Monday, March 26, 2012

The Joy in Lost

Well, now that all the fun stuff is outta the way, all that's left to do is think about is the "grown-up" stuff like bill payments while I'm away, finding a good temporary home for my kitty, and making sure I have all my papers, passports, money, and tickets ready to go.

Oh the joy...

As you can tell, this part of the process doesn't THRILL me so I haven't been on the euphoric high I once was when I started this blog, which means my craziness level reached an all-time high last week. The friends that have seen me in the last week, know what I've been like. My mind races and I stress myself out by examining every little detail to make sure I don't make a wrong move.

One of my friends told me to enjoy the process leading up to the trip because it's part of the experience too so I've been really trying really hard to enjoy all the moments - fun or not. And while I realize all of this stress and anxiety is self-made (as another friend pointed out), I feel I really need to bring it on and face all those uncomfortable feelings a little more often than I do.

When 2012 came around, I told myself that I would push myself to try new things, do new things, face any fears...basically scare the shit outta myself. Having been in relationships for the past 10 years (wow...crazy), it was easy to hide behind someone or find an excuse NOT to do things. This hindered the knowing of my own limits, my own desires, even my own fears. So now that it's all me, I will push those limits by asking myself two questions: Why? or Why Not? If I can find 3 good reasons why I shouldn't do something, then I won't do it. But if I can't find 3, then why NOT do it?

Finding myself firmly back on the ground this week (and less crazed), I have found the joy in this trip-planning again. I have come to realize that I can't possibly see or do everything nor can I expect perfection. I will miss certain things, maybe forget others, and I will make mistakes along the way. It's a given and it's ok - because this, too, shall pass. It's all part of learning to push yourself, getting a little lost, and finding your way back again with a better knowledge of who you are and what you want out of life.

Oh the things I will learn. I can't wait!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sleep Tight

After endless hours of online research, reading traveller reviews, and virtually making my way through Europe, the last piece of the puzzle finally comes together with my hotel rooms being booked.

*Happy dance!*

Planning to go "budget" all the way, I booked a cheapie hotel in Paris northeast of the Louvre. All I needed was a place to lay my head and a pot to pee in. However, after reading some reviews on other budget hotels, I came across a few reviews for the one I had booked and found out I might be bunking with some friendly bed bugs or cockroaches. Needless to say I quickly cancelled my reservation and upped my hotel budget to "mid-range".

Here are the ones that made the cut:

Hôtel de la Paix (Paris)
This hotel was a nice compromise of budget and comfort. Two blocks from the Eiffel Tower and meters from the nearest Metro station, it will be convenient for me to sight-see day in and day out.

Praktik Rambla (Barcelona)
Virtually making my way to Barcelona, I found a minimalist, boutique-style hotel that sparked my creativity. They're in a central location and even give you a lomo camera to wander around Barcelona with. At the end of your stay they develop the photos and give them to you as a souvenir. I thought this was a nice touch.

Hotel Berna (Milan)
Heading into Milan I found a cool little hotel steps away from the train station. Since I will be arriving into the city around 9pm, I figured it was a wise decision to not have to run around and find my way through Milan late at night. It's also near historical buildings, the fashion/shopping district, and, of course, the Last Supper so it was a wise choice. What was nice about this place was that they asked what my preferences are for room temperature, pillow-type, drink choice, and offered many upgrades that might tickle my fancy including Italian cheeses, strawberries and wine, aromatherapy, and even a laptop rental (for a cost of course). Even still, I feel like a superstar!

Al Portico Guest House (Venice)
In Venice, "mid-range" price gives you a "budget" hotel so not only was it challenging to find a good rate for a decent place but most hotels were booked up. I considered staying in Murano or Lido but didn't want to be too far from the train station so I booked a guest house that would suit all my needs.

Hotel Duomo (Venice)
Florence was a little easier to find a hotel and much more budget-friendly. I was able to find one at a decent price (again) near the train station, right behind the Piazza del Duomo & near the Florence Cathedral.

Rome ApartHotel (Rome)
And lastly, ending up in Rome, I found this quaint guest house in front of the Basilica of St. Peter and near the Vatican Museums.

Going into this, I never knew so much research was needed to find a good hotel, in a central location, for a decent price. They say you get what you pay for and in Europe, it would seem, that you definitely do.

Word to the wise: read reviews, research the city & its neighbourhoods, don't go cheap - unless you actually DO want the bed bugs to bite.

Sleep tight!

Monday, March 19, 2012

All Aboard!

They say the devil is in the details but what they don't tell you is sometimes, as much as you plan and sift through those details, that devil cannot be avoided.

