Monthly Archives: April 2012
Now that I’m done covering my trip to Amsterdam and Paris, I thought I’d write a little about my backpack that I took there, which is the Columbia Mountain Hardwear Women’s Lomasi 60 backpack. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m going on a much longer trip later this year which is why I originally purchased the backpack. I figured I’d try it out on the short Europe trip to make sure I didn’t hate it before I was stuck with it for six months.
This backpack is pretty expensive at $290. I had an employee discount for the pack, and I probably would not buy it if I didn’t have that large discount (most likely would have gone to REI.) Since my coupon only worked online, I went into the store to get fitted for the pack then purchased it online with the code. I felt a little bad for the employee who helped me out, as he worked on commission, but there’s no way I could afford it without the discount. Price: C (although if it was going to be based on what I actually paid, it would be an A.)
The Lomasi pack can hold up to 60 litres. Since my original plans didn’t even include bringing a backpack until someone convinced me I was being stupid, I wanted to buy the biggest backpack possible. I’ll let you in on an embarrassing secret: I am the worst overpacker ever. 6 pairs of shoes for one week? Totally necessary! So I wanted a 100L pack. But now, after using it for 10 days, I’M SO GLAD I DIDN’T BUY A HUGE PACK. It already felt super heavy as is and my back was huuuuurting like I was 90 years old. And when its warm outside (never mind how it will be actually hot in Asia), I was sweating buckets. Another bonus for the 60L is that I’ll avoid paying higher bag fees since it only weighs around when 13 kilos fully stuffed. The airlines that I’ve looked at so far charge more if your bag is over 15 kilos. SCORE! So for the size: A.
I was happy to see that there were a ton of extra compartments in the backpack. I was particularly excited about a big section at the bottom that would be perfect for my shoes (all 6 pairs of them.) However, when full with clothes, that compartment at the bottom is pretty much impossible to pull anything out of as all the stuff in the main compartment pushes down on it. Too bad- I guess I won’t be putting my shoes in there. I do like the compartment on the outside of the pack though, and there’s one at the top that could be used as a laptop sleeve for a small laptop or netbook. Verdict on the compartments: B.
I originally planned on not bringing another small backpack with me as a daypack. I planned to bring a cotton reuseable bag type of daybag and fold it up in the big backpack (like the one you would use for the grocery store.) I thought it would be easier to be handfree and encourage me to pack lighter and smarter. Well… that plan was ruined when I realized two days before I left that not all of the compartments were double zippers and thus lockable, including the drawstring top of the pack, which gave access to pretty much everything in the backpack. I had a mini meltdown and blamed the Columbia brand for making hiking backpacks instead of traveling backpacks. However, after a bit of research and asking a few other backpackers, I soon realized ALL packs are like this. What the @#*%?! What am I supposed to do with my laptop and expensive cameras? Guess I’m bringing a small, lockable daypack where my computer and cameras will go that I’ll keep with me the whole time. Damn you, handsfree/expensive-gear-less backpacker. Safety: C (not my backpack specifically, but all backpacks.)
The pack is front loading, which has been deemed necessary on pretty much every travel blog or website. Check! It seems extremely durable, which it should be for the price. There’s a water bottle holder on the side, which is awesome. I don’t think its that popular of a pack, so hopefully not too many other travelers will have it so less chance of getting it confused after long and disorienting bus rides (yes, I worry about these things.) It has all the other great backpack characteristics, like a padded hip belt, padded shoulder pads, and an internal frame. My only other complaint besides the drawstring top is that it was somewhat difficult to put together (my assembly included tears.) Their instructions were literally, “add the straps so you can adjust it.” Not helpful. Other stuff rating: A.
I’m sure you can tell that overall I love my new backpack and I think we will become great friends over the course of 2012 (and hopefully beyond that as well.) I’m happy with my ultimate decision to just bring a backpack and glad that I ended up getting a 60L, not 100L, pack.
