Enjoy as I speed talk through this video about my fabulous trip to Montreal. LOL, I really should have stretched out the pictures more. The important thing is did I learn anything about myself during this trip. Yes, I did. I learned that it is okay not to plan everything. I usually plan and have itineraries, which makes a lot of sense since I'm a Virgo Rising. However, this vacay was probably the first time that I really didn't think anything through. My cousin was just so sure that I knew where we were going, and I was like, nope. It was great because we'd had some suggestions from someone, and then we got more suggestions while we were there, and we just went with the flow. It also meant that she took more charge of things, which I appreciated. I must say, I really enjoyed how chill people are in Montreal. Also friendly and willing to just stop and chat on the street to offer help or tips. My cousin and I had a very good talk with Theresa at Indianica, a Native American shop, about our families' respective tribes. I even bought a beautiful little doll there, and named her Theresa because she was so sweet. I also loved how free everyone looked; like they really enjoyed life and were comfortable with themselves. There were actually quite a few gay couples in the area that we stayed, and I really had to think hard about whether I'd seen a gay couple walking hand in hand before. I love that they were free and felt free enough to be as open as any other couple. One young woman we met that was from Delaware, but had been living in Montreal for 5 years as an English-teaching nanny, said that it was one of the safest cities because it was illegal to carry guns. I'm all for that! Plus, it's apparently the most affordable city in all of Canada to live, according to her. She said she lived in an amazing two bedroom apartment for the equivalent of $750 US. Umm, I might need to move there. She also didn't speak French and was able to get by just fine. So I'm definitely down to go back again really soon to become more acquainted with this lovely city. It's actually just a 5 hour or less drive from my city, so quick enough for a weekend trip. And the men? Scrumptious! Also, loved being outnumbered by men in a few places. Like when does that happen? There's actually eligible guys out here; who knew?! I also loved that pretty much every place we went was bumping '90s/'00s hip hop, so basically a lot of Ja Rule hits. Lol. Before I ramble on more, enjoy the video! Also I did my best to edit out as much of my cousin as possible because she does not want to appear FYI.
This is going to be a much different post than the rest. This will be more about my self discovery from this trip than it will be about the actual location, which is kind of the point of this whole thing anyway. Self discovery. I'm sure most people have never heard of this town but it is a super small town in Pennsylvania with the closest city being Harrisburg. This is where I went to college. I traveled back there the beginning of June for alumni weekend. Well, I didn't specifically go for alumni weekend; I went because it was the 20th anniversary of my college acapella group The Syrens, which was definitely the highlight of my college experience. Being that my cousin and I had the same alumni weekend and our colleges are an hour apart, we decided to embark on this journey together. I took a bus down to Philadelphia from Massachusetts to meet up with my cousin so we could drive down together. At the time of me arriving to her apartment, before we left on our trip, my phone dropped out of my hand and broke. So there I was, faced with having to go through this entire weekend, at a place I managed to avoid for the past 11 years, without a properly working phone. Every attempt made to get a phone before arriving on campus, did not work out. It was like the universe would not allow me to get a new phone. Therefore, I have no pictures of that weekend except for a couple that I got from other people. Anywho... Why had I been avoiding going back to my alma mater? So many reasons. For one, I was forced to go to school; I really didn't have a desire to go to college. I was made to go to this particular school because they gave me the most money out of the schools to which I was accepted. Once I was at said school, I wasn't allowed to major in music. And on top of everything, the school was a complete culture shock because it was predominantly white. I had always grown up around every type of person you could imagine, and to go somewhere with majority white faces was so uncomfortable. I didn't even like the culture shock I felt being in the section of Philly my family is from, where it's just black people. I need to be around everybody. So this was completely new, and it was the first time that I realized that there were different kinds of white people. I didn't think too much about race before because I grew up in such a diverse city, but many people that went to this school were people who had never interacted with other races before, had never even seen a black person in real life. This is where I had a white guy shout out his window at me "Macy Gray!" because I wore my hair out in its natural state. Unfortunately, all of this totally changed the way I dealt with many white people outside of my hometown, from there on out, which I am just in a recent years beginning to shed. So basically I was scarred from this college experience, and never had any intention of returning. But I loved my acapella group, and they were the only people I ever kept up with after college and had little meetups with over the years. I had thought about going back to school the year before for my 10-year reunion, but since I had a few deaths in the family and had other things going on, it just wasn't the right time. Moving on, once I got into Carlisle, the town looked exactly the same. I feel like the only thing that changed was maybe my college campus, which added a few new buildings, but the town itself was still quaint with little shops and boutiques and small restaurants. I didn't stay on campus like a lot of people because