Based on the photos I’d seen online, it did also look like a nice little place to hang out for a day. Not even for a second did it cross my mind that my significant other had considered it as a perfect location for a romantic weekend getaway and the ultimate place to go for a wine tasting experience.

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As I arrived at the Gare Routière (the bus station), I was greeted with sunshine. And heat. My black polka dot dress was accessorized with black tights underneath, and my cleavage and bare sleeves were hidden inside of my denim jacket. For the climate back home, that would have been a perfectly appropriate outfit for a spring day. Maybe I’d even add a scarf, just for the sake of layering. But here, all those layers were killing me. I was sweating like a pig. I felt like the spirit of the town was calling me, saying something along the lines of “welcome to Narbonne. Now, take off your clothes!”

My accommodation for the night was a lovely bed&breakfast called La Maison Gustave. The girl at the reception helped me carry my luggage to the room and gave me a list of restaurants to check out and things to do in Narbonne. The room looked exactly like the kind of bedroom I always wished I had; Scandinavian style interior, light colors and with a gorgeous view from the window. From my room I could see the old palace and it looked absolutely amazing! I don’t know about you, but that sure beats the view I’ve got from my bedroom window at home (view over a large construction site).

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For one second there, I imagined all the gorgeous Instagram-photos that could’ve been shot there. Just imagine a large coffee cup and avocado toasts and me in a silk robe, as part of a pretend “breakfast in bed” sorta photo shoot …Or don’t.

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I removed my sticky black tights and took off my jacket before heading out to explore the town. I wanted to visit the palace (Palais des Archevêques) and the Narbonne Cathedral which is situated right next to the palace, and I wanted to take some beautiful photos by the Canal de la Robine.

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As much as I’d like to pretend I’m not, I’m probably always gonna be that stereotypical woman who loves to go shopping. My fingers were itching to spend money on something new – whether it would be artisan biscuits, new books, sandals, hair care products, whatever. But, being on a limited budget I decided I’d be better off splurging on a huge meal later, instead of buying a bunch of stuff I’d have to carry around for the rest of my journey. So I went to a bakery and bought myself a pastry instead.

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Biggest regret of the day. The pastry, a religieuse (why on earth that thing is called “religious” remains a mystery to me), left my hands sticky with melted chocolate sauce going everywhere, while chocolate cream kept pouring out as I took a bite of the pastry. How was it even possible to stuff that much cream inside of that little thing? And why didn’t anyone ever tell me those should be eaten with a spoon, and not with my hands. My face ended up looking like a two year old’s face after eating chocolate cake for the very first time. Good thing I wasn’t there on a date!

I wandered around for a couple of hours until my feet started hurting, thanks to the combination of poor quality shoes and sweaty, swollen feet. Whoever said ballet flats are good for long walks is a big fat liar. By then I’d done quite a lot of window shopping (and no actual shopping), I’d visited the Tourism Office (to find out what I could have done in Narbonne if I had more time – or a car), I’d gotten lost while wandering off to places that turned out to be all residential neighborhoods with nothing to see (where an old man laughed at me and said “clearly you’re lost, little girl” in French).

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I finished the evening with a kind of expensive but delicious meal at Restaurant Gaia. The waiters were surprised, and seemed quite confused – kind of uncomfortable, even – to see someone enter the restaurant without a companion. As if solo travelers don’t eat?

Because of this strange welcome, I already regretted entering the restaurant by myself. I should have just ordered a burger somewhere. It would have made me feel less humiliated. But getting up as soon as I’d been seated, to make my great escape would look even more ridiculous, so I decided to stay.

I ordered a three-course menu, completely forgetting about the fact that I was alone and should have just gone for a main dish and get the eff out of there as soon as possible. To make matters worse, they didn’t serve wine by the glass, so I had to take a half bottle. Fine, I thought. It was probably small anyway. Right?

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Wrong. It got me drunk. And the staff gave me a bunch of magazines to read, while eating. Probably because I looked like a sad, lonely, pathetic little girl who’s getting drunk on her own and comfort-eating like crazy. I’m sure they thought I was single, with six cats waiting for me at home. I’m sure I would have thought the same if someone like me walked into a fancy restaurant all by herself, got drunk and ate a huge meal – without anyone to share the experience with.

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I must admit, though, the food was pretty damn delicious. By the time I got the dessert, I was too drunk to remember to take a picture. Hence its absence.

Before going to sleep, I watched Eurovision on TV and let my sweaty, swollen feet rest on the comfortable, Instagrammable bed.