Overall grade for the Columbia Mountain Hardwear Women’s Lomasi 60L Backpack: B+
Ahh, Paris. What could I really say about Paris that hasn’t been said a million times before? Paris is beautiful, romantic, charming, and even idyllic. But its also dirty, crowded, and sometimes frustrating. I especially enjoyed the numerous open green spaces perfect for picnics. And the food. And the art museums. And the old buildings. I could go on…
Where we stayed:
Like Amsterdam, we stayed in an apartment rented out on AirBnB. This apartment was, for a lack of a better word, strange. It was a children’s apartment. Don’t believe me? Here it is! There were two bedrooms, each with a bunk bed. One of the rooms had a full on the bottom bunk but the other beds were twins. Then in the entryway there was a pullout couch. So there was no master, no adult room. Not quite sure where the parents sleep! But it was fine for our stay. It was very spacious and had a huge l-shaped couch for ultimate lounging and movie viewing. The kitchen was okay, but didn’t have an oven or stove or we were stuck with a hot plate and microwave. Not positive I would stay there again but it was large and our host was great. Its in a nice location, in the 15th arrondissement, within a few blocks of three metro stops and several markets and restaurants.
What we did:
- Picnic-ed by the Eiffel Tower (twice!)
- Sacre Couer
- Walked around Montmartre
- Tried Berthillion ice cream on Ile Saint Louis
- Notre Dame
- Musee D’Orsay
- Musee Lourve
- Walked down Champs Elysees, with a requisite stop at La Duree
- Arc de Triomphe
- Jardin de Tuileries
- Walked around the Latin Quarter
- Saint Etienne Du Mont to take Midnight in Paris pictures
- Paris Flea Market
- Palace and Gardens of Versailles
What we wanted to do but didn’t:
- Luxembourg Gardens
- Try Las du Falafel in the Jewish Quarter
- Go up in the Eiffel Tower
- Rodin Museum
- Musee de l’Orangerie
- Picnic by Pont Neuf
My favorite: Versailles
My least favorite: Paris Flea Market. Its essentially a large swap meet, with some antiques in one small section. Obviously we weren’t shopping for expensive antiques, so we didn’t really enjoy it. Also, my friends got scammed here.
Some fun facts!
- Total nights: 6
- French phrases learned: 6
- Picnics: 4
- Tomato and cheese sandwiches: 5
- UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 2
- Souvenirs purchased: 3
- Times we spent more than 4 euro on a bottle of wine: 0
Not quite sure this visit squelched ANY of my Paris wanderlust. When can I go back?!
The roof of my apartment building has a beautiful view of Berkeley, the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Although I’ve hated my apartment many times over this past year (awful landlord!) I do appreciate the gorgeous view from the top. At least it has one redeeming quality (having my own bedroom isn’t bad either.)
This is my post of the Gardens of Versailles. For my post (and general information on Versailles) on the Palace of Versailles, click here!
While I liked the Palace of Versailles, I LOVED the Gardens of Versailles. My friends got really sick of hearing me say, “Wow! This is so beautiful!” after about the fifth time. That didn’t stop me from saying it about seven more times, while holding back on my repetitiveness the other few times.
Though I do love art museums and big cities, growing up in Colorado has made me a nature girl. I realized how much I love being outdoors when I concluded that the two highlights of my trip were the Amsterdam Countryside Bike Tour and the Gardens of Versailles. With 70 degree weather, how could you not love the Gardens? I could have easily spent all day in the Gardens without stepping foot in the Palace and been perfectly satisfied with my visit to Versailles. During the weekdays, admission is free, making the Gardens an even sweeter deal.
Don’t expect to see everything in the Gardens, unless you want to spend all day there and skip the Palace. If you’ve already seen the Palace or think it might not be your thing, you can devote many hours to seeing the whole grounds.
There are three modes of transportation: golf carts, bicycles, and rowboats. Though I was rooting for the golf carts, you need a driver over the age of 25 to reserve one. They’re also the most expensive option. After some discussion, we chose the rowboats as we thought they’d be the most interesting and unique way to see Versailles. Though you won’t have as much mobility as a golf cart or bicycle, renting a rowboat is the cheapest and also super fun. Bonus point for the adorable photo ops! Warning: rowing a boat is harder than it looks! I attempted to row for a short period before giving up and demanding that my guy friend take over after about 30 seconds.
Also located in the Gardens is the Trianon Palace and Marie Antoinette’s Estate. We didn’t end up getting to see those as we arrived past closing time, but I’d love to check them out next time I’m there. Versailles, I’m not done with you yet!
Like the Palace, the Gardens are extremely crowded. However, they’re large enough that you can sneak away from the crowds pretty easily, which I appreciated. Budget in enough time to sit, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere. And since the grounds are so large and spread out, wear comfortable shoes.
