Nice, France

It has to be said: Nice was nice. I spent three nights there en route to Italy, and really enjoyed it. It’s beautiful, and it feels small and welcoming. The hostel I was staying at helped to create those feelings, it was a very small apartment-style place and everyone was friendly and hung out together. What a relief after the not-so-great hostel in Montpellier!

I couldn’t get over the coastline in Nice. Standing in the centre, both ways you looked you’d have a beautiful view of the coast petering off, and it looked beautiful at any time of day or night. It was an especially great view from the hill that once housed the old fortress (now just ruins) – you can take the elevator to the top and then walk down (so good in the scorching heat!). The sunsets in Nice were absolutely amazing, just very subtle layers of colour, hardly ever any clouds in the sky. I took a million photos, and watching it one night I remember saying “is this real?”. Just blue, blue water and pale pink sky.

The Nice old town was pretty touristy, but there were still some really lovely restaurants, churches, stores, squares, and of course ice cream shops. The central market was awesome, just full of lots of different fruit and veggie vendors. One of the days, we got a picnic of bread and cheese and tomatoes and fruit (what else?!) and ate it the hot sun. The only thing I didn’t like about Nice was that I found the beaches a bit dirty: lots of garbage on the shore and in the water. After being lucky enough to see some truly gorgeous beaches on my trip, these ones weren’t up to snuff. The water was still beautiful though, and the view from the water even better.

I was lucky to see some friends (old coworkers from my job in Montreal): one was vacationing there for the summer, another came for a visit (I’d seen him in Paris when I was there!) and a third still was living there for a while with her boyfriend. It was such a random occurrence to have four people who all worked together in Montreal at the same time to meet up in Nice. But so great too! Jean and I drove out to Monaco/Montecarlo one afternoon, and explored the old city of Monaco with its beautiful windy streets and pretty garden, and toured around Montecarlo inside the casino (where I had to stop myself from gasping at how much money totally normal -looking [ie. didn’t *look* rich] people were gambling with at the blackjack table) and wandering past the luxury stores. It was fun but I’m glad I only went for a visit: there doesn’t seem to be much to do there besides spend money!

All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Nice. I was thrilled to be able to meet up with friends, and happy to find that I made lots of friends at the hostel too. The atmosphere in Nice was pretty relaxed and I had a lovely time wandering around there.


  • Lou Pilha Leva: this little restaurant is delicious, cheap and authentic. It’s on one of the twisty little streets in the old town, with lots of outdoor tables. You order at the counter, get your delicious dishes and cheap wine, and sit at the big communal tables. It’s lovely. I recommend the zucchini tart and the eggplant beignets. Yummo.
  • Victoria Meuble Hostel: such a great place! It’s small, so everyone is friendly with one another, and its very close to the old town and the beach. I really liked my stay there.

Thoughts On Half

Sometimes I think I was unbelievably naive to take on a trip like this without ever having done anything like it before, all alone, for three months. Sometimes, three months (or two months, or now, just under one and a half months) feels like an eternity. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing and sometimes I miss home and sometimes I just feel overwhelmed.

But those sometimes, they're getting further apart. They're lasting less time. They're becoming easier to talk myself – or more accurately, write myself – out of. They're easier to anticipate: if I'm tired, or if its a travel day, I've learned to prepare myself for the feelings. The recognition that I'll probably get overwhelmed on a given day isn't enough to stop myself from getting overwhelmed, but when my crazy brain starts to set in, it's easier to remind myself that its ONLY the fatigue talking, that the feelings I'm having aren't because I've made a huge mistake. And some of those sometimes I still ask my mom for advice, or send out some snapchats, or write to the people I care about. All of it helps.

Travelling alone has been completely different than I imagined. It's been better and it's been worse. Mostly better. Sometimes worse. It's been better because I never believed I would meet so many great people so easily, and because I've learned I really love exploring on my own and stopping to see buildings and alleyways and street performances on a whim. Whenever it's been worse, it's because I feel far away from the people who know me best, people that I don't have to explain myself to, or it's been because I'm exhausted and I wish someone else could figure out hostel arrangements or the train schedules, just this once. But mostly, travelling on my own has just been different. It's been surreal sometimes to find myself on the beach/climbing up a hill/exploring a market/taking the bus with a handful of strangers. It's been strange to figure it all out on my own and realize (astonished, really) that I am the only one responsible for taking myself on this trip with all of its details and stops and day trips. It all seemed so much more complicated before I left than it has been in reality, but that doesn't make me any less proud of myself.

