Exploring Montmartre in Paris Tuesday, Aug 7 2012 

When I first visited Paris, I was sixteen years old and on a school trip.  I fell in love quickly and easily, and Paris remains one of my favorite cities to this day.

My favorite neighborhood of that first visit?  Montmartre, the artsy settlement on a hill, filled with winding streets, artists, astounding views, Amelie, and the Moulin Rouge.

Before arriving in Paris, your Paris travel info will tell you that Montmartre has always been a neighborhood of artists and bohemians.  (If you’ve seen Moulin Rouge, however, you know this already!)

You can see today’s artists and bohemians at the top of the hill, just behind the Sacre-Coeur.

Getting your portrait drawn can be dirt cheap — or mind-numbingly expensive.  My advice?  You get what you pay for.  Quality artists won’t compromise on price; the ones who grab your arm and just start drawing before negotiating wildly will give you a much worse product.

What else?  There are views!

Montmartre sits on top of a hill overlooking all of Paris.  (The Eiffel Tower is to the right of this image — you can only see if you climb to the top of the church!)  This is where you will find absolutely spectacular views of the city.  It never gets boring looking over a city this beautiful.

Another thing I love about Montmartre?  The cafes.

Paris is famous for its cafe culture, and Montmartre has a lot of interesting, colorful ones.  When the cafes look this good, it’s easy to stay all day with your latte!  Most of the time, I end up going for crepes — first, a savory gallette, and later, a sweet crepe for dessert.

But of all the pleasures of Montmartre, my favorite is just walking around the city streets.

Once you get away from the touristy areas with the touts trying to rip you off, it starts feeling like another city — the Paris of years, possibly even centuries, ago.  People water the flowers on their balconies, and go shopping for food, and walk their dogs.  This is where people live, not where tourists come to gawk.

It sounds so usual and expected, but trust me, Paris is magical.  And there’s no better place to see that than Montmartre.

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Kitesurfing: On the Bucket List Monday, Mar 7 2011 

I’ve done some crazy sports before.  I’ve jumped off a few cliffs in Switzerland — first paragliding, then canyon jumping.

But water sports (hehehe) have never help much appeal to me — until I got to Mui Ne and saw kitesurfing.

Kitesurfing is done by surfing on a small board — kind of like what Marty McFly rode in Back to the Future, Part II — with a giant kite attached to your body.

I couldn’t stop watching the kitesurfers in Mui Ne all day!  The surfers would fly up into the air and do crazy turns….I want to do that so much!

Of course, I’d probably go so high, I’d land on the roofs of the beach resorts.  Or worse yet, in the street.  That would be my luck.

But to be honest, kitesurfing doesn’t look that difficult.  Maybe I was just watching a lot of talented people, but it appears to be fairly intuitive.

Sadly, this time around kitesurfing was a bit out of my price range.  But just because it didn’t happen this time, it doesn’t mean it will never happen.

Kitesurfing, you’ve earned yourself a spot on the bucket list.

This post was sponsored by TravelGrove. At TravelGrove, you’ll find an excellent resource for cheap flights. Whether searching for cheap flights to London for the Royal Wedding or cheap flights to Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day, TravelGrove has you covered!

Top 25 Photos of 2008 Saturday, Jan 3 2009 

Here are the 25 best, weirdest and funniest photos of 2008 — the ones that I think best represent the year.  God, this has been a cruisazy year.  Enjoy!

Arrival in Albuquerque, New Mexico!

I had a really difficult winter, mostly due to a rocky relationship, a bad breakup and being unable to shake a cold for two months.  My mom invited me to come to New Mexico with her and it was EXACTLY what I needed.  It was a time to heal.

I loved the color of this car.

Callie and I attempt to smile with our eyes, Tyra Banks-style, while at Ned Devine’s.

Lisa and I celebrate our Irish heritage in the form of Guinness, Jameson and Bailey’s on St. Paddy’s Day.

I quit my job of nearly two years!!  Here I am on my last day with my wonderful friends Jackie, Nadine, Esther and Michelle.

The weekend before I start my new job, I meet Josh.

This is the start of a crazy friendship and the first of our many, many adventures.

While out in Faneuil Hall, I befriend a bachelor party and end up jumping on their bus with them, partying till dawn.

In Las Vegas at Madame Tussaud’s, Lisa, Alexa and I give Hef a good time!

I then get stuck inside Frank Sinatra.

Ever sat in a guy in a wheelchair’s lap as he spins you around on the dance floor?  I now have.  This was also at Tryst.