Narbonne, I shall re-visit you. But next time, I’m bringing a plus one!

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So, if this post made you go “I’ll put some pants on, pack my bags and go there ASAP”, here are some ideas for what to do in Narbonne (apart from the things already mentioned):

In the town center:

Near Narbonne (by car)

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30 before 30 – The deadline and the unexpected events

To fully understand what this post is all about, I suggest you read part 1 (when I made the decision to challenge myself and why) and part 2 (when I was halfway into the challenge and already starting to mess things up). I know I said I was gonna publish this post on my actual birthday – which I didn’t do. There’s also a whole bunch of things on that bucket list of mine, that I didn’t do. Some of them because of unexpected, and very unfortunate events. Others because, well, I guess I just forgot about them while being busy traveling solo and two days after returning home I was already on the road again – this time to the Netherlands – with my boyfriend. 

Well, that’s a lame excuse, I know. But I never said I was perfect.

Before sharing the fun stories about everything I managed to complete during the second month of the challenge, I’d like to tell you the shitty story of the day Murphy’s law punched me in the face and made it impossible for me to complete some of the things I’d been excited to check off the list.

On May 11th, I was ready to embark on my last solo trip as a twenty-something (before my last non-solo trip as a twenty-something). I was ready to jump on a train from Paris (home) to Toulouse and do a lot of research on the city my partner and I are planning to relocate to (for business purposes). I was also ready to visit beautiful Narbonne, drink wine and enjoy the ambiance of the south. I was ready to train-travel from France to Spain and visit the flower festival in Girona. I was ready to fly from Girona to Pisa to see the leaning tower and eat pasta all day long. I was ready for one week of soul-searching and living out my bucket list.

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But then I got robbed. While still in the peaceful suburbs in the south of Paris, I bought a train ticket at Bourg la Reine, my local RER station. It was eight fifteen in the morning and people were rushing to work and school. On my back, I had a little black backpack carrying my laptop, my camera equipment, the current book I was reading, my tickets and reservations and some cheese and crackers packed in aluminium foil. In my hand I carried a black suitcase, and worn over my shoulder was my cross-body bag containing my wallet, passport and smartphone.

“Shit, my train is already on the platform”, I thought to myself as I ran as fast as I could and hoped there’d be an available seat on the train, to avoid standing like sardines in a can, while balancing all my belongings and my clumsy body all at once.

Sadly, there wasn’t. And to make matters even worse, three huge dudes barged onto the train and squeezed themselves into the already crowded space. The three surrounded me and one started asking bizarre questions while the others were being rude and pushing everyone around them. I tried to hold onto my belongings, but it wasn’t easy, as I could barely even move. The three rude guys got off on the next stop, and that’s when it hit me; I had been robbed.

My passport was still there and so was my phone. My wallet, on the other hand, was gone. And I hadn’t even made it to Paris yet. I had been a victim of a crime in a neighborhood where I was supposed to feel safe. Where mainly families and other peaceful suburbans live. I called my bank and I had my card cancelled. I went to the police and filed a report. I cried. I called my boyfriend. I called my parents. I borrowed money. I missed my train. I was forced to buy a new expensive ticket despite the fact that I showed SNCF (the train company) the documents from the police to prove that I missed my train for a valid reason. I cried again.

Finally, I made it to Toulouse – and all the other places on my list. My budget was drastically cut, but I made it. I later found out that the men who robbed me had targeted me already from the moment I bought a train ticket from the self-service machine at the RER station. The machine was probably bugged and the men managed to steal 1200 euros from my account before my card got canceled. As soon as I found out, I cried again. By then, I looked like a red puffer fish, from all the sobbing.

Because of this unfortunate event, I was unable to do 22. Splurge on something I wouldn’t normally spend money on as I had to prioritize my money on, well, food and accommodation. Which means I also scrapped 23. Unusual Spa treatment and 2. Go to a concert (alone). Being traumatized and all, lead me to comfort-eating pretty much anything that looked somewhat tasty and made it too hard to get started on a strictly vegan diet for a week (27. Be 100% vegan for a week). I’ll try again – maybe even for multiple weeks – on a later occasion. Maybe I’ll even sign up for some sort of a spiritual retreat where I can 3. learn to play an instrument (bongo drums or something?), 11. take a class outside of my comfort zone or 8. take a cooking class (vegan or raw food?), 13. learn to meditate and 14. become “one with nature”. Are those retreats even a thing or am I just assuming things based on stereotypes? 

