Thursday, April 14, 2011


Toulouse again - written on 3/30

I can be a ditz; I just get caught up in my own reality sometimes . I suppose I have my mom to thank for this – a woman to this day has “black holes” in her geographic memory of an island she's lived on for 25 years. And I'm meaning she sometimes can't remember where to turn on streets she uses nearly every day. My sister and I affectionately call her “Mother Magoo” on the occasions she is thwarted by her own inner brain workings. However, one of the many things travel is teaching me this: I too am a Magoo.

This morning I had a train to catch at 6:54. I woke up to my alarm going off at about 6 am, gathered my things and myself by 6:30, walked to the station at 6:30. Arrived with about 6 minutes to find my platform – all according to plan. Until I realized I couldn't find my platform on the departures board. “Strange” I think. I ask attendants - “oo ay...” (where is...) and point to the train on my ticket. They point me in a direction. But that train isn't my train. I have three minutes to find my train at this point before it departs. I ask the next nearest attendant “oo ay...” she looks at my ticket, looks at the time and tells me in French, “departed” and points to the clock, which SUDDENLY in my mind reads as 7:50 and not 6:50. "How in the world did I do that?” I ask myself out loud while the woman attendant, who, rightfully so, just looks at me since she has no idea what i'm saying and apparently can't be too smart because I can't tell time. I've since figured out what must have happened. See, last night when I was setting my alarm, at the last moment, I set my alarm to 5:59. Why I did this, I can't explain. It's how my odd Becca brain works. I guess I'm bugged by the simplicity of one number. First i set it to 6am, then changed it because it bothered me. However, I didn't set it to 5:59, but 6:59, and then never noticed the difference until it was much too late. I was THWARTED BY MAGOO!!

What is worse is that I had to catch that train to get to Balaguer today – a town about 100 km from Barcelona. It's a one chance per day thing. And I missed it. After missing it, I went to the ticket counter to figure out my options, but I sort of already knew them from my own research. For some reason there are only three trains that can go to Girona daily (oddly). One at 6:17 in the morning, one at 6:54 in the morning, and one at 14:40 in the afternoon. I knew that to get to Balaguer at a good hour for my host there, and not spend 8 hours on the train/bus, My best option is to take a train from Toulouse to Girona (3 hrs) walk around Girona for 4 hours, then take a bus from Girona to Llerida (4 hrs) and then a bus from Llerida to Balaguer (40 mins). Otherwise, i'd have to be in trains and in boring stations for about 8+ hours to get to Barcelona, and then another train or bus from Barcelona to llerida or Balaguer. Which I suppose I could have done, but by the time I talked to the ticket agent, the only trains that would have worked were sold out. I could have spent many hours on a train and been in Barcelona by 8pm, possibly stranded there. Or I could have gone to Perpignon for the night, and then llerida earlier in the day by train, but that would have cost a lot more and been more stressful. So, I decided to save my money and most of my stress, and spend one more day hanging around Toulouse and sleeping on my amazingly generous hosts' couch. This is sort of a wast of a day because I've already seen a great deal of Toulouse, (by scooter and by foot) and it's raining, and there isn't much more I want to do here because I'm a bit bored of walking around European cities...which makes me ask all sorts of questions to myself as to why the heck I'm traveling in the first place if I'm sort of board of walking around European cities (“Why?” I ask myself - because sometimes, like yesterday, it's still awesome and the people and experiences are interesting, and also, why not?) But this extra Toulouse day could possibly throw off my schedule for the week, because I was trying to meet someone on the weekend in Barcelona, and now I don't know if I should spend such a small amount of time at this Balaguer host. Oh, and I get to take the 6:17 train in the morning, which means wake up at 5:20. Awesome. Well, at least I have a great, warm, free nice place to stay with really nice people (and they keep giving me free food too). I may have missed my train, but I had a place to go back to, relax for the day, internet, keys to the apartment, and delicious espresso. Yes I wish I could have moved on, but I'm grateful for the circumstances in which I'm stuck. Traveling certainly keeps you humble and flexible. The trick I think is to stay grateful for too for the things that do work out or/and are still working out even when other things don't.

And it did all work out... After a lovely nap on the comfy couch, I walked around a bit, which was nice and immersing in Frenchness, and the had a great night with Stephanie, just us girls because Niko was working. I made my train the next day, made it to Barcelona, and all was right with my travels once more.... which is most always happens when travels don't go according to plan.