This is probably my favorite picture of the year.  It’s definitely the funniest.  This is me and Lisa in Vegas at 7:00 AM after leaving Drai’s and walking back to TI while high-fiving random onlookers and yelling, “Vegas!” then going to play Blackjack for a few more hours.  This is around the time Lisa lay in the alley next to the IP.

Yeah…no explanation needed.

I spoon Beth (under the tarp) on the Esplanade in Boston on the Fourth of July.  It rained for part of the day.

Beth tries to help me discreetly change from shorts into pants on the Esplanade as Janelle looks on.  Yeah, we kind of failed at the “discreet” part.

If you’re napping, you might as well keep up the patriotism and the pimpin’.

This picture is so embarrassing.  I was convinced my hand was on his left outer thigh, NOT HIS RIGHT INNER THIGH.  I nearly died when I saw this — and Lisa, Beth and Janelle nearly died of laughter.  We met this guy at the Blackthorne in Southie and he went to our high school 15 years before us.

I reunite with my wonderful college roommate Kelly Anne at our friends Sean and Shannon‘s barbecue at their beautiful new house in Bridgeport.  (Sean and Shannon have since gotten engaged, which excites me to no end!)

The night before our shared birthday, I run into Hans at Mantra in Boston.  We’re smiling pretty big despite our disastrous weekend a week before.

Me and my lubly Sars on my birthday at 28 Degrees.

Me and my wonderful friends on my birthday.  These are some of the people most important to me: Kara, Carissa, Surina, Sars, Josh, Callie, Lisa and Beth.

I attend Barack Obama’s September rally in Manchester, New Hampshire — what an amazing experience!

I needed a popular, smart, topical and preferably political, yet not overdone (aka Sarah Palin), Halloween costume this year.  I fretted that I wouldn’t be able to find a good one — and then the PERFECT character swept into the news and into my life.  Ashley Todd.  One of my best costumes.

My first night in Buenos Aires and I’m getting licked!  Maxi unsuspectingly gets me when I was expecting a normal, smiling picture.  That’s a genuine expression of shock on my face.

Poor Louis…in Buenos Aires, food poisoning and parilla do not mix.

Carissa and I get borderline violent at Shabu Shabu Kaze in Chinatown.

Beth and I celebrate the arrival of 2009.

The Most Argentine Night Ever Friday, Dec 19 2008 

My Sunday night in Buenos Aires was probably the most quintessentially Argentine night of my trip, and it was one of the best nights there.

Because of that, I’m only going to blog about this night in depth.  I’ll skim over everything else lightly.

After a morning (well, in Buenos Aires, the morning begins at noon) shopping and enjoying the market in Plaza Serrano in Palermo Viejo, right down the street from my house.  Later that evening, I hopped down to San Telmo to go see a band called Rosal perform at Bar el Nacional.

Rosal was FANTASTIC.  Two (or three) acoustic guitars, and I LOVE multiple acoustic guitars, and the girl had a wonderful voice.  Here they are:

Louis, my Couchsurfing friend from Chicago, found out about the band and invited us.  Christian, our Couchsurfing friend from Los Angeles, came as well.

Christian (check out his blog, Aimless Wanderers) is traveling around South America for nearly a year.  He had spent time in Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, and is planning to spend more time in Argentina, then Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and I believe Costa Rica, then heading home.

Louis was in Argentina for about a month — he just got back.  He rented a pretty amazing apartment in Palermo SoHo (oh, yeah — and this is weird, but YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF THE BUILDING without a key!!!  FIRE HAZARD!!!) for two weeks, then went down to Bariloche and up to Iguazu Falls before returning to Buenos Aires, then home.

I love these guys.  🙂

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ños there, and that was perfect.

After that, we walked around and decided to go to a parrilla — pronounced pa-REE-sha by Argentines — and sample some legendary steaks.

And wow, was that ever a meal.

We started out with sausages — Christian looks eager to dig in — salads and prosciutto.

And some FANTASTIC papas fritas!

Poor Louis was fighting off a bout of food poisoning.  He ate as much as he could — it was all about the experience, he said.

Christian, on the other hand, spent most of the meal like this.

I believe that’s Christian’s pork.  Some of the steaks are so tender, they CARVE them with a SPOON.

Our delicious spread.  That’s my filet in the front.  (Yeah, the vegetarianism kind of went out the window in the name of experiencing Buenos Aires to the fullest.)  What I love — that was one of the most expensive cuts on the menu, and it cost about $15.00.

Self-portrait!  Christian’s got a better one…

We also enjoyed a bottle of Malbec.  It was lovely.

Awww.  Poor Louis.  I felt so bad for him…he wanted to enjoy the food so much…

After dinner, I grabbed a cab back to Palermo Viejo.  (30-minute cab — $10.00.  Love it.)  And sadly, I had to say goodbye to Louis, who was leaving for Bariloche.  Christian and I made plans to meet up the next day.

