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.

 

 

 

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That time when I traveled solo from state to state (US)

A couple of years ago, I was a temporary resident in the sunshine state. A legal alien in Florida. At times I really felt like an alien, with my many “fish out of water” experiences. Humidity was completely foreign to me, and so was the concept of Walmart and its culture. Walmart in Florida was different than anything I’d ever seen before. I’m not talking about the selection of products or the size of the place. I’m talking about the people of Walmart. The exhibitionists, the eccentric men and women who just don’t care what people think, and the ones who were too spaced out to even pay attention. This was my first impression of The United States of America. And then something else happened. I started to get days and weeks off from work – which, by the way, was Disney World. I wanted to spend my free time wisely. I wanted to travel from state to state and see more of the land of the free and the home of the brave. And I wanted to do it by myself.

Before venturing into the unknown, I asked for advice from different people who had already done a bit of traveling within the US, and others who were experienced solo travelers. I wanted my first experience to be a good one. I wanted to make sure I’d be safe and not too lonely. I think I worried more about loneliness than my own safety, to be honest. How naive and foolish of me.

I ended up going to New York City. Manhattan. I should have gone to Brooklyn, as Brooklyn is more my style. In fact, I love Brooklyn so much that if anyone offered me a loft apartment and a job there, I’d drop my life in Paris in a heartbeat. Instead of four nights in Brooklyn, I stayed at Empire Hotel on the upper west side, as I used to be a big fan of the TV-series Gossip Girl. The hotel was one of the filming locations and my favorite character was the one who owned that hotel in the series.The city that never sleeps never slept. I got myself a private guide who gave me a 6 hour walking tour and I explored the rest of the city completely on my own and mostly by foot. And guess what, I have never felt as safe as I did in New York City.

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And then there was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t technically a solo trip, as I had gone there specifically to be someones wedding date. But I did spend most of the time alone anyway, so it kind of was a solo trip. I was neither impressed nor unimpressed with Pittsburgh. People seemed friendly, the Pittsburgh sandwich was quite alright (with its fries and coleslaw inside of the sandwich) and the city itself seemed like a fun place to party or watch football – at the Heinz Field stadium, obviously.

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Before moving to the US, I volunteered as a staff member for the Norwegian Travel Exposition. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to mingle with important people in the industry, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste a single minute of it. I stayed at the exposition from 10 AM to 7 pm every single day that week. Determined and hopeful. Thanks to my stubborn attitude, I was introduced to the CEO of Mall of America. It was quite a coincidence, actually. He needed to make a phone call but didn’t have a phone, and I immediately came to the rescue and offered him mine. We ended up chatting, he tried to convince me to visit Mall of America and perhaps apply for an internship. I never got around to applying for an internship there, but I did put this enormous mall on my bucket list. And I did end up going there. The summer of 2014, approximately six months after my encounter with the CEO of Mall of America. Solo. Hello Bloomington and Minneapolis, Minnesota!

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I also went to Boston, Massachusetts that summer. I had never seen this many Dunkin’ Donuts shops in my entire life. And I had never felt as close to Europe as I did in Boston. Certain parts of the city had kind of a British feel. After seven months away from my continent, it felt good to be somewhere that kind of reminded me of something closer to home. I enjoyed Boston. Too bad I’m allergic to shellfish and was unable to enjoy some of their local specialties – because their seafood is supposed to be absolutely amazing!

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People visit Chicago, Illinois for different reasons. Mine was personal. As I’m half Polish, I was interested in visiting Chicago to learn about the history of the Polish community in the city. I booked a guided tour of The Polish Museum of America and visited one of the Polish restaurants in what used to be the Polish downtown in Chicago. There I was, enjoying a meal just like the ones my mother used to make, in a country far away from Poland – yet, both the waiter, the chef (his mother) and the news reporter on the TV in the background, were right there, speaking the language. This was the first time I had felt slightly homesick during my solo travels. I was happy to be in cool Chicago, but my pierogi dinner (filled dumplings) triggered something inside me. I missed my mother.

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Denver, Colorado. If only I had a dollar for every time someone asks me if I went there to smoke grass, I’d be a millionaire by now. And the answer is no, I didn’t go there to smoke anything. I went there because I wanted to go there. The highlight of the trip was discovering an amazing independent bookstore called Tattered Cover Book Store. I bought five books there, and wanted to buy so much more. Their selection of travel books was great. No, great is an understatement. Fantastic.

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And now, let’s talk about California, shall we? I visited San Francisco and Los Angeles on the same trip, and then returned to Cali to visit San Diego a few months later. I loved San Francisco and San Diego. L.A. not so much. I felt like I was too middle class and basic (guess I explored the wrong neighborhoods) , too ugly and too non-artistic to fully enjoy what Los Angeles has to offer for people who want to be more than just the average tourist, but can’t afford a lavish lifestyle. San Francisco was as windy as I expected it to be (I was there in November) but I fell in love with the city and its hip and artsy vibe. I also had a short fling with a guy I met during that trip, which made the taste of San Francisco even sweeter. But the sweetest was the taste of San Diego sunshine, vegan tacos at SOL CAL Cafe, street markets and feeling the sand between my toes and letting the waves crash on my feet (Coronado Island). San Diego was my California dream.

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Beverly Hills (below)

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Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

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This legal alien went to The White House. Not really, but I saw it from a distance while visiting Washington D.C. – the capital of the United States (in case you didn’t know). I saw all the monuments, as they were pretty much all next to each other, and I ate delicious street food from food trucks, alongside a whole lot of businessmen in suits. (the photo below is of the United States capitol)

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Savannah, Georgia was another city on my bucket list. Why? Well, I love the movie Forrest Gump and Savannah was one of the filming locations for that movie. I went to the exact same spot where that famous bench used to be – only to find out that it was no longer there. Well, you know what Forrest Gump used to say…”Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”.

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So the big question is; what have I learned from traveling solo? 

I have learned that it’s okay to be alone. It’s no big deal to dine alone in restaurants, visit museums alone or explore monuments and sites completely by myself. It’s absolutely fine! Sure, I had moments where I felt lonely and wished someone was there to share these memories with me. But the freedom, oh the freedom, it made everything worth it. If I wanted to visit four coffee shops in one day, I could. If I wanted to have an early dinner or a very late breakfast, I could! And if I wanted to spend two hours in a book store and the rest of the day in a museum – guess what, I could do that too!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel with my boyfriend, my friends and my family, but I’d rather go on another solo adventure than spend my time waiting for someone to join me on my trip, only to find out that they’re not going after all. Then what? Don’t you ever let your fear or other people’s opinions get in the way of your solo travels, and don’t you ever wait around for someone who says they “might” join you, if you’re certain that they won’t. Spread your wings. Fly solo.