Toulouse - March 27 - March 29... and then accidentally March 30...

I can't believe my good luck of Toulouse! I love this city. It sort of has a feel of a village now town size. But the people are really nice, the streets and buildings are all brick (which is why it's called the “pink city” even though from my American eye it's brick red...) and I had an amazing and lucky and kindness filled stay here.

I chose to go to Toulouse on my way back to Spain from Orange mostly because, in addition to hearing pretty good things about it, my fellow English teacher and friend James (whose from London, but is now living in Madrid, and whose mother is from France), has a bunch of cousins there and offered to put me in contact with them. Thusly, I arrived in Toulouse with already plans to be shown the city by James cousin Niko and his wife Stephanie Sunday evening, and by his cousin Jeremie on Monday. (Jeremie I the owner of a really great French restaurant, so I thought there would be a good chance for a nice meal. Little did I know...) However, I was on my own to find housing. So I turned to Couch surfing. I contacted many people, but everyone was too busy. They could host me, but were reluctant to do so since they wouldn't be good hosts. Still, I accepted the invitation of a German girl named Zeke who was studying abroad in Toulouse (Toulouse has a lot and a lot of students). She and her roommates (two other girls) host a lot, and seemed very much the laid back bohemian traveler type. She told me that she had couch surfers there currently, but they would be leaving the day I arrived.

When I got to her apartment, after a silly episode of getting stuck in the entry way of her building, I walked into her living room and found it full or people (9 people I think?) – eating a communal breakfast of breadsa and different spreads - jams, honey, nutella, etc. And was asked to join and if I wanted coffee. I sat between two Americans, the only two other Americans. They were the couch surfers that were supposed to leave later that day. The guy to the left of me was the only other person at the table who didn't speak French (which was the language of conversation, or course, as it should be since I was in France). His name is Pablo. He and his friend Nate are from the Bay Area of USA. What are they doing in Europe? Well, something that makes my adventure look tame – they are biking from the west coast of Portugal to Bejing, China. Yes. Biking. (on a map this distance looks about twice the size of coast to coast America). Nate already biked America coast to coast. According to them, it's a great, cheap way to travel – just bring some camping gear and you are ready for anything. And you can travel easily about 70 miles a day in about 6 hours of biking. Stop when you want, see lots of pretty countryside, visit the big cities along the way. (Yes I'm already thinking that I'd love to do a mini bike ride travel – for a week or two. I think that would be awesome. Now if I can just appropriate the proper equipment...) Zike, my CS host, is also a fascinating girl, at the age of 22 she has already done two years of traveling around the world. She's traveled a lot of Europe, some of the USA, a lot of Asia, and even some of the middle east. Her last travel was to Israel, with her mother, who had never really been out of the area> It was a birthday present. And she took her 45 year old mom traveling the same way she would be doing it herself – staying in hostels, staying with CS, sleeping sometimes in strange places, (she definitely mentioned sleeping on a roof at some point). She says her mom had a great time, and that they both really enjoyed and appreciated the trip. She'll be traveling this summer too, as cheaply as possible, probably in Eastern Europe. She's a student at university until May however. She's studying dance, and costume design for theater.

Zike and her roommates don't have a working refrigerator in their apartment, which has forced them to all pretty much be vegans, but they don't really mind. It fits their laid back, green conscious, life style. Their apartment was huge too – though full of unframed posters and dilapidated furniture you'd expect to find in any college apartment. Zike's roommates didn't speak a lot of English, but were also awesome in an alternative way. (and their rooms were full of artistic projects). One of their newest projects is to create a vegetable garden in the backyard of their apartment building. I helped them for a couple of hours. Communicating in broken English, and exchanging words in French, I helped Zike's roommates plant potatoes, create a fung shui correct herb garden, and even help saw and hammer some wood for a big compost crate they were building. They did all this as cheaply as possible, collecting old potatoes, wood, and seeds and seedlings from their friends who already had gardens. For tools they had a too big shovel, their hands, a coping saw, a tiny hammer, and a four prong pitch fork where one of the prongs was facing completely the wrong way. I was really impressed with their tenacity and resourcefulness.

There are so many people traveling and doing crazy and artistic things in this world! Not that taking your mom on a back packing, or building a garden out of nothing is particulatly crazy (biking from Portugal to China might be though). Still, it's inspiring.