Now, let’s move on to the things I DID manage to check off my list.

19. Do something that scares me

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Portbou, Girona, Pisa

So, getting my stuff stolen really sucked, but there was still one positive outcome of the situation. I chose to go on with my one week solo travel, even without the financial security I’m so used to having. I knew I could risk ending up broke by the end of the trip, but I still went ahead with my plans. Although I couldn’t afford to visit museums, go shopping, have spa treatments or anything like that, I did have a great time just wandering, observing, photographing, reading – and eating a lot.

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5. Eat whatever I want – and eat A LOT

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Girona, Pisa

French pastries, Spanish tapas and Italian pasta. Did you really think I’d be able to resist any of that? Of course not! Did you really think I’m someone who cares about dieting? Nah, life’s too short to spend it avoiding all the good stuff. Macarons, eclairs and religieuse’s are simply just too amazing. So are cheese-filled croquettes, manchego cheese, bread, olives, deli meats. And let’s not forget about all the delicious pasta dishes in Italy. And their tiramisu! Yum!

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17. See something I’ve never seen before

location: the Netherlands

Amsterdam had been on my bucket list for many, many years – and right before my thirtieth birthday, I got to explore not only Amsterdam, but several other beautiful places in the Netherlands. I fell in love with the charming little cities Delft and Gouda. Honestly, I fell in love with EVERY place we went to while roadtripping through the land of windmills, bicycles and canals. The Flemish architecture, the friendly locals, the picturesque streets and bridges. How could anyone not fall in love with that?

I had never seen real windmills before and I was totally amazed by the ones in Kinderdijk and Zaanse Schans!

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21. Explore somewhere new for a day – no map, no plan

location: Portbou, Spain

Portbou is a nice little town on the French-Spanish border (on the east-coast). The local train station is mainly used as a transit-station for people traveling between France and Spain and I’m not sure if that many tourists visit Portbou for any other reason than just to kill time while waiting for their next train? I had three hours to spend visiting the town, before catching my train to Girona – so I decided to just  wander around aimlessly, maybe take some pictures and enjoy the view of the sea from a terrace bar. Besides that, no plan. And it worked. I enjoyed just walking around on my own, with no check-list, no guidebook, no tips or ideas – in a place I knew absolutely nothing about.

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26. Visit a really weird museum or gallery

location: Amsterdam and Paris

In my previous post, I expressed how disappointed I was with Centre Pompidou being closed on the very same day I had taken myself out on a date, specifically to go there. Well, not long before I embarked on my solo trip, my partner and I went there with some friends of ours. My partner is not into art at all and is probably the least creative type imaginable (engineers, huh?). Me, on the other hand, I love art. However, there’s a lot of modern, abstract art I simply don’t like. As much as I try to understand what the artist is trying to express with a displayed urinal or a mono-colored painting with no patterns, nothing, I just don’t get it.

In Amsterdam, my partner and I, put our cultural hats back on and visited a couple of museums. I wanted to visit the Anne Frank house, he didn’t. I wanted to visit the Rijksmuseum, but I didn’t even bother asking if he wanted to go there. We did, however, visit the extremely weird Sexmuseum and the surprisingly interesting Red Light Secrets – the Museum of Prostitution.

6. Attend a major sports event

location: Paris, France

The 2017 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championship was held in Paris this year, and my boyfriend had tickets to three different games. One of them was my home country, Norway, against Switzerland. He went to see the other two games with his father and promised me I’d get to go with him to cheer on Norway (I was cheering, he wasn’t). I am a proud viking. Of course I had my face painted with the Norwegian flag on each cheek. Of course I had a flag in my hand. At one point I even had two. I had a great time channeling my inner viking…until Norway lost and I left the game feeling grumpy.

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30. Do something out of selflessness

location: London and Amsterdam

I have never been a stranger to supporting a good cause, and I’ve always given money to charity and to homeless people when I have a little extra to share. So technically this wouldn’t need to be on my bucket list as it’s something I’ve already done before. I just put it there as a general reminder that one should always motivate oneself to give back to the community and help fellow humans (and animals) in need.

I recently helped crowdfunding an independent drama film, Homeless Ashes – a movie that will raise awareness of homelessness in the UK. And in Amsterdam, I visited The Catboat (animal sanctuary) and donated money.

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29. Try a dish I’ve been skeptical about trying

location: Narbonne, France

People who know me well, know I’m not much of a fish eater. Especially salmon. And tuna…I might even go as far as saying I hate the taste of tuna. I’ve tried tuna salad, pasta with tuna and tuna sandwiches and all those things made me wanna vomit within a second.