And speaking of the logistics, I've been pleasantly surprised with how much I have enjoyed creating this plan as I go. I've been really happy to find that my Eurail pass makes taking the train so easy. I've learned that I love navigating cities. I've been grateful time and time again that I'm travelling with a backpack, not a rolling suitcase, and that I can move easily and hands free wherever I need to go. My bag is about 22 pounds, which feels really heavy when its on for too long, but which is generally very manageable for me. I haven't yet regretted packing anything, and I have now packed that bag what feels like a hundred times. The packing cubes are a total lifesaver, as have been all the individual Ziplock bags breaking everything up.

I think if I was to do this trip over, knowing what I do now, I'd probably do it for two months: most of one with a friend, and then the rest on my own. That said, and I know it doesn't really make sense, but, I also wouldn't ever go back and change anything if I had the choice. Three months was a long time for my first solo trip, but even so, most of the time, I'm finding it so positive: I feel more relaxed about not having every last detail planned out, I'm taking on board more recommendations, travelling alone has made me *so* much more open to talking to people than I ever was before, and my coping skills, while still nowhere near perfect, have definitely improved. I have no doubt that this has been an incredible experience, both in terms of what I've gotten to see and do, and because of what it's taught me.

I've learned how much I love to swim far out in the ocean to think and meditate, because I always come back to shore feeling way more grounded. I've learned that I love to seek out vegetarian restaurants wherever I go and have long, long lunches alone with my book. I've learned that I'll happily watch any street dance performance, even more than once. I've learned there's nothing better than a message (or text or photo) from someone I love. I've learned small hostels are better. I've learned to sleep on the train. I've learned I can handle it.

Just past the halfway mark, I'm feeling good. I'm feeling like the end is simultaneously still far away and yet very rapidly approaching. I feel so ambivalent about finishing my trip: I want to see my loved ones, but I don't want this to end, and I don't have the answers I want about what to do next. Trying to tell myself that's normal, that's okay, that it'll all work out in the end. I'm feeling so appreciative of my friends and my wonderful family who have all been so encouraging and positive. I love you all!

Madrid, Spain

I passed a lovely few days in Madrid. It's not necessarily the most exciting city, but it is kind of lovely: clean, well-run, very lush and green, beautiful architecture, good museums, and parks everywhere. I really enjoyed my time there. I did a huge amount of walking and exploring and getting a little lost in the winding streets.
My hostel was in a quiet neighbourhood that felt peaceful, away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy downtown areas. The mornings were on the cool side, so I was able to explore the city a bit more by going for runs most of the mornings I was there.
Madrid is home to some awesome things. I particularly loved all their green spaces: the botanical gardens with its tropical greenhouse, the Parc de Retiro with its beautiful pond and “Crystal Palace” (which looks like a giant greenhouse minus the plants), and the main train station which literally is an enormous greenhouse full of tropical plants and home to a bunch of turtles! The city is also awesome about making their museums accessible to everyone: they are usually free in the evenings for the last few opening hours. I was able to see major works of art at the Prado museum and the entire Salvador Dali exhibit at the Reine Sofia for free, which is wonderful.
I had some cool food experiences in Madrid as well. It was my first time trying chocolate and churros, and we went to the most famous place in Madrid which happily is not even touristy. They are so generous with their servings – 6 huge churros and a big cup of dark, thick chocolate per order – and it's all so delicious, not too sweet, just perfect. I also tried paella for the first time and it won't be the last, I loved the texture. We also sought out a bar that is still serving tapas the old fashioned way: when you order a drink, you get a free (and generous I might add) plate of tapas, usually fries and little sandwiches with meat or cheese. For 5 euros, I got two delicious glasses of cider and enough to eat for dinner! Best deal going. On my last day in Madrid, I took a trip to Toledo, and we found a bar that did the same thing there as well. Score!
Toledo was very, very hot but a beautiful old town as well. We saw the huge, impressive cathedral, had a long lunch and wandered through the old streets. It was a good little day trip.
  • El Estragon Vegetariano: a sweet and delicious little vegetarian place in a quiet, pretty neighbourhood. I had the lunch menu which included a starter, main, dessert, bread and water for 12 euros and it felt almost wrong because the food was so incredible and so generous. I had a salad whose dressing I would do anything to acquire the recipe for, a delicious rice bowl with fried eggs, and poached pears in dark chocolate sauce. It was amazing, I had a long lunch, read my book, and was happy.
  • El Tigre: the tapas bar I was raving about that serves cheap drinks with free tapas. It's a bit of a madhouse inside, and there are no seats, but it's such a fun local atmosphere.