I left Zike's apartment to meet Niko and Stephanie, the cousins of James – not really knowing what to expect. Four hours later, after a lovely evening of driving around and seeing the city (it was raining again. I had back luck in France with rain), then being invited to an amazing French dinner at a very cozy restaurant with great homemade soups, I returned to Zike's apartment. Five minutes later, I left Zike's apartment with my luggage because Niko and Stephanie had invited me to spend my nights with them instead. The I ended up staying wit h them for the next three nights.

Seriously I still cannot believe how nice Niko and Stephanie were to me. Anything I wanted , anything that would make me more comfortable, they wanted to give me. I didn't pay for any meals in my two days in Toulouse. “Nuestra casa es tu casa” they told me. - oh yes I didn't mention yet that Niko did not speak much English – he spoke better Spanish than English. And Stephanie didn't really speak Spanish, but spoke decent English (though not fluent). So while I was with them, yet again I was having conversations in a triage of languages. Niko and Steph in French, Steph and I in English, and Niko and I in Spanish – and translating between the three of us when one person didn't understand. As a thank you, I cooked them shoyu chicken for dinner one night (it's becoming my signature Hawaiian dish). It wasn't as good as the first time I made it in Montpellierthough . That could be because I added pineapple, and cooked chicken breasts. But it was still fun and appreciated.

Stephanie and Niko were such a beautiful couple too, one that you could really see the affection between. They have an adorable and happy two year old too, who would look at me funny at first because I didn't speak the right language. I normally don't like two year olds very much. I stayed away from the one at the french farm house kind of on purpose. But their daughter Alecia completely charmed me. They are a hard working family, but have a lot of love, and very open hearts. Such good people.

As if my story about Toulouse could be better – it does get better. As I mentioned before, my Monday in Toulouse, I had their cousin Jereme as a tour guide for the day. And I couldn't have asked for a better one. Not only is he a native of Toulouse, not only does he own a restaurant and took me out to a lunch I definitely couldn't have afforded on my own, and not only did he patiently wait for me to buy a water color-painting set at a store he took me to despite me being indecisive and taking a long time to do so – he ALSO borrowed a scooter from a friend of his, and I got to spend the day wandering around the city from the back of a scooter. I've since decided that by vespa/scooter is one of the best ways to see a foreign city (or by bike). This is because you get to see more, and see more of the town's life as you pass it all by at just the right pace.

I will always have fond memories of my time in Toulouse.

Friday, April 8, 2011

French farmhouse helpxchange in summary

South France Provance (till March 27)

The rest of my time at the French farm house went very smoothly and was pretty uneventful. To be honest I was pretty happy to leave and move on to new things. I enjoyed my time, and I enjoyed the people (and of course the food), but I think a week and a few days was just enough.

I went on a few more hikes while there. It was always beautiful. (On one of them, I got lost and learned that getting lost and walkin along the edge of a highway are just as annoying in a foreign country as they are at home... except that I didn't know how to ask for directions in France, so that at least made it more exciting.

I also got to go to a farmer's market and explore the closest village to my house. It was really lovely, but sort of looked like all the other places I've been to in France. Honestly, I'm looking forward to going back to Spain where the architecture is more interesting, the places are more unique, and I know the language better.

I did learn more about my fellow helpers in the rest of my week here, as we spent a lot of time together. I have found memories of the walks and talks I took with Melody, Katherine, and Diane. All of them have interesting pasts and point of views. Melody, Diane, and I also started a morning Yoga group, and would have a class together every morning before work.

I never did get to know Dean or Vanko better. Vanko continued to pretty much just show up for meals, and be on his computer for the rest of the time. Dean, apparently, h ad an estranged romantic past with Diane afterall, so he sort of steered clear of us and her.

The range of the jobs I did varied from plastering, painting walls, painting beams on a vaulted ceiling, painting decorative beams while standing on a very slanted roof top, hoeing debris off of hills in the garden, wheel-barrowing debris from here to there. And my most random job – slapping and smoothing cement onto an 8ft tall Thai Elephant statue in the backyard.

It was a pleasant experience, but on to the next one!