After getting back to the hostel, a group of backpackers, including Sarah from Boston (she used to live in Southie!) decided to go out.  I thought we were going to a club.

We ended up at a tango milonga!

Now, this is the most fascinating people-watching I have ever seen.  Dozens of couples fill the dance floor.  The men are in jeans and button-downs of all levels of style.  The women wear everything from leggings to short denim skirts to casual dresses — but all of them wear gorgeous tango shoes.

Everyone dances perfectly, intricately, not missing a beat.

The most fascinating thing is that everybody who dances like this appears to be so passionately connected, so deeply in love.  And then, often, they switch partners.  And it begins all over again.

What a great night — it was truly unforgettable.

It’s ironic, though, that I glorify this particular night, considering that I missed the ONE thing I hoped not to miss and tried not to miss, but missed anyway.

Hmm.  How do I put this?

Of all the lessons I learned from my college creative writing advisor, Dr. White, one stands out the most: “Just because it happened that way, it doesn’t mean it makes good fiction.”

But sometimes, the opposite happens.

Things happen to you in life that you don’t expect.  Things that hurt badly.  But you know what?  This experience would make FANTASTIC fiction.

And I lived that.

God, that’s pretty fucking poetic.

Cementerio de la Recoleta Thursday, Dec 18 2008 

It’s the #1 tourist attraction in Buenos Aires — and Cementerio de la Recoleta, or Recoleta Cemetery, is where anyone who’s anyone in Buenos Aires rests for eternity.

Evita is here.  So is every Alvear you can imagine.

I like cemeteries.  Perhaps it’s a bit macabre, but I’ve always felt a strange connection with them.  To me, they’re fascinating.

And when you come to a cemetery as ornate as Recoleta, even if you’ve never held a camera in your life, you instantly become a master photographer.

Here are my favorite pictures:

This is so sad — a little girl who died…

…but it wasn’t nearly as sad as this heartbreaking poem, in Italian, that her father wrote for her, crying, “Why, why, why?” at the end.

Evita’s sarcophagus.

The whole time I was there, I kept thinking about how much my photographer friends Kelly and James would love this place.  It casts a spell over you.

A Buenos Aires Thanksgiving Saturday, Dec 13 2008 

I’ve done Thanksgiving in a few different places — Florida was nice; Florence was AWESOME — but my Thanksgiving in Buenos Aires ranks among the greatest of all time.

Buenos Aires has a great group of Couchsurfers, and two of them, Romi and Belle, put together a great gathering at Romi’s house — which happened to be right in Palermo Viejo, a quick walk from my hostel.  The BA Couchsurfing group always has events going on.

We had dinner, everyone was SO warm and welcoming, I made friends from Argentina, Ecuador, Sweden, Colombia and all over the US (there were three Americans in our group!), we hung out for a while, and we went to a club (at 4:30, which I WISH you could do in Boston!!).

Here are the best pictures:

Andres (Ecuador), Louis (Chicago), Jorge (Colombia), Maxi (Buenos Aires) and Romi’s dog!

Christian (LA), a sunburned Kails and Belle (Buenos Aires)

The beginning of odd pictures with Maxi.

I LOVE THIS PICTURE.  Seaman (Sweden), Belle, me, cruisazy Christian and Romi (Buenos Aires) — I think Romi looks just like Lily Allen.

Seaman, Fanny (France) and Elia (California).

Yeah, I don’t even know…I thought we were taking a normal picture!!!  (I do love this guy.  So crazy.)

Club time!

What a great night.  This evening is testament enough to why you should sign up for couchsurfing, no matter where you’re headed on your next trip!

So, how was Buenos Aires? Saturday, Dec 6 2008 

Buenos Aires was fantastic.

It was so much fun — such a wonderful trip.

I met wonderful people, saw beautiful things — met beautiful people, did wonderful things…it was just such a great time.

It was a microcosm of my life!  This trip had everything — very high highs and very low lows…friendship, parties, some loneliness, awkwardness, romance, triumph, tragedy, wine, affirmations of what I know about myself and so much learning — learning new things about myself.

This trip also made me realize how amazing Couchsurfing is.  I hear it’s stronger in Buenos Aires than many other cities, but WOW!!  I met SO many new friends from there!  I went to dinners, parties, bars, you name it…and that doesn’t even include the time that I spent with people from the hostel and other friends.

There’s very little that I would change.

Wow.  I’m trying to figure out the best way to chronicle the trip on here, since the thought of putting up every picture, or even chronicling each day, is freaking me out already.  It’s that kind of stuff that puts me off blogging in the first place.

