Thursday, May 29, 2014

Flashback Friday: WWOOFING in France

To kick off my first solo travel adventure and summer in Europe I went to WWOOF in the south of France. I was living with a family about 40 minutes outside of Toulouse. I picked my family because I wanted a quiet secluded and authentic farm experience in France. I had a friend join me there which was really nice!

Our family picked us up at the Toulouse airport and then drove us down to their farm.

We spent the next 3.5 weeks living in a barn behind the families Yurt. It was very quaint and old fashioned but it was a good way for life to be. Showers were few and far between. There wasn't much internet, and the toilet was a bucket.

The family was fabulous with 2 little girls (and 3 year old and 1 year old). Salome and Noemi were so funny and entertaining. Although they took quite a while to warm up to us we really enjoyed having them to play with.

Our days started at 8 with breakfast down at the house. Then we would go work in the fields from 9-1 (about 4 hours of work per day). The work varied. Sometimes we were planting seeds. We did a lot of weeding of the carrot beds, harvesting peas and radishes, planting potatoes, and other various jobs. The work was not really hard but actually pretty fun and satisfying as a simple daily activity to keep us active and learn about permeculture and organic farming.

After work we would sit down for lunch, then take a siesta. Since this area is so close to spain, they are very big on afternoon naps so we all participated in those. They were a nice part of the day when it was so hot outside. After naps. cara and I would usually meet Salome at the bus station and then go for long meandering walks through the countryside for made 1-2 hours in the early evening. The views seriously never got old...

After that it was time to head down to the house. Usually dinner was served around 7-8 but we would always spend time helping out and playing with the kids. We often babysat for them in the evenings or late afternoon if the parents had other things to be doing.

Dinner was usually a long a fabulous affair, with cheese, bread, yogurt, salad, tea, etc. Cheese (Camembert) was Salome's favorite. She LOVED the stuff.

Dinner went on for quite awhile.  After dinner was chatting and then we were off to bed to prepare for the next day.

On the weekends we didn't work. Two of the weekends they drove us into Toulouse so we could walk around and explore, and even GO shopping which was a luxury. We even spent the night there one night which was really fun. We stayed with some of their close friends.

Cara and I cooked dinner for them one night a week. One night we even cooked hamburgers because they wanted something American. Salome had the funniest reaction to eating her first hamburger (it barely fit in her mouth!)

We went to visit some kind of donkey farm one day as well and rode donkeys and explore. Salome picked me an amazing bouquet of flowers which was precious. She was a doll. 

Mostly the days were just filled with simplicity. We played, worked, and practiced our french. It was definitely a simple country life and exactly what I wanted.

If anyone is curious about WWOOF or any of the process let me know. I had a very positive first WOOFing experience and would definitely do it again if I get the chance or have the time.

Fall 2013: Teaching about thanksgiving

While I was in the south of France I taught at a French preschool and elementary school and it was So much fun! The kids were adorable, so sweet, and eager to learn English.

With the younger kids we just sang songs and read a few books, but with the older kids we went ahead and learned many other things. I taught head, shoulder, knees and toes, played red light green light, talked about emotions, and more.

 One day we devoted to family members and they learned how to tell me who was in their family.

Another day we worked on emotions and sang if you are happy and you know it. I even added a verse for if you are sad and you know it. This always ended in huge fits of giggles from the kids as we pretended to cry and sit on the floor all upset.

But my favorite day of the year was the day in which I taught the kids about my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving.  I printed out these plates that they could color and then proceeded to explain to all of the kids the different foods we ate on thanksgiving and why. With the younger kids, I called them over in groups to fill up their plates. They were all eager to draw carrots, and peas. But when it came to the cornerstone of Thanksgiving dinner they didn’t want to draw it. It took a lot of work to get them to draw turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie. They looked at me like I was slightly crazy. I hadn’t thought about it but they don’t eat those things in France. The best was the child who covered everything on their plate in chocolate... hmmm?
The older kids wrote in the words, and learned how to pronounce them in English. It was a lot of fun to celebrate my favorite holiday! 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fall 2013: Climbing Mt. St. Victoire

Mont St. Victoire was Cezanne's favorite old haunt where we would go to paint and was only a few minutes from us. So naturally we had to pay it a visit one Sunday when we were not traveling from Aix.

We had to take a few local buses to get there. We were struggling so hard that we did not look like people who had lived in France for 2 months already. But eventually we made it to the base of the mountain. We wanted to get to the top of the plateau like structure that this mountain is. The paths were not clearly marked at all and so we started our way up what we thought was the path. Wrong, and after about 20 minutes we doubled back, circled around to try another angle that was marked with a path. That seemed to work better than the first option. We climbed out way up for a long time, maybe an hour and a half. The views were becoming incredible and all of Provence stretched before us.

At that point Dani and I decided that we needed to turn around because we were fearful of missing the last bus of the day. So we turned right round and made our way down. We caught the last bus at 5:00 with no sign of our friends. We hoped they were okay and jumped on our bus home.

We found out later that night that they got lost and ended up on the wrong side of the mountain. Luckily some nice woman drove them home.

I loved making it out there. Living in Aix I often forgot about the beautiful French countryside that we were living within so this was a great way to see the beautiful area.

Monday, May 19, 2014

BP: So Happy

As always, Been busy hanging out in my favorite place in the world!!! Budapest is hands down the best city I have ever been to. Probably be silent around here for awhile as I soak in all the goodness of this wonderland. If there are any travelers out there reading, get yourselves over here to Budapest!