French Farm house - written around March 18th

These English blokes at dinner time are funny because they rarely have tried half the things that Poi, our Thai chef, makes. Today there was a discussion about tofu, and a few people wouldn't try it. I don't think any of them had had pad thai before. For the lamb curry, Katherine said it was a shame there wasn't any mint sauce and Yorkshire pudding to go with it. And they can't really handle their spice. Where as Mei and I were adding more peppers to our pad thai today, some of them found it too hot. They are all really good sports about it, and find it delicious, though sometimes i've noticed the boys just won't go near certain stuff. The things these English people say are also adorable. Every meal at some point Dean will try something and say, "that's good, Innit?" And after eating something delicious, Katherine will say, "Well, that was just lovely." (her accent reminds me of Wallace and Grommit films. I love it).

it's not just the main courses either. Today Poi gave us a plate of tropical fruits for desserts, including lychee, mango, japan pear, and longans. All of these fruits I ran into on a regular basis in Hawaii, but none of the English had never seen longans before. Nor had they eaten japan pears. They couldn't figure out what it was. Since I was so familiar with them all, Dean said something about how these things must grow in my back yard as a joke – but thing is in Hawaii they really do grow in the backyard! Now, i was aware that i'm lucky to have a mango tree in my backyard in Hawaii, but until traveling around Europe, I didn't realize how lucky I was as an American to have so many chances to try different cuisines on a regular basis – Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Lebonese, even occasionally Ethiopian, Tibetan, and Mongolian. Sure it's because I'm an adventurous eater, (and growing up in such an Asian culture like Hawaii helps) but here in Europe, most places (London excluded) you can't find such a mix of cuisines even if you wanted to. I thought it was just Spain that lacked the mix of cuisines. But France doesn't have it, nor, now that i think about it, does Italy, Belgium, Denmark, or anywhere that I've been here (to my knowledge. I could be wrong). Regardless, the mix of cuisines is something I will never take for granted again when I go back to America.In the meantime I'm grateful for the Thai food.

French Farmhouse helpxchange: part deux

Written on Friday, March 18th

So, been here for two full days now, and I must say I am feeling much more relaxed and enjoying the experience of it all. So far I've spent my work day painting/plastering walls in a soon to be private bed/bath that i'm helping a man from Croatia fix up (or I guess now he lives in Sweden). I have a pair of pants and a long sleeve shirt covered in paint/plaster stuff. My hands are covered in the same by the end of the day. I've really missed having my hands covered in paint/etc! I haven't gotten to do that since my college work study days in the scene/prop shop. It's quite comfy here. I have my own room! And i'm sharing a little apartment unit with it's own kitchen and wood burning stove for heat with only Mei and another awesomely nice girl from St. Louis who arrived yesterday. Also, the countryside is BEAUtiful. I went for a run yesterday, and the wine fields and other fields, and mountains in the background are do-you-good-pretty. It feels really good to be someplace non-city again. And the food here! – oh my deliciousness. The wife of the owner is Thai, from Thailand. Tonight the menu was pad thai, sweet and sour chicken, vegetarian green curry, and lamb curry. (in addition to salad, bread and cheese, and tropical fruits). In my two days being here we've also already had massuman (peanut curry) with sticky rice, squash soup (the only thing not cooked by Poi the amazing thai chef), green papaya salad, thai sweet basil chicken... that's all I can remember right now. Point is, there are lots and lots of delicious things are present at every meal. And then every meal is followed by cheese. Lot's of cheese. I enjoy that there is ALWAYS good rice too. It reminds me of home! And I haven't spent a dime, I mean, Euro since I've gotten here! Free travel for 5 hours a work a day – it's a nice deal. I'm not sure what we will do for the weekend yet (we have Saturday and Sunday work free)I hope to go for some hikes, and see some of the smaller surrounding villages.

The people here are mostly English. In fact, I feel like I am in England. Well, there are 10 of us including the owners, and 5 of them are from England, and none of them are from London either. Pretty much all the English people i knew up till now have been from London, and I'm learning there is a significant cultural difference between Londoners and non-Londoners. I'm still learning people's stories. I'm afraid to say I've been slightly anti-social since getting here. Well, not anti-social (cus I don't think I know how to do that) but not all that outgoing with the question asking and the story finding. I'm really enjoying the company of the outdoors, my music, and my room (and a good book). I think it might be because I'm only going to be here for ten days, whereas my next helpxchange I'll be there for a month... I don't know. I'm trying this new things where I don't over think things. So if I want to be in my room or take a walk alone, or if want to listen to music while I work and not make small talk with Vinko the heavily accented, politically opinionated, sort of shy, from Croatia but recently relocated to Sweden despite the fact that he very much dislikes socialist governments helpxer who I've been working with, then I choose to listen to my music. And it's sort of fun to piece together these people's stories slowly.