But if you want to see the pictures in their entirety, they’re on Facebook.

Get on Couchsurfing!

Vintage Travel Posters Sunday, Sep 7 2008 

I have a LOT of wall space in my new apartment.  We have really high ceilings — I think around 12 feet or so — and I never really decorated my last place, besides my Fairfield diploma and my Obama calendar.

And I LOVE vintage travel posters.

I bought this one on eBay a year or so ago, but I never got it framed:

That’s for Venice — in French!  Venice wasn’t one of my favorite places, but I found it beautiful, especially during the foggy fall.

I had an idea.  What if I decorate the apartment with posters from the places I’ve visited in Europe?

If so, here’s what I could get from art.com:

The destination: LOVE IT.  Italy is fantastic.

The poster: LOVE IT, but I’d rather have posters depicting specific cities.

Sun all year on the Cote d’Azur — the southeasternmost region in France that includes Nice and Monaco, where I’ve been, as well as Cannes, St. Tropez, etc.

The destination: LOVE IT!

The poster: Like it a lot, but again, I’d rather have more specific posters.  And I do like what it says, because it was October and I was swimming in the warm waters of the ocean!

The destination: Liked it a lot — but I didn’t visit the Monte Carlo part of Monaco, even though the entire country is less than a square mile.  Does that matter?  I saw it from half a mile away, from the Monaco-ville part of Monaco.

The poster: ADORE IT.  One of my favorites.  It says Chic people are in Monte Carlo during the winter.

The destination: Beyond words.  La mia bella Firenze, la mia bella citta.  I studied abroad here.  I adore Florence beyond words.

The poster: I like it a lot — and I love that it features my favorite Florence landmark, the Ponte Vecchio.  I lived just down the road from it.

The destination: Love Rome — especially in the steamy summer.  Pure passion.

The poster: I like it…I don’t adore it.  But I like it.  A lot.

The destination: LOVE IT!!  When I went to Nice, I hadn’t been to France for a few years, so I was thrilled to be back in the country that always feels like home to me.  (I’m not exaggerating.  I’ve been to France five times, and I feel like that every time.)

The poster: WOW.  This is a GREAT poster — one of my faves so far.

The destination: I loved Prague.  There’s no better place in Europe to party.

The poster: I wish it were more Prague-oriented, but it’s nice.  Probably won’t get it.

The destination: I love Paris more than anywhere else I’ve ever been.  It’s beyond words.  I was made for this city.  I love absolutely everything about it.

The poster: I like it, but I’m sure there are better ones out there.

The destination: I was a bit ambivalent about it the first time, but every time I visit, I like it more.  My company is based in London and I hope I get to go there for work someday.

The poster: I love the poster, but it’s not as obviously vintage.  It also reminds me of the pigeons that fill Trafalgar Square, and I’m deathly afraid of pigeons.

The destination: Fabulous!  I had one of the best weekends of my semester abroad here.  If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can’t miss Interlaken.  I went paragliding and canyon jumping (think bungee jumping with a rope instead of a bungee!).

The poster: Very beautiful.  Also expensive.  But seeing those Jungfrau mountains brings me back.

The destination: Loved Budapest much more than I expected to.

The poster: GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS.  Love it.  And I DID spend three days in Budapest, as the poster suggests!  This one is also quite expensive.

Now…which ones?

They’re expensive to frame.  It would take FOREVER to save up to fill my apartment (especially since I’d rather be saving for travel, like my presumptive trip to Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Serbia next summer).

If I had to choose three based on destination, I’d pick Paris, Florence and the Cote d’Azur.

But if I chose based on these posters, I think my top three are Nice, Budapest and Italy.

Which ones do you like?

Stuff White People Like: Study Abroad Thursday, Mar 13 2008 

I have recently gotten hooked on the site Stuff White People Like.  This blog is hilarious — it examines white people from an anthropological perspective, writing in-depth about things like Bottles of Water, The Wire, Breakfast Places and Threatening to Move to Canada.

They are HILARIOUS.

My favorite?  Study abroad.  Of course.

By attending school in another country, white people are technically living in another country.  This is important as it gives them the opportunity to insert that fact into any sentence they please. “When I used to live in [insert country], I would always ride the train to school.  The people I’d see were inspiring.”

LOVE IT.

If you need to make up your own study abroad experience, they all pretty much work the same way.  You arrived in Australia not knowing anybody, you went out to the bar the first night and made a lot of friends, you had a short relationship with someone from a foreign country, you didn’t learn anything, and you acquired a taste for something (local food, beer, fruit).  This latter point is important because you will need to be able to tell everyone how it is unavailable in your current country.