While in Narbonne, I visited a nice gastronomic restaurant (Restaurant Gaia) recommended by the lovely bed & breakfast I was staying at (La Maison Gustave). I ordered a three course meal – along with an amuse-bouche. For those who don’t know what amuse-bouche is; it’s a single-bite pre-appetizer offered to you by the chef, and it’s not something listed on the menu. It’s a surprise element. A joy for some, a nightmare for picky eaters. There I was, without my significant other, who’s usually there to finish my plate and eat all the things I don’t like.

In front of me, there was a small piece of tuna steak accompanied by some kind of citrus-mousse. The tuna looked nothing like the tuna I’d tried before. It looked like beef. I tasted it. The texture was like beef too! And the taste wasn’t even that bad. Well, the aftertaste was, but some large sips of red wine washed it all away. I texted my boyfriend the good news: “tuna isn’t that disgusting after all!”

His reply? “I told you so”.

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My verdict of this project?

Bucket lists should not be taken too seriously, but having one scribbled down ain’t gonna do no harm. My list was the extra little push I needed to book that solo trip. It was the little push I needed to do things I wouldn’t normally do. And thanks to that list, I will always remember the last months of my life as a twenty-something girl.

 

 

 

30 before 30 – The Challenge BEGINS

Disclaimer: Unnecessarily long post telling the tale of my background, my expectations, the bucket list and how I will try, most likely fail, and maybe succeeded to check all of these things off my list – with less than two months to complete it all! PART 2 of this post aka the final outcome of this ridiculous idea of mine, will be posted on my actual birthday: May 23rd.

So, here it is. The countdown to the day I enter a decade where I really  have to start to adult.    Goodbye fun, spontaneous happy-go-lucky twenties. Hello, my dreaded thirty.

If you’d asked me ten years ago, where I thought I’d be in life by the time I’d turn thirty, I’d probably say something along the lines of wealthy business owner, house owner, dog or cat owner, husband owner and owner of an over-sized jacuzzi. Ten years later and I own none of those things. Nada. On a positive note; it’s entirely because I changed my priorities and realized I didn’t want those things after all – at least not yet (except from the jacuzzi)!

Back when I was a selfie-posting, piercing-studded, rockstar-fangirl, changing-hair color-every-month kind of gal (ten years ago), I imagined thirty year old me as a boss-lady in a power suit and matching Louboutin’s,  with adorable pets and a loyal husband waiting for me at home. Back then my biggest worry was figuring out whether to go clubbing on both Friday and Saturday, or which movies I’d illegally download if I decided to stay in. Back then I couldn’t care less about traveling. Taking the bus downtown was way enough effort. I was usually too hungover or too lazy to do anything else. I was the kind of youngster that made elder people shake their heads in despair.

Back then, I hadn’t yet experienced the devastating event that completely changed the way I view life. The turning point, I guess you could say.

All I can say is, life’s too effin’ short to spend it binge-drinking, binge-watching Netflix, binge-eating pizza and letting yourself go while others are letting go of you.

I was twenty-six years old when I watched my father’s life slip away before my eyes. Terminal cancer. A man who had fled his homeland to start a new life in South-East Asia. A man who had traveled the world, enjoyed photography, loved animals, and donated a lot of money to animal rights organizations. A great man, way too young to die…was fading away, like a flower losing the fight against the seasons change.

His last words to me were, “I’m proud of you”. He’d said that because I’d finally taken a job across the pond; in the US. He said that because he knew I’d finally opened my eyes to the world out there. He said that because he knew how passionate I had become about writing.       I spent two and a half months isolating myself from the world, mourning the loss of him. Until my twenty-seventh birthday.

As a birthday present from me to me, I treated myself to my first ever solo trip (New York), where I indulged in New York style cheesecake, pizza and walked until my feet started bleeding. It was amazing – and I have not looked back since.

And now I’m turning thirty…

For the occasion, I challenged myself to create one of those “30 things to do before 30” kind of bucketlists – except (here comes the fun part), I’ve given myself TWO MONTHS to complete everything! And boy, has there already been some awkward moments and minor disappointments, and I’m sure there will be plenty more of those to come. Along with the occasional mishaps. You know, the usual stuff that happens when I try to do things that normal people master without a problem. Clumsy ol’ me. Spoiler alert: For some reason, I couldn’t even take myself (me, solo) out on a date in Paris without the result being as bad as a lousy Tinder-date (more on that later).