There's Katherine who is from Northern England as says the cutest English things, is on a working holiday, and manages properties back home.

There's Diane and Dean from England (but not a couple). Diane I don't know too much about, but she has a thirty year old daughter, a son (not sure of the age), is gregarious, nice, and we've had a conversation about tarot cards and astrology. They sell things at markets on the weekends. Dean seems to have traveled a lot. I'm not sure exactly where but he'll say things like, “oh yeah, I drove through st. louis. The arch, right?” and “When I was younger I smoked everything I could get my hands on while traveling down Africa.” But you have to imagine these things in a mumbling English accent. He's in his fifties. He loves to speak to me in American slang and makes jokes about how i'm a hippie from Hawaii. He also has such a nice head of hair! I don't normally notice guy's hair, but his is better than any middle aged celebrity I've seen (it's thick, it's shaped, and it has such a cool shade of grey).

There's Vinko, who I've sort of mentioned. He's a hard worker, really likes fixing up old English farms, and wants to turn it into more of a career. He tends to keep to himself. He comes out for meals, and then disappears again.

There's Matt, also from England, He's not a helpxer, but a friend of Peter the owner because he used to go out with Peter's 22 year old daughter. He's very friendly, helpful, lives with his girlfriend at a place with many horses. He seems to be an adrenaline junkie and has a ton of stories where he's either getting hurt (such as how the big dog here broke his leg when he was here by himself and didn't speak any French, or how he once almost blue himself up lighting a fire with petrol), or where he's getting into trouble (Speeding and or driving a bit drunk, etc). He's a character, but fun to talk to.

Peter and Poi – the owners have a three year old daughter who is adorable and gorgeous. And also seems to have the chicken pox at the moment, so i'm sort of steering clear of her. I don't know too much about Peter, but he's very nice (and Matt's always saying that he's a rather disorganized.) And Poi, in addition to being a great cook, definitely has a mischievous streak. The first night she was the instigator of a bunch of us taking way too many shots of 16% alcoholic wine.

And There's Melody. She's also American, and just arrived today so I don't know much about her yet, except that she has one of the helpful and pleasant dispositions that I have ever met. And she has a lot of different types of laughs, is very easy going, and has a good sense of humor. She just came from doing some helpxchanges in England, and this is her last one before she goes back to St. Louis where she has a number of jobs – a housekeeper, a farmer, a model for artists, and one more... can't remember. She's also vegetarian (hence the tofu green curry at dinner tonight which reminded me of my moms).

I'll be here till next Sunday- another week and a day - and then I'm not really sure where I'm off to for a couple of days. I know I want to go to Granada by the beginning of April, and see what places I can (including Barcelona) along the way.) In the meantime, spending ten days here with this company will be nice. Besides, it's only ten days. Just enough time to really experience it before moving on. I like this plan, and it's nice to stay put after jumping locations and people and beds every two nights for the last two weeks. I'll keep you posted of what's next.

My first night at the French Farmhouse somewhere outside of Orange

Written on Tuesday, March 15ths... somewhere outside of Orange, France where there are lots of Vineyards.

I'm sitting in the kitchen with my Thai helpXchange host, and two middle ages English woman drinking wine after eating an amazing meal (complete with delicious, authentic thai food, followed by death by chocolate cake, followed by wine that was grown and made within 50 miles of the house). This has been my first night at my country chateau. It's beautiful! Mei and I have our own rooms – each. And our own kitchen, own bathroom... another girl from America comes tomorrow night, but still I'll have my own room. I've even been able to unpack my stuff from my bags! (sidenote: I bought a bag before I left Madrid for 15 euros. It's a duffel bag with wheels that's bright red. After only not even two weeks of traveling, it's got holes in it that are just going to get more serious. Instead of investing in a new bag I think I'm going to invest in a role of quality duck tape. Oh yeah. I'm going to be a stylin' bohemian traveler I am.) Yet despite all the laughter around me, and the above expectations housing (and food!) I'm feeling a bit out of my element. Maybe it's the new surroundings. Maybe it's the different types and ages of people around me. Maybe it's because I only got 5.5 hours of sleep last night. Or maybe because i'm going to be here for ten days and I don't know what to expect... I don't know. But I find myself needing to tell myself to relax. To rest. To let go of any expectations that I had of this situation. And I didn't have any expectations! Except that I guess I thought the people already here would be younger, and instead everyone except for Mei and I are middle aged and from England. I just feel nervous i don't know why. I used to not get nervous when I through myself into new situations like this. So why am i nervous and uneasy now? Well, it's the first night. Open mind. Open expectations. Relax Becs,. Your safe, your lucky, and I just need to not take this all so seriously.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Montpellier = more rain, but comfy, awesome CS hosts