So true, it’s scary.  The arrival, the bar, the friends, the bar, the friends, the bar, the flings…

Well, I didn’t have a passionate affair with a foreigner (though God knows I wanted to), but it was QUITE a semester, nonetheless.  It was the best thing that I’ve done, ever.

And the thing I developed a taste for was blood orange juice.  I love blood orange juice — and you can’t find it ANYWHERE around here!!

Bluelistin’ 2008 Monday, Feb 25 2008 

I just bought the 2008 edition of Lonely Planet’s Bluelist.  This is one of the best travel books out there if you’re looking for the latest, trendiest and most outlandish in travel destinations.

This edition is much more unusual and outlandish than 2007’s.  Because of that, I’ve done hardly anything in the book!  (With stuff like space travel, jailhouse hotels and the most dangerous travel experiences, it’s tough to do any of them!)

I recently visited my first of the top travel destinations in 2007: New Mexico.

2008’s top destinations include Eritrea; Armenia; Australia’s Tiwi Islands; Damascus, Syria; the Raan region of Nicaragua; the Bolivian Amazon, and the Azores (where you can fly DIRECT FROM BOSTON now!).  The ones most likely to be done  by an American are Colorado and Miami, and I’ve visited neither.

So, without further ado, the destinations and travel ideas that I have experienced myself:

Destinations:
–Bologna, Italy (many times, but always briefly)

Countries with the Largest Islamic Populations:
–France (4.8 million, or 7.5% of the total population)
–United States (3 million, or 1.0% of the total population)

Bluelists:

Now you see them, now you…. (Disappearing Destinations)
–Venice

“I’ve been everywhere, man” (Travel Bragging Rights)
–Romancing

Best Brews
–Yuengling in USA
–Guinness in Ireland

Friendliest Countries
–Ireland
–USA

Like the Song? (Best Destination Songs)
–“Life on Mars” by David Bowie
–“Girl from Ipanema” by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto

Food Wonderlands of the World
–Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, USA
–Hershey’s Chocolate World, USA

Metropolis Mania (World’s Most Incredible Cities)
–New York, USA

Know Your Travel (Travel Type Trends)
–Armchair Tourism
–Pop Culture Tourism (white chocolate statue of Michael Jackson, aka the main reason why I went to Budapest!)

By the Seat of Your Pants….Literally (Strange Ways to Sit)
–Paragliding
–Gondola ride in Venice

Check out below for the dreamed-about destinations.

(more…)

Taking Travel Inventory Monday, Sep 24 2007 

Today I bought an incredible book: Rough Guides’ Make the Most of Your Time on Earth: A Rough Guide to the World. The book lists 1000 ultimate travel experiences, several paragraphs describing each of them. The book is FAT and HEAVY.

Going through it makes me feel a bit sad — I know that I’ll never be able to accomplish all 1000 of these things. Nobody could. (Some of them are quite long, like hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, and biking the Camino de Santiago, which I hope to walk someday.)

However, I find it quite inspirational, and that is the reason why I read travel books. They give me life. They give me new dreams every day.

For now, here are the experiences that I have already accomplished:

33) On the Fiddle: Attending a Traditional Irish Music Session

I remember a great pub in Dublin with my family — we used to listen to a lot of Irish music when I was little, and to hear it live and enthusiastic and the entire pub getting into it — SO good.

75) Taking a Trip up the Eiffel Tower

Not as good as ascending Notre-Dame.

93) Gathering Friends for a Swiss Fondue

On our last afternoon in Interlaken — we had to do it before we left Switzerland!

101) Impressionist Paintings at the Musee d’Orsay

Three times so far. It’s my favorite museum.

118) Paying your Respects in Normandy

Though I was sixteen and not as mature as I would be today.

210) Finding Yourself on Capri

Finding EVERYTHING on Capri. It has a spell over you — I actually considered living there someday, and except for its beauty and great food, it’s the least me place ever!

215) On the Trail of Caravaggio

I took Italian Baroque Art when I was in Florence, and visited several of Caravaggio’s works in Florence and Rome.

227) The Colosseum in Winter

I was there in March, so that was definitely winter.

248) Getting the Measure of the Medicis: The Uffizi

Twice. Amazing.

265) Doing Penance in the Sistine Chapel

Twice again. Spellbound.

273) Looking for Pasta Heaven

Most memorably at Acqua al’2 with its assagio di primi, or pasta sampler.

279) Venice: Europe’s First Modern City

It is a miracle.

285) Visiting the Home of Pizza

Oh, Italy! I miss you so much!

289) Soothe Your Troubles at Hotel Gellert

Soaked in the Budapest baths, and inadvertently got a boob massage.