Before I move on to the good stuff, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I know there’s still life after thirty. I know I can still do all the same things and travel to the same places and it would make little to no difference. But, here’s the thing. This summer, my partner and I are moving to a different part of France to start up a business. Which means we’ll barely even have time for toilet breaks, much less a trip to somewhere. Also, to make myself even more unavailable, I wanna start writing a novel. For real. I’ve been talking about it for ages, and I want this year to be the year I finally take the plunge.

In many ways, I want these two months to be my bachelorette party before committing myself to adulthood. And maybe in a few years, I’ll write a post just like this one on my actual bachelorette party and wherever it is I’ll end up celebrating it.

To create this random list, I asked a bunch of women (whom I don’t know in person) in a travel-group on Facebook, what they think I should do before turning 30. While the majority seemed somewhat annoyed with the question and allergic to lists in general, others came up with some brilliant ideas – such as “go on your ultimate dream date – with yourself” and “go to a concert alone”.

I then moved on to asking my mother. Our mother-daughter weekend in Germany was the perfect occasion to squeeze in a weird conversation like this one. I didn’t wanna tell her about the list, as I am absolutely certain she wouldn’t understand and would most likely think I’m insane, going through some sort of a crisis and force me to spend my 30th birthday under her supervision, to make sure I wouldn’t do anything stupid.

“What is one thing I should do before turning 30?”, I asked. She gave me that worried look I was hoping to avoid. “Honey, why are you asking? Are you okay?”, she replied.        I repeated my question and informed her that, yes, I was okay and I was simply just curious about her opinion.

“Get married”.

I should have seen that one coming.

And when I asked my boyfriend what HE thinks I should do before turning 30, he suggested something too explicit to even mention on this blog. Charming. He could see from my expression that I was not impressed, so he suggested go kart racing instead.

“I’ve already done that”, I said and waited for him to suggest something else. He didn’t. Instead he looked at me as if I’d just told him I’d cheated on him.

“When did you do that?”

I told him I’d gone go kart racing with a friend, back when I lived in Orlando, Florida. The disappointed look on his face was priceless. I didn’t realize go kart racing was such a sacred thing in a relationship. I guess I should have saved myself for him.

According to women’s magazines and newspaper articles, I should do anything from learning to play an instrument, getting to know my vagina (whatever that’s supposed to mean), running a marathon (I think I’ll pass), failing (that’s already my specialty), getting lost (my other talent), protesting something – to eating whatever I want (easy) and attending a major sports event.

Just to be sure to add a little humor into the mix (on my expense), I decided to keep some of the awkward, strange ideas from the articles – which means I’ll get to know my vagina, somehow, for some reason – whatever that’s supposed to mean. Or just celebrate the female body.

Here’s my complete “Things I’ll challenge myself to do before I’m 30 in (less than) two months”-list:

  1. Go on my ultimate dream date (with myself)
  2. Go to a concert (alone)
  3. Learn to play an instrument
  4. Get to know my vagina? (Or just celebrate femininity and sensuality?)
  5. Eat whatever I want – and eat A LOT
  6. Attend a major sports event
  7. Protest something
  8. Challenge my culinary skills/take a cooking class
  9. Create something
  10. Have a 24 hour digital detox (no internet, TV, nothing)
  11. Take a class outside of my comfort zone
  12. Book a quirky and unusual acommodation
  13. Learn to meditate
  14. Become “one with nature”
  15. Embrace my fabulousness
  16. Learn to love myself
  17. See something I’ve never seen before
  18. Traverse Europe by train
  19. Do something that scares me
  20. Eat dessert for breakfast
  21. Explore somewhere new for a day – no map, no plan
  22. Splurge on something I wouldn’t normally spend money on
  23. Unusual Spa treatment
  24. See a Magic show
  25. Laugh more
  26. Visit a really weird museum or gallery
  27. Be 100% vegan for a week
  28. Invite a stranger out to dinner
  29. Try a dish I’ve been skeptical about trying
  30. Do something out of selflessness

 

In case you wanna help me out, I’ll be in following locations on following dates:

  • 29.03 – 11.05 in Paris, France (although I’m open to travel – plans might change)
  • 11.05 – 13.05 in Toulouse, France
  • 13.05 – 4.05 in Narbonne, France
  • 14.05 – 16.05 in Girona, Spain (and a few hours in Portbou, Spain on the 14th)
  • 16.05 – 17.05 in Pisa, Italy
  • 20.05 – until deadline: in the Netherlands!

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