Into 2016, I was working in Pennsylvania as an income maintenance caseworker. I loved my coworkers, but the job made me absolutely miserable. I had been reading the book Trust Your Vibes for the first time, and it hit me when the author talked about how physical pains/reactions in certain parts of your body are clues that there are things in your life that are out of balance. I’d been still having digestive issues even though I had switched from pescatarianism to vegetarianism almost a year prior. The author mentioned that digestive issues could mean there are things in your life that you cannot stomach. That totally hit home for me, so I put in three weeks notice and I bounced. I had already been planning and booking this trip to Europe with my youngest sister, but knew I did not have the vacation days to go, so I really hadn’t thought any of it through. I just knew I was going. I hadn’t planned on quitting when I booked the trip, but things worked out the way they were destined. The night of my last day at work, I flew home to Massachusetts, grabbed my sister and we flew out of Boston to London the next day.
So this was not the first, but the second time I'd resigned from a job and hightailed it to Europe immediately after. And the second time that my skin was in such horrid shape, plus this time my hair was super dry. Hmm, any correlation to the soul depleting jobs? Possibly.
Moving on, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t give London the fairest shot because a lot of our trip was dampened by the fact that we were in such a crappy living arrangement. When we booked the apartment, we were under the impression that we had the entire place to ourselves, but after we booked it, the owner changed the description to say that it was actually shared space. I was totally pissed but it was so last minute that we decided to just stick with it. Also, sometimes it’s not so bad to stay with the owner because they can give you suggestions. However, when we got there, it wasn’t just her, it was also her boyfriend! It was so unacceptable that she wouldn’t mention she lived with a man because what if we were uncomfortable with that?! On top of that, they hoarded the toilet paper for some strange reason, so we literally had to knock on the door every time we needed some, or they would leave the smallest amount on a roll in the bathroom. There was no shower curtain in the bathroom, and the bedroom we had looked like the pictures, but older and not really clean. Let me tell you, we spent as little time in that apartment as humanly possible. When we got into London, we were completely exhausted but to get our bodies on the right clock, we just changed quickly into our workout clothes and headed to Alexandra Palace for the International Yoga Festival that we had planned on attending. It was such a beautiful festival filled with music, meditation, and zen people. We learned different types of yoga; we even did some partner Thai yoga with each other.
We rode the really cool double decker buses, which are kind of scary to be in with how the bus drivers drive; it always seems like you’re going to crash into something. We also walked a whole lot, miles and miles just exploring. It was actually super cold which I was unprepared for. It was legit in the 50s and 60s, and it was near the end of June. I had to buy extra clothes at TK Maxx. Yes. K, not J.
What we found hilarious was that there were so many brands that were just variations of US brands, but with how much the US “borrows” from people perhaps they were UK brands to begin with. We definitely had our Oyster cards, which was totally the most expensive item out of our entire trip. Transportation is definitely not cheap in London.
We went to all of the most important places that you should go to in London like Westminster, Oxford Street to go to Selfridge’s, Primark, Nandos… When it was time for us to leave to head to Paris, we were determined to return our Oyster cards because if you return it to a kiosk you can get your money back for the actual card which is 5 pounds or eight dollars. However, along with catching a late metro, and trying to find a kiosk, that partially lead to us being late for our train to Paris.
Here in the US, catching a train is kind of simple. They definitely say to show up like 20 minutes ahead of departure, but even if you come at the time of the departure, you’re good. However, in this case, we were completely unaware that the Eurostar train is totally different and it’s actually like going to the airport; you have to have your luggage scanned and go through security. So even though we actually showed up maybe 10 minutes ahead of departure, it was too late because we were supposed to show up at least a half hour before, so they were not gonna let us get on the train. So we had to spend more money for them to get us on the next train which cost us 30 pounds ($44) each to transfer our ticket! That was such a bummer.
I want to say it was about five hours on the train but I totally don’t remember. What I do remember is being kind of scared because there is water separating England and France, so the train was partially underwater! And we left London right before they began voting on Brexit, so there was a lot of hoopla about that.