530) Choosing the Right Philly Cheesesteak

When there for Glee Club, the Philly natives assisted. It was that black and white place.

532) Visiting Harvard Yard

I was just across from Harvard Yard in the Coop when I first read this book!

565) Lost for Words at the Grand Canyon

When I was nine. Have to return.

567) Getting Lost within the Walls of Vieux-Quebec

Last March with James and Mike! Love Vieux-Quebec.

593) Form a Lasting Impression at Niagara Falls

Amazing.

(Also, I did not cheat at all, though I was tempted. “Gorging on Chocolates in Brussels” and “Have a Beer in Brussels” are on the list, and even though I did both in nearby Bruges, I didn’t count it.)

Altogether, that’s 19, or 1.9%. There is so much left to discover.

Bluelistin’ Sunday, Apr 15 2007 

One of my favorite travel books is Lonely Planet’s Bluelist 2007. This book is for serious travelers who have already done a lot of traveling and want to explore the latest travel trends around the world. The book profiles the top 11 destinations, is filled with crazy lists like “Best Music & Place Combinations” (Hip Hop in NYC; Salsa in Havana; Punk in Tokyo) and “Most Deserted Islands” (Australia’s Ball’s Pyramid leads the list on that one). There is also an in-depth section on “Dark Tourism,” a new phenomenon, in addition to the GoList, the top new exotic 30 destinations, and short profiles on every country in the world.

I went through the book and checked off everything I’ve done. Here are the results:

Top 11 Destinations:

3) USA
4) Italy
6) Britain
7) Canada
8) France

Bluelists:

9) The Middle of Somewhere: Find a place that takes you away from it all
–Palatine Hill, Rome, Italy
–Petrin Hill, Prague, Czech Republic

10) Best Places to Wed
–Tuscany, Italy

11) Great Literary Itineraries
–Florence, Italy (A Room with a View — haven’t read it)
–Los Angeles, California, USA (Charles Bukowski — haven’t read his stuff)
–Rouen, France (Madame Bovary — haven’t read that either!)

12) Tourists Traps Worth the Crowds
–Old Town, Prague, Czech Republic
–Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
–Florence, Italy
–Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

18) In Search of Great People
–Kafka in Prague, Czech Republic

22) Best Journeys
–Floating in a Gondola in Venice, Italy
–Riding the Subway in New York City, New York, USA

25) Tiny Countries Packing a Big Punch
–Monaco (1.95 sq. km)

27) Best Travel Gadgets
–Digital Camera
–MP3 Player/iPod

29) Best Value Destinations
–Hungary
–Czech Republic

32) Paranormal Travel
–Stonehenge, England

39) Bluelist Online Winners’ Lists
A) How to Get There Without Really Going There
–London, England = India
–San Francisco, California, USA = China
–Boston, Massachusetts, USA = Ireland
–New York City, New York, USA = The World

B) Best Places to People-Watch
–The Louvre, Paris, France

C) World Senses: Smells
–Coffee in Italy

As for the Golist, here are the thirty hottest destinations of this very moment (only one of which I have visited):
–Alaska Highway
–Antarctica
–Brooklyn, New York, USA (have visited!)
–Central Bulgaria
–Northeast Cambodia
–Cartagena, Colombia
–Cornwall, England
–Danube Delta, Romania
–Finland
–Gabon
–Ilha de Santa Catarina, Brazil
–Northeast India
–Jordan
–Southern Laos
–Madagascar
–Maluku, Indonesia
–La Mosquitia, Honduras
–Namibia and Botswana
–New Mexico, USA
–New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
–Northern Ireland
–Oriente, Ecuador
–Northern Patagonia, Chile
–Portland, Oregon, USA
–Puglia and Basilicata, Italy
–San Sebastian
–Somaliland, Somalia
–Tohoku, Japan
–Turkmenistan
–Xinjiang, China

This book will make ANYBODY dream about travel.

Québec: the FUN pictures! Friday, Mar 16 2007 

I had the best time in Québec with my friends, especially with Mike and James — I love those guys so much. We were the Trifecta and had our own group on Facebook (until James decided that it might impede his career prospects if he was one of the founding members of “The Trifecta Gave Me Beer and Told Me It Was Juicy Juice”). Last year was just incredible, all the good times we had, especially at the guys’ townhouse. The guys are seniors at Fairfield this year, and the trip was going to be during the first part of their spring break.

I found out about this trip the Thursday beforehand, when James started texting me while I was at the bar and inviting me to come to Montréal with them! Montréal turned into Québec a few days later, since Brian and Steve were going there as well. I asked for the time off and got it granted — so I was good to go!!

