I’m home! And, like I’m sure is common with most students that come back from abroad, I have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I love my family, but everything just feels so different here. People smile at you and start conversations, something I am definitely not used to from being in Prague. The service is faster, which is actually a better aspect of life in America. However, this means less time for long, leisurely lunches. Also, I’m not even 21 yet! No afternoon beers at lunch for me.
Here are some reflections on my last three weeks of traveling in Europe:
I spent my first week of travels after by visiting my friend who was studying abroad in London.
Recommendation: do not travel with your bag that you’ve packed your life in if you decide to country hop after your program. I, of course, did not think this would be a big deal. It’s just one, fairly large suitcase that I can easily wheel around. This won’t be a hassle at all. WRONG. I arrived in London, my body sore from lugging that stupid suitcase through the snow in Prague and up and down staircases. Seriously-if you have a roundtrip flight and have to travel back to your area of study, try to leave that bag (or bags) that you brought with you with a friend or ask your program to house it for you.
Other than being sore from traveling, London was such an incredible experience; it ended up being my second favorite city (Berlin being the first). It is possible to spend all your time (and money) wandering through vintage markets and eating exceptional market food. The Brick Lane and Camden Lock Markets were my particular favorites. So many finds!
I’ll start with the good things about Paris (because, mind you, there is a long list of negatives).
Christmas in Paris-
The food is the only thing that saved this trip and is beyond wonderful (quite difficult for a vegetarian though).
My friend and I had a lovely day filled with a long Christmas brunch of French onion soup, escargot, pasta, crème brulee and espresso. After we were sufficiently overflowing with French delicacies, we took a leisurely nap and then hiked up the Eiffel Tower at night. Cliché, I know, but it was pretty magical.
We then decided to catch the service at Notre Dame. It was obviously packed, but there was seating outside and a screen showing the service. I actually preferred being outside to be able to just gaze at the magnificence of the gothic architecture while listening to Christmas music. It was a memorable end to the day.
My friend and I were dearly looking forward to this weeklong trip to the beautiful city of lights. However, it definitely did not live up to our romanticized expectations.
I’ve been to Paris before when I was a young, innocent 13 year old and had my teacher as a guide and deterrent from danger. Now, as (granted, a slightly still naïve) adult traveler, I can fully form an opinion of Paris. This city is scary for two women travelers.
Now, this was just our experience, and we were definitely staying in a sketchy area (outside of Montmartre, far away from the center of Paris), but I have never felt so uncomfortable and unsafe in a city. Ever. And it’s because I’m a woman, traveling with another woman. This was the scariest realization of all.
Imagine getting dressed to go out at night and not wanting to wear heels or clothes that you typically wear as to not draw attention to yourself at night in crippling fear of men’s leering eyes. This was a constant thought in the back of my mind; I wanted to hide on the streets, and I’ve never felt more of a need for that can of pepper spray my Dad bought me ages ago. No one should have to feel like this- that they are in danger just for being who they are.
We had booked tickets to Barcelona to ring in the New Year, but after the scare we had in Paris (where my friend actually got pick pocketed) we wanted to go back to a comfortable place. That place ended up being my friend’s closet-size room in London. She knew the area and felt at ease getting around at night. It was the perfect solution to calm our fears of being two women alone in a big city where harassment is common.
New Years in London turned out to be the perfect way to spend my favorite holiday.
Some valuable lessons I have learned after three weeks of traveling Europe (mainly from Paris):
- Be flexible—it is necessary to adjust and react to certain experiences in life. Such as when we realized there was no security in our hotel in Paris and decided to leave a day early and go somewhere we felt more comfortable.
- Seriously, watch yourself. Be aware of your surroundings and all of your valuables. ALWAYS. Don’t let your guard down.
- Trust your instincts—in Paris, I knew we were in a bad situation when I got that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when a man followed us up the metro stairs a bit too close. I should have acted on that feeling (and loudly) because he ended up stealing money from my friend.