MONTPELLIER, France - April 13 and 14

As I said in my last entry, on our way (in the rain) to the Nimes train station we were invited to stay at the hosue of two girls – Bettina and Elsie. They met us at the train station in Montpellier. And they were so lovely! Bettina is 22 years old, is originally from Austria, but is studying abroad in Montpellier for the semester – till May. In addition to German (her native tongue) and English, she also speaks fluent French and pretty much fluid Spanish. These Europeans are so good at languages! I'm quite jealous. Bettina She is studying education, and plans to travel around Spain during the summer. We are going to check with each other and maybe meet up and travel together for a while. She was very happy to learn about helpxchange. I adored this girl, she was very lovely to talk to and stay with. She's a girl who's going places for sure.

Elsie her roommate was awesome as well. Her English level was a bit lower, so she was a bit harder to communicate with. However, in addition to French (she's originally from Lille, France in the North), she also speaks Italian fluently because she lived in Rome for the year before. She was sort of cute punk rocker chic. She had very short hair. We found out that her short hair was the cause of a dare. Her friends didn't think she'd do it, so she did it. She currently has a bet going on with another of her friends that if they cut their hair short, she'll dye hers bright blue or something. She has a really good sense of humor.

We shared all our meals with our hosts, which was really nice. Dinner the first night, Mei made a french veggie dish called Ratatouille. After dinner we went to a student, rather alternative bar, where a live band was playing sort of reggae trance music. At first the band was pretty horrible, but they got better as the night went on, and became pretty fun to dance to. There were a lot of dreadlocks in this place. The whole vibe reminded m a lot of good 'ol Maui Paia side. Ah Maui No Ka 'Oi! We got invited to an after party too at one of these dread haired people's apartments. We only stayed for about 20 minutes, but it was a still fun time. French and Spanish (yes Spanish) filled the air. Most people spoke English too, but we didn't hear too much of it.

The next day, Mei and I lazily left the house around 1 to walk around Montpellier. Unfortunatley, right when we left is when it decided to start raining again! So it was another rainy day of wandering! I like the rain, I really do. But it really does make wandering around a normally pleasantly sunny town a bit annoying. Still, Montpellier was a fun place to wander. Lots of European pedestrian streets. However, I must admit, what I've seen of France has left me of the opinion that all these south French towns all look more or less the same. Italy and Spain are, in my opinion, more interesting. Although the bakeries in France are still unbeatable, and possibly my favorite thing about France.

That night, the girls were curious about Hawaiian cuisine, so I tried my hand at making shoyu chicken. The store didn't have thighs, so I had to use chicken wings. But it turned out pretty good! It wasn't quite like the shoyu chicken from home, but still familiar tasting. And it was a nice change from all the french food we had been eating. Overall, I really enjoyed Montpellier. It was comfy, calm, and rainy, and a good time.

Nimes, France = Rainy and Roman

NIMES, France - March 11 and 12

We arrived in Nimes on a beautiful day! We walked up and down the street in front of the bus station to try to find where the bus that went to the hostel was. A nice girl who only spoke French communicated to us a few times which bus we were supposed to take (despite neither of us really understanding a word). Found bus. Took said bus. And then walked 500 meters uphill with all of our luggage to get to the hostel. The walk – not fun. The hostel however- quite fun and nice. It had internet, it had cheap food, and we even had our own room. All things considered, not bad! Since when we arrived it was about 7pm, and since the place was so comfortable, we knew as soon as we got there we wouldn't be leaving for the night. And we didn't

However, had we known that the next day was going to be an endless day of rain, perhaps we would have changed our plan and left the hostel that night after all. Wandering around European cities in the cold rain makes the wandering quite a bit less pleasant. Still, we made the most of it. The streets were cute and winding. We got a cafe at a warm cafe, we saw very old Roman monuments (such as a mini Colosseum, a couple of old temples, and a beautiful gardern) And we found the best French bakery either of us had been to. It was small, it was baked goods of Lyon (city of great food where we had just left) and it was really really well priced for what you got. I bought a cheese/ham pastry there for a cheap lunch,

and it was so good and filling we went back and bought a few more things for breakfast the next day.