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Safety and Health before Nepal

Nepal wasn’t really riddled with any safety concerns but there are health concerns before going. Luckily my program gave me a guide to what I needed to do to be safe. A lot of this was tips as well as prep-work before I go.

For the water, at least in the cities and most rural areas, it is undrinkable for visitors. So we will be drinking only bottled water during our time in Kathmandu. However we will be spending a bit of time out in rural areas, so we were instructed to pack iodine drops to make the water safe.

The vaccinations that were required for my program were
- MMA (measles mumps, rubella)
- Tdap (tetanus booster shot)
- TB test (and x-ray if exposure is positive)

Those are both things that people are typically already vaccinated with.

The ones that were recommended to me where
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Influenza
- Typhoid
- Rabies
- Hep A
- Hep B

I was not recommended to get Malaria but was told to exercise mosquito safety. There is no risk of mosquito born illnesses in the capital or in the mountain regions because of the high altitude.

Visiting the doctor:
I went to my doctor before going and we talked through some of the needs. I already had MMR but needed a TB test and a Tdap shot. Additionally I was behind on Meningitis so I had to get that as well. They did TB in my forearm, tetanus in one arm and Meningitis in the other. They told me both of my arms would be pretty sore.

Visiting the VNA:
Afterward I went to a place called passport health, which is the same idea as the VNA. They carry vaccines that I couldn’t get at the regular doctor. There they gave me typhoid and Hep A . I already had all 3 Hep B shots. For flu they said the season was almost over so I don’t need to worry about it. The other two shots, rabies and Japanese Encephalitis, are series shots and since I only had about a week at home, I didn’t have time to get vaccinated for those series. Luckily they are both ones that should be able to be avoided situational. For rabies I was told to just stay far away from animals. If I get rabies, things could get bad very quickly. For encephalitis, it comes from mosquito. I won’t spend a lot of time in mosquito areas, but when I do I was given strict instructions about how to avoid any exposure.

The passport health office gave me a whole packet about safety as far as food, and such. They also gave me a prescription for something similar to Cipro in case I get a pretty bad stomach thing. Lastly, they told me to bring Imodium, because it was inevitable that I would have some serious stomach problems.

We will see how all of this holds up once I get other there. But these were the steps I took to be safe in this foreign place.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Flashback Friday: First travel adventure

I have so many travels that I haven’t recapped on here because they happened so long ago. However, I want to write about them so I have decided to start a little flashback Friday series to show some of the adventures I have really loved in the past 5 years. Since this is my first post I thought it would be a good one to talk about my first real travel adventure that sparked my interest in culture. That would be the program I went on in 2010 to Morocco. It was through a highschool travel group called EIL (experiment in international living) and it was absolutely incredible!

We started off our program in Rabat where we had orientation. We spent a lot of time getting lots in the small streets of the medina.

For our orientation lessons we took some language classes but also did other interesting things. We learned about Moroccan clothes, and practiced tablet writing (in Arabic) and we made delicious Moroccan bread. We even had lessons about how to eat with our hands. Eating couscous with your hands is a messy affair.

We also visited the outside of a few beautiful mosques, as the insides are forbidden to non-Muslims.

We visiting this awesome set of ancient ruins which had only roman ruins, and then built on top things that the Arabs added after they invaded many years later.

And we spent a bit of time just enjoying the sunny beaches which were actually pretty nice in Rabat

Our next stop on the trip was fez. It was very hot when we arrived there and we only spent a few days. However we were able to do a lot. On our one full day we went on a massive tour of the medina which is HUGE there!

We saw an old mosque, a tannery, textile factory, and ceramic making. It is known as the artisan capital and for good reason because of all that it had to offer.

Merzouga and the Desert-
Next we went down to the desert region for of coure the traditional camel caravan. The one thing I really remember was arriving so hot and thirsty and they served us hot tea, which sounded of course absolutely terrible but it actually ended up being pretty yummy just because our bodies were hotter than the tea so it cooled us down. Weird…,
Anyway we rode the camels out into the desert, climbed a sand dune, and then slept out under the stars. It as the perfect getaway. 

We then stopped to spend one day in Marrakech which I actually ended up really disliking. It was crowded hot and touristy. We were done after one day for sure. But we did visit the square and see what we could find.

The BEST part of the trip was the 2 week homestay in a rural village in the mid-atlas mountains. We were staying with the Berber people. I got palced with the most incredible family on earth! When I say village, that is a loose use of the term because the houses were not really in sight of one another. Instead you have to walk for ahiwle down a little dirt road to reach another house.

In my family I had Immama (mom). Yousef (13), Hammedi (11), and Ikram (3). They were all so fabulous and sweet.

We had 2 rooms in the house, no running water and limited electricity. One of the rooms could only be used for cooking. The other room however, was were we sat, ate, and slept. There were no beds but instead e would roll out blanket on the floor whenever need be.

Daily life in the village included mornings at school, doing weaving, or other cultural activities. Afternoons home to nap and have lunch. Late afternoons at school to teach English, learn their language, and do another cultural acitivity, weather it be dance lessons or cooking demonstrations.

I loved every minute with my family. And my little kiddos who were SO much fun.  It was impossibly hard to leave such a place and I still think about it often.

After our homestay we spent 3 days in the relaxing beach town. It had a very laid back vibe. We mostly rested at the beach, walked around town, did some souvenir shopping, and enjoyed real beds and access to actual showers.

I consider Morocco my real first turning point in my solo travel career. It sparked that interest in me to just GO and I have never looked back since. Overall it was one of my alltime favorite travel experiences