When booking my train reservations this past week, I found out the Barcelona to Milan night train was no longer available due to a change in schedule. My only option would be to take multiple day trains to get to Milan, transferring in cities like Figueres, Valence, Lyon, and then on to Milan. Being a tad bit upset I had to give up a day of sightseeing in Barcelona, my curious side wonders what a 12-hour train ride will offer. I get to stop in some cities I've never heard of and take in some of the sights and sounds there - if only for an hour.

This twist in plans is a bit ironic given my "place" in life right now. I have to weave my way through these unexpected and unfamiliar places in order to get to the other side. No one can do that for me or even tell me how to get there - I have to do it all my own and find my own way. I have to let go and let the flow of life take me to that place I need to be.

You see this whole concept of "letting go" has always been a challenge for me since I like to pursue and be pro-active, so I can achieve the goals I set out for myself and to not get thrown off balance in the process of doing so. But life is ever-changing and as it continues to evolve, I realize that there are some moments (maybe more than I realize), you just can't prepare for or control, as much as you want to. In those moments you have two choices: to scream and resist what you can't control, or let go and see where it takes you; To be open to the adventure, the lessons to be learned, and the new opportunities that await.

As William Shedd says,
"A ship in a harbour is safe,
but that is not what ships are built for.

So all aboard this crazy train and let's chart the course!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Plan Takes Shape

So originally, my plan was to just book flights and worry about everything else when I got there. I was feeling euphoric, adventurous, even a little reckless. I thought, what the hell?! I had nothing to lose and a huge experiences to gain in doing so. I mean sleeping in a train station is all THAT bad, right?

Earth to Amanda!

After a little more thought, I came down from the clouds and realized I had a lot to learn about this unchartered territory. Co-workers of mine had gone to Europe and I was overwhelmed with their experiences. Planning seemed to be imperative to having a truly fulfilling (and stress-free) experience so it was time to get a little more logical in my thinking.

One co-worker lent me a few guide books as well as some local maps and I also picked up a book of my own to help educate me on the in's and out's of travelling to Europe. After reading the guide books, my original plan would have meant me missing out on some fabulous and awe-inspiring attractions like the Last Supper - for example. Art of this magnitude is required to be booked atleast a month in advance due to the demand. What a blessing that I came to my senses and booked in advance!

These books also talked about lining up to get into galleries and museums. It would be an awful shame to spend my whole vacation in line so I decided to book some of the other attractions I really wanted to see, before I left on my trip - like the Uffizi Gallery, the Sistine Chapel, even the Eiffel Tower. This will guarantee my entry and allow me to bypass all those big lineups.

So far, this new plan is shaping up to be a nice balance of whimsy and structure. It will grant me access to some of the greatest art pieces and structures in Europe while also leaving room for the unexpected and unexplored.

Friday, March 9, 2012

And so it begins...

Well, the countdown begins - 2 months until I take off for Europe - and I couldn't be more excited.

I won't lie, there's an underlying nervousness just beneath all the euphoric feelings that have come with planning a big solo trip like this. Delving into the unknown can be just as thrilling as it is scary but luckily my desire to take this trip, has outweighed my fear. And those nerves don't stick around long when I start to think of all the things I plan to see & do - and hopefully discover along the way.

This trip was always something I aspired to do but I was never sure when I'd ever get the chance to go or how I'd even get there. I was daunted by the details so I put the dream on the shelf and continued to hope of one day seeing the art that I learned about in school and immersing myself in the history and cultures.

Interestingly enough, 6-months ago, life forced me in a direction I didn't plan on going but I refused to let the Universe's plan define me or my new future. I was going to make the most of this moment while it was still present and do something significant - because this moment, too, will change and pass. That is when the dream started becoming a "near-future" reality.

Maybe it was kismet that this trip happened when it did. Had I done this in my 20's, I wouldn't have had the same appreciation for the sights that await. Had I continued to feel like I had life all figured out, I may have never felt the need to venture out and find myself.

From the Eiffel Tower & the Louvre; From the Gothic Quarter & Ramblas; From the Last Supper to the Uffizzi Gallery; And from the Sistine Chapel to the Colosseum; Great adventure awaits. This trip is where I hope to find a little inspiration, a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and to discover a new direction and life purpose.

My first purchase for the trip will be a handmade travel journal in which I plan to write in from cafes and river-sides, hoping to capture the spirit of my travels - along with receipts, sketches, and a signature or two from the people I meet along the way. A great travel companion for a trip of a lifetime.

I will also be blogging (when I can) right here so that I can share my experiences with those back home.

May 9th is when I leave with my first stop being Amsterdam - for a short layover - and then on to my first official stop - Paris!
Stay tuned for more updates as the trip gets closer.