We arrived in Paris in the late afternoon/early evening and tried to find our cousin's apartment. We were staying with our, we’ll say, surrogate cousin and her husband. Basically she’s been a part of my family for about 16 years and she’s French. They had such a cute apartment that was in great view of the Eiffel tower, but finding the apartment building was a task because, well, no street signs. You have to make out the names of the streets by the corner buildings, which have the street names carved into them. That night, my sister and I went out for crêpes and saw the Eiffel tower light up in a bunch of crazy colors, and we got hit on of course. I was definitely disappointed that there was a gigantic soccer ball hanging from the Eiffel tower because we happened to be there during a huge soccer tournament.
I practically broke my feet and ankles with how much we walked in Paris, especially the day my sister and I walked several miles back from the Louvre, sweating buckets, with only enough cash on us to split a slushy we bought at a carnival. Paris was super hot, a complete contrast from London; it was in the high 90s the whole time. This is also where I said goodbye to my 20s, complete with a couple different outfit changes to usher in 30. The morning after my birthday, we were driven to the train station for our 6 am train to Florence, which would take us about 12 hours.
I definitely had to be calmed down from freaking out a bit too much by my sister, who was surprisingly so much more chill than I expected. Up until then, I’d normally traveled by myself or with my peers, but I felt all this responsibility this time because I was looking after my 18-year-old sister. We ended up having seats that were not even in the same train car, and I was so frantic, but she was like "it’s okay, I'll be fine". So we spent the ride apart, and I just walked through the train cars a few times to check on her. When we arrived in Florence, which was definitely the most anticipated part of our trip, we arrived at such a beautiful apartment. It was only a couple blocks from Santa Maria Novella train station, which I'd become well acquainted with during my previous trip. The spacious apartment was the first space that we'd had all to ourselves this entire trip.
That first night, I had us go to Dante's, which I went to at least three times my first time in Florence four years prior. Sad to say I was disappointed. The food was not good like it was before, but we remedied that with amazing gelato afterward. We basically ate gelato like three times a day because it’s just too amazing, and of course cannolis! We took a day trip to Cinque Terre the next day, and another to Pisa a couple days later. CT was amazing because it was my first time being on the coast of Italy, and it was absolutely stunning. After Florence we were headed to Milan for literally like 12 hours because we were flying out from there. It was so insanely cheaper than flying out of Florence.
We took the local bus, which is kind of confusing because whereas in most cities, you just have one bus line, there are several in italy. Therefore, it’s kind of a lot trying to find the one that’s going to get you the closest to where you need to be. We were picking up a bus to Milan from a certain point in Florence that we had to get to first. Once we did get there, it was like a couple hours before this bus even rolled up. Again, that was nerve-racking because we were thinking we missed it somehow even though we'd been there the whole time, but it ended up just being really late. Then when we did catch the bus, it didn’t even drop us where it was supposed to, as printed on our tickets. The bus driver kept telling us that this is how far he went, so we actually had to take the metro the rest of the way to our stop in Milan, which luckily wasn't too long or pricey. We checked into this beautiful hotel that I wished we'd had a bit of time to explore. However, by the we got there, it was evening and honestly we just wanted to go to sleep. But first we had dinner which was, of course, gelato. We woke up to definitely the most beautiful, wonderful, complimentary hotel breakfast ever and headed to the airport via metro. It was definitely a super memorable vacation, where probably the most things ever for me went wrong, but that also kind of makes the trip, you know? It was cool taking my baby sister out of the country for her first time and seeing her buy her first drink in England, at their legal drinking age of 18. We brought soooo much alcohol home because it’s super inexpensive because of course the wine and other things are made there, so no import tax. Of course, she couldn’t drink it when she got back to the States, LOL.
And guess what? No more digestive issues!
I hope you enjoy the photos and the never-before-seen videos!
Ciao for now!