After a mostly uneventful drive (and Mike did it all the way from Fairfield to Québec, stopping in Boston to pick me up — VERY impressive), we arrived and checked in at the Best Western. (Would recommend it — great location, reasonably priced.) We then asked where the nearest bar was, and ended up at Boudoir, a bedroom-themed lounge-type club with a relaxed setting upstairs and a dance floor downstairs. Everyone there was really attractive, especially the bartender (a girl, but she was HOTT, as was every other bartender in the city!!), and the crowd was pretty evenly mixed in terms of gay and straight.

Here’s me and Mike on the first night.

Mike and James — these two have been roommates since their freshman year and were upset when they moved to the apartments and wouldn’t be sharing a bedroom anymore!

James and me, cruisazy as always

The next day, we woke up and walked to Vieux-Québec, which is depicted in the scenery pictures in an earlier entry. What a beautiful, beautiful (and fun!) area. We had some delicious crêpes at a Breton crêperie where the waitresses were dressed up in traditional clothing, then walked around and did a little shopping. I bought a Québec flag for my cube at work.

We then walked down to the bank of the river and discovered a tobogganning slide down a hill. It reminded me of Geronimo at Water Country, only with a sled. It was only $2.00 CAD per ride. Mike and I went first!

It was really fun — but near the bottom of the hill, it got so BUMPY that my ass was being pounded and pounded like you wouldn’t believe! And I got it on video! (Sounds like my Friday night! Kidding….) Mike sat in front and I sat in the back, completely wrapped around him, as the instructor dictated. (The instructor actually hitched a ride on the back of us, and we didn’t notice. He was giving me bedroom eyes earlier. Weirdo.) Mike took the video, which I will be uploading to Youtube. Youtube is being weird with blogger lately, though, with the new format of it, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post it.

I announced to no one in particular that I wouldn’t be putting my poor backside through any of that again, so Mike and James went for another run.

After walking around some more, checking out some art, and getting a drink on top of the revolving restaurant (there were actually people from Peabody who lived at Brooksby Village up there!), we decided to head back to the hotel to see if Brian and Steve arrived. As we walked in, Brian was in the lobby!

We rested at the hotel for a bit (James found the free wireless internet, as he does WHEREVER HE GOES — it’s scary), I read for a bit, and then the five of us headed out to eat in the Basse-Ville. It took us forever to get there because few roads allow you to go all the way down, and we couldn’t find the original restaurant. We ended up eating at Le Cochin Dingue, and the food was fucking FANTASTIC. I had some of the best French onion soup that I’ve ever had, and then all five of us dug into pots of moules frites — mussels with fries. I had two pots, one with two mustards, and one flavored with smoked salmon. Fantastic.

This is a fantastic picture of James that totally epitomizes him. I’m pretty sure that his idea of heaven is a place where you can eat cheesecake and take pictures all day.

This is the only pic of the five of us: James, Brian, Steve, me and Mike.

Later that night, we were looking for a bar in the area, and it being Sunday night, we couldn’t find anything near our hotel that was open late — so after a few drinks at a sushi restaurant, we headed back to Boudoir! It was pretty different from the night before — it was all Latin music, rather than techno, and the crowd was decidedly more straight and ugly.

However, we somehow snagged this little VIP-type room that happened to be open!! It was the perfect size for us, hidden behind a curtain with a U-shaped couch, table and private bar (alas, no bartender of our own). We took pictures. James took a nap. I tried not to think about the things that people had done behind the curtain on the couch. And then we took a video of me, James and Mike performing the Family Matters theme song. I still don’t know whose idea that was — but it was FANTASTIC!! I have the video uploaded to Youtube; again, I don’t know if I can post videos here.

That’s how I roll!

I can’t describe how much I love these two dudes.

The Trifecta, together again!!

After that successful night, we headed back. We got some breakfast in the morning (just Mike, James and me since the other guys were doing Vieux-Québec on their own), then went to the Ice Hotel. Those pictures are in an earlier entry. However, on the way we passed….

….a PFK!! POULET FRILLEE DU KENTUCKIE!!

After going back, we had dinner with the whole group at Le Lapin Sauté (which means the jumping rabbit, not the sautéed rabbit!!), where we had yet another delicious meal. I had escargots, lapin aux deux moutardes, and petits pots de crème for dessert. FANTASTIC. We continued to enjoy the Stella Artois promotion of having a chance to win a glass with every pint you bought, but even though one in ten supposedly won, only Mike won. And we got dozens of those coupons all weekend!

Upon returning, we went to this weird, grungy little bar across the street from our hotel, where we each had a beer and then returned to the hotel to hang out. (All weekend, we were talking about swimming in the pool in our clothes — I was so excited to do that!! — but the pool had closed early.)