Because of the weather, we headed back to the hostel pretty early, stopping at a grocery along the way to buy a bunch of great stuff for a huge, cheap dinner – goat cheese, soup, tasty olive bread, broccoli... It was a really good dinner that sort of turned into our lunch too.

The next day our only goal was to go to the train station, take the next train to Montpellier, and figure out where we were going to stay. We achieved this goal, but not without more rain, some uncertainty, and a whole lot of walking in the rain. Before deciding on Montpellier, Mei and I had debated going instead to Sete, Arles, Marselle... we were both sort of indecisive people separately, so together we were really indecisive about where to go and what to do. It was a good match in this way, but consequently, we sometimes were unsure about things. For example, we left our Nimes hostel not really sure where we were going to sleep once we got to Montpellier. We had sent out a last minute couch surfing alert to the Montpellier webpage late the night before, but I wasn't expecting any results from it. However a nice Swedish lady who had been traveling around France solo with all her possessions in her car for the last few months told us all about the HI hostel in Montpellier. I sort of knew where the HI hostel was, so we knew we'd find somewhere to sleep.

We headed down to the bus to take us the twenty minute ride to the train station with our bags. ( I would guess I have 30-35 pounds of luggage with me). Just before we headed down to the bus stop (a ten minute walk at least), Mei asked, “should we check the time of the bus?” Personally I hate checking for transportation times of buses in small towns where I don't speak or read the language, so I opted not to check.... we should have checked. After walking downhill from the hostel with all of our stuff for 15 minutes in the rain because it was again a rainy day, we finally made it to the bus stop – to find out that the bus only ran once every two hours, and we had just missed the most recent one by ten minutes. Oh dear ... what to do when travel goes not according to plan? Stay positive and find the next best option. Which I did, but not without some difficulty. I was grumpy that morning to begin with because we didn't know where we were going, the rain, i'd lost a headphone, my boot had broken, and just general morning grumps. Missing the bus, and it sort of being my fault did not help. But with no other options but to take an expensive taxi ride, we decided to keep walking, in the rain, to the next bus station in the direction of the train station. When we arrived at a good bus station, there were no busses again for about 40 minutes. At this point we'd hit a stride, and Mei suggested we just walk the whole way... another 20 minutes. And this is what we did, with all of our luggage. In the rain. We stopped in a Quick to check email and grab some coffee. And it was at this lovely Quick that Mei got a text message from two very nice couch surfing girls in Montpellier asking if we still needed a place to stay that night! They also lived only 5 minutes away from the Montpellier train station! We accepted. And I have to say, this bit of news really improved my mood (as did the coffee and the rain break). So, we finished walking to the station in the rain, with all of our stuff, feeling quite proud of ourselves. Then we bought some bread, bought out tickets, and jumped on a train to Montpellier.

Lyon, France - gastronomic and roman

Lyon - March 9th and 10th

After a 3 hour train ride, I arrived in Lyon. I had been looking forward to this day, since today was the day I'd finally meet Mei – my Australian travel buddy for the next few weeks or so. We had arranged a couch surfing host in Lyon about a month before (pre-travel jitters = arranging things early:: during travels = arrange things late). I arrived in Lyon around 5pm, and met my host, Olivier, at the train station since luckily he worked right by there. I love it when I get to meet the host at the train station. It saves me the trouble of having to navigate the public transportation and streets of a city I don't know very well with all my luggage all by myself. I'm happy to say I'm pretty good at navigating foreign cities at this point, so it's not too big of a deal when I have to, but it's so nice when I don't have to. Mei wasn't to arrive until 11pm, so it would just be my and Olivier for the next five hours.