I had no intention of reliving dorm life, so I stayed in a hotel a little ways out. Immediately upon stepping on campus, I saw old friends. I didn't see anyone from my year because obviously they would have come the year before, so there were a lot of class of '09 friends and acquaintances that I did see. Upon stepping out of registration, I surprisingly saw an old friend who graduated the year before me, who was the very first guy I ever kissed. Yes, I had my first kiss in college at the end of my freshman year. He actually was the very first person I even met on campus when I was just a prospective student visiting my older cousin who also graduated from there in '04. I kept seeing him throughout the weekend everywhere I went, which was interesting. To be honest, I totally did feel myself regress being back there. I felt so out of place like I did when I used to live there. It was like this painful merging of who I am now and who I was back then as a teenager and young adult. So the first half of the weekend was pretty difficult for me, and I was thinking that I would never do this again. However, somewhere along Saturday afternoon, there was a shift where I felt like "present me" again and I came to terms with the past and I felt okay. I realized that I didn't have to feel comfortable in every space. You don't always need to be comfortable. But where I did feel good was in those spaces with the people that I had chosen to be around during my college years. So I felt good when I was at my DCF breakfast (Dickinson Christian Fellowship), and I felt good when I went to the spoken word discussion, and I felt good when I was with my group rehearsing music. And also with "first kiss guy", who is the only person that I've ever been intimate with that I would actually just kick it with. And I saw my older cousin because, unlike me, she's totally obsessed with the school. When she started in 2000, she was one of maybe 10 black people on campus. By the time I started, there was maybe 5 times as much, but being that she grew up in white environments, it wasn't so abnormal for her like it was for me. So I saw her and my other cousins (her husband and daughter), and that was also nice. I partied with her and her '04 friends later on Saturday night. It was then that I felt like, you know, maybe I would do this again. Even though a lot of the college experience really pushed me into completely uncomfortable, foreign spaces, I grew out of that, like you always grow out of being uncomfortable. I ended alumni weekend by waking up for 9 o'clock yoga in front of Old West, which is the building that we all walk out of when we graduate. It was beautiful being on the lawn outside of this historic building, doing yoga in the morning with like 5 other people who dared to wake up that early. I actually did everything I wanted to do that weekend in terms of the events on campus. The one thing I was super bummed about was when I visited the house that I lived in for my sophomore and junior years. It was Umoja House which means unity, and that is also a space that I definitely felt super comfortable in when I was in college. My housemates were a mixture of beautiful people. I lived in that house with about 20-30 other black students, white, east and south Asian, Indian, Jewish, and Latino students. So I was really disappointed to see that the house was now designated for fine arts. Also, it would have been nice to go to my church there, which was a big part of my life that kept me grounded in college. I actually ended up catching a ride with "first kiss guy" on Sunday, and he drove me all the way to cousin, which was super sweet, and he made sure that I got a new phone, which was also super sweet. It was so weird but also normal at the same time; it didn't feel like I hadn't seen him in over 11 years. It took me a few weeks to process that weekend because it was this merge of my present reality with the reality from 10 to 15 years ago. I walked around that campus and around the town on Friday and it was like, oh yeah, this was real. I did live here for 4 years. I'm not sure if I could recommend necessarily just vacationing in Carlisle. I had things to do because I was on campus and had scheduled activities, but like I said, there are little shops and restaurants that are actually pretty good. It's a super small town, so there really isn't frequent public transportation, and it doesn't run on the weekends. Harrisburg is the closest city which is about 35-40 minutes away, and it's not like Harrisburg is a particularly happening city. But I will say, that I did have the best martinis when I was out with the Syrens at The Whiskey Rebellion. If you can find a decent apartment to rent or get into one of the decent hotels before they're booked up (they fill up really fast when there are college events happening) then it would be a nice place to have a little getaway I suppose. They do have some decent restaurants, like everyone goes to Fay's for breakfast, which can get really packed if you're not there early enough. They have famously delicious, massive pancakes. I literally only went there once which is kind of blasphemous for any Carlisle citizen or Dickinsonian. I actually haven't gone to many, if any, of the places that everyone at my college went to regularly. But that's just me, marching to the beat of my own drum. After my cousin and I returned to Philly and had recapped our respective weekends, her mom called and asked us if we had broken through our trauma. We both looked at each other. The thing is that we both had never actually processed those experiences as being traumatic at the time, but going to these really small, white, private liberal arts colleges was for us, and definitely changed the way we felt in society as black women. But the great thing is that we both did have breakthroughs that weekend, and we both did move past our trauma and reconcile with it. I was actually able to feel some type of Dickinson pride surprisingly. I mean, it is quite a unique experience that not many people can identify with.
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!