After realizing that we liked it better at the bar, we headed back. I started chatting with a guy named Stéphane who started telling me about the drag scene in Québec — and that dingy, little bar, the bar that would look like a redneck bar in the States, was actually a gay bar!! The bartender wasn’t gay, but everyone else was. Who knew?! I never would have guessed that — but I did kind of get the idea when a drunken middle-aged woman named Catherine started falling all over me and saying, “T’es gorgeuse, c’est vrai,” and veering through the bar.

I kept enjoying my conversations with Stéphane and Sébastien, and they didn’t mind that I was only drinking soda as they had beers. What great conversations — half in French, half in English. Stéphane told me that I spoke French very well, and that I had a Paris accent. He was kind. My friends were hanging out at another table and Stéphane joined them, and I stayed at the bar, talking to Sébastien.

It’s funny — weeks later, I emailed both of those guys, and they emailed me back. Nice guys.

The drive back was slightly more eventful than the ride there (dude, there are SO MANY SUBWAYS IN QUEBEC!!, so we had to stop there!), particularly because we got pulled over in New Hampshire. The cop was pulling everyone over, though, and telling them to stop speeding, but it was only a warning. It was especially scary, though, because James was driving Mike’s car and Mike couldn’t find the registration — yikes! Unscathed, though.

All in all, Québec is nothing short of fantastic. I highly recommend a visit there. It’s about 6.5 hours from Boston, so it’s a doable weekend trip. You can get by without speaking French, but if you can, you should.

And I truly love, love, love my friends. I know that James and Mike are going to be my most proverbial “college buddies” — the ones you meet up with whenever you can and go crazy talking about good times and creating more good times. I love them both so much. SO much.

L’Hotel de Glace Friday, Mar 16 2007 

I first read about l’Hotel de Glace, the Ice Hotel, a few years ago in Jane magazine. Upon remembering that it was only about half an hour from Québec, I immediately decided that we HAD to go! And Mike, James and I did on Sunday. Here are the pictures. Also, my camera broke after the last picture was taken. It fell off the ice counter at the ice bar.

The view of the hotel from the parking lot: it just looked like a mound of snow!

The grand entrance

This is what you see when you first walk in. The architecture changes each year, and the hotel is melted down on April 1 of each year. Not quite sure when it opens.

James has a seat on an ice chair and realizes that it’s not exactly toasty!

I try to get warm by the fake fire. That’s a reindeer pelt on the chair. They were SO thick and soft, and I was really hoping they were selling them in the gift shop, but to no avail. I definitely would have bought one.

Glass chandelier

There was even an ice slide for kids to go down!

Many rooms were themed, while others were plain. This is the Viva la Musica room — I liked, of course!

IGLOO!!!!! 😀

This was one of my favorite rooms — I loved the branches embedded in the ice. The bed is behind the wall with the branches, giving you some privacy.

Lounging amongst reindeer pelts in what is, by far, the most luxurious bed at l’hotel!

The chapel — and one of the most ADORABLE little girls I’ve ever seen. She was a roly-poly three-year-old, in a tiny suede coat, and she was eating chocolate and staring at me the whole time!

THE BAR!! Mike and I got drinks, of course. The glasses were giant cubes of ice with holes carved in them. Fantastic.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend a visit there, albeit a short one, it’s really not an all-day activity. We were there about an hour, an hour and a half or so. For the people who actually STAY in the hotel — God, they deserve medals!! If you do go, I would recommend wearing REALLY thick and warm boots and socks — all three of us agreed that our toes were freezing. We actually had to go outside to thaw! You can learn more about l’Hotel de Glace here.

Québec Scenery Wednesday, Mar 14 2007 

Nobody really likes to look at their friends’ pictures of scenery, anywhere, no matter how beautiful it is — well, nothing beyond a quick “Wow, that’s nice,” and promptly forgetting about it. Here are just a few of my scenery pictures to give you the essence of beautiful Québec.

Ice skating near the entrance to Vieux-Québec

One of many buildings on a hill

A very charmante area in Vieux-Québec

Some lovely hilly streets

And even more!

I’m pretty sure that this is a government building.

Château Frontenac, which is the most recognizable monument of the city. It’s on about 75% of the postcards.

A boat chugs through ice on the St. Lawrence

A building with a clock on it — I loved that I fully learned each and every building’s name….

The view of Vieux-Québec, with the Château Frontenac on the right, from the revolving restaurant

I loved this — someone wrote OUI in the snow!

I loved these houses and had to take a picture of them. Aren’t they adorable?

The Basse-Ville of Vieux-Québec at night

Kind of blurry, but that’s the Château at night, through the snow.

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