Olivier is a very nice, accommodating person who works for the transportation system of Lyon, something in finance management. Apparently his company is the middle man for some transportation systems around the world (from Melborne to Washington). He was explaining to us what exactly his company does... I think they own the equipment, and/or help organize the system's workings, but the districts/cities actually run it. Anyway, Olivier was a very gracious host. His apartment had a lot of space too. Mei and I had our own room to share (I love when that happens). He's originally from Reunion Island, which is close to Madagascar. He showed me some pictures of his island online. I'm an island snob, naturally since I come from such a beautiful place, but Reunion Island is really beautiful too, even by my standards. It has a very huge mix of different cultures and cuisines, it's own creole language; I'd really like to go there now. While we waited for Mei, Olivier made me some apertives of toasted goat cheese toasts topped with lychee honey from his island. Really tasty stuff. We went to the grocery store to get the cheese and a few other things. French grocery stores have SO much cheese!! We also met his friend from England for a traditional Lyonesse three course menu du jour meal. I ate really well in Lyon. They have a lot of food specialties there. Most restaurants offer a menu du jour which lets you choose a first course, second course, and dessert from a list of options for a set price (between 12 and 35 euros). I tried Lyon pates, Lyonnese salad (which is lettuce, tomato, a poached egg, and bacon), and a cod souffle with lobster sauce. Not to mention, this is France where there is a pastry shop or bakery shop on almost literally every corner. (oof!)

We picked Mei up at the train station at 11 as planned, she came in from Paris. Then the four of us went to a bar that brews it's own beers for about an hour or so, which was a little awkward, but not too bad. I was pretty ready to go to bed by the time we left. By then it was about 1pm, and we were tired. Mei and I went to bed. Olivier dropped us off at his place, let us into his apartment, and then drove his friend home, despite having to get up early for work (I told you he was ridiculously nice).

Now, when you couch surf and stay with strangers, you learn some good rules of behavior along the way – one of these is to find out the night before if your host expects you to leave the apartment at the same time he/she does in the morning. Mei and I forgot to do this however. So, the next day, at about 8:40, Olivier knocked on our door and told Mei and I that we were leaving in 15 minutes. Woops. So we jumped out of bed, quickly grabbed what we needed for the day, and were off. At least we came downstairs to some coffee that Olivier had made. That helped. We left, Olivier showed us some stuff we should go visit on a map of the city, and then went to work.

Mei and I had a great day wandering around Lyon. Lyon has an old city, and a really old city. Lyon was originally part of the Roman empire, so it dates back pretty damn old – 1st centure AD I think? There are lots of cool cobblestone streets, and stores. It's a fun place to wander. It also has the Fourviere, which was the first thing that Olivier circled on the map, and the first place Mei and I headed to. It's on the top of a hill. As we headed up to it on the bus, I aksed Mei, “So, what is the Forviere?” she replied “No idea.” Hilarious. It ended up being yet another ornate church of Europe, stained glass windows, carvings, mosaics, etc. It was pretty. And free (even better). On the walk down from the Forviere to the really old city, there was an old Roman Amphitheatre to visit, which naturally I thought was pretty cool. We did some yoga on the stage for a little while, took some pictures. The weather was great! In addition to more food, I visited a world puppetry exhibit that just happened to be Lyon (and was also free cus I'm under 26), we lazed next to the river for a while (there are two rivers in Lyon). And we went on a bike ride. Like many of the towns in France, Lyon has city bike rental stations where you pay a Euro for a day, and then a euro an hour (or if you only use the bike for a half hour it is free, so you can trick the system that way). We were trying to get from one river, to the other on the bikes through Lyon old town, cross the other river, and then bike to the train station where we were meeting Olivier. In reality, we didn't get very far on the bikes though. We chose a lot of wrong directions, ended up going up a very steep hill, taking our bikes up stairs in a park, getting super close to the other river, but choosing the wrong direction again, and ending up back where we started. Luckily Mei and I are pretty positive people, so we managed to choose to see the whole thing as adventurously hilarious rather than annoying. WE found out later from Olivier that the hill we went up (which was VERY steep) was the only hill in Lyon... what luck, eh?)

The rest of our time in Lyon was pretty mellow. We were all tired, and went to bed early, went to the train station early, hung out at a Quick (a french McDonalds basically that has free wifi), and took the train out to Nimes.

oof! I'm behind

So i just realized that i haven't published any of the things that i've done in the last three weeks or so! Woops! Since Carcassonne I've been in.... Lyon, Nimes, Montpellier, Avignon French Farmhouse, Toulouse, Balaguer, Barcelona, and yesterday, April 6, I just arrived Lanjaron South Spain Villa.
I have some catching up to do....