March, April, and May are busy months for me. In March I went to Amsterdam and Paris. In April I have short trips planned for every weekend. And in May I graduate from UC Berkeley and set off on my six month journey through Asia!
Last weekend I went to Coachella. This weekend I’m off to Santa Barbara. And next weekend I’ll be in Monterey! Looking forward to 75 degree weather and views like this:
I’ll be there for a very special event. Check it out in the Santa Barbara Independent here. Until Monday, Berkeley!
One of the things I was most excited about my visit to Paris was getting to chance to check out the Palace and Gardens of Versailles. After experiencing much Facebook stalking envy from friends who had visited, as well as numerous drool-worthy pictures on blogs, I knew I had to make time to see Versailles. When it came down to my last full day in Paris, I gave my friends an ultimatum: come to Versailles with me or I’ll go by myself!
Luckily my friends decided to grace my day with their presence and come to Versailles with me. After our success with the Rick Steves Walking Tour of Paris and the Rick Steves Lourve Tour, we downloaded the Rick Steves Versailles the morning before we left. We only ended up listening to the Palace portion of the tour, not the Gardens part, as it was too much fun to go frolicking around without Rick Steves in the background. If you buy a ticket to the Palace, as we did, the ticket price includes an audio tour. I didn’t listen to it, as I enjoy Rick Steves’ corny jokes too much, but that’s another alternative if you don’t have an Iphone or Ipod touch or access to Itunes.
The amount of detail in the Palace is absolutely incredible. Its hard to remember that this was actually someone’s home! Wishing I was Marie Antoinette in a previous life. The Palace was originally built for King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. There are sun motifs throughout Versailles and his love of everything extravagant definitely shows through. He was the longest reigning king in European history, and he is depicted in dozens of paintings and busts throughout the Palace.
Although the actual Palace is huge, most of it is closed off to the public. Its also extremely crowded! Its nearly impossible to take any pictures without other people in them. We went on a weekday, in the off season, and it was filled to the brim with tourists. Oh well, what can you expect? I honestly was a little disappointed with the Palace. The Gardens are where its at! If I go again, I will stick to the Gardens to save some money and check out the Trianon Palace and Marie Antoinette’s Estate, both located in the Gardens. I just wasn’t blown away by the Palace itself, while I was constantly awed by the Gardens.
- Versailles is pretty easy to get to from Paris: you hop on the RER train from specific Metro stops and take the 40 minute train to the city of Versailles for 6 euro roundtrip. From the train the Palace itself is about a 10 minute walk: there’s a map right outside of the station or you can just follow the crowds.
- Get there early! As waking up before noon proved impossible for my group, we missed out on several parts of Versailles that I would have loved to see (much of the Gardens and Marie Antoinette’s estate.) You’ll want to devote an entire day to Versailles.
- Entrance to the Gardens is free during the week (8 euro on weekends), while a ticket to the Palace is 15 euro. A ticket to the Trianon Palace and Marie Antoinette’s Estate is 10 euro. A “Passport,” which includes access to everything is 18 euro. You can also use your Paris Museum Pass for Versailles. Go during the week to save money and avoid the crowds.
- Food! There’s several food options on the grounds. I indulged in ice cream (2,5 euro) and a tomato and cheese baguette sandwich (5 euro.) Or bring your own picnic! Pretty sure the Garden of Versailles is the most epic picnic spot in the world. There’s also several restaurants that are nicer but more expensive.
This picture was taken this past weekend at The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival, known to most simply as Coachella. Even though this was my fourth time attending the festival, it was my first time that I made it up in the ferris wheel. The beautiful views from the top are well worth the $5. Look out for a Coachella Survival Guide in the next few days!
As I quickly learned, Paris has no shortage of picturesque neighborhoods. Throughout the trip I’m pretty sure I said, “This is my favorite part of Paris!” about 30 times. After getting acquainted with the beautiful city on our first full day through the Rick Steves Walking Tour, we set off to the neighborhood of Montmartre on the following day to see Sacre Coeur and its sweeping view of Paris. They did not disappoint!
Though I enjoyed checking out the French Gothic architecture of Notre Dame, I was much more impressed by what Wikipedia calls the “Romano Byzantine features” of the Sacre Coeur. *Side note: Umm, yeah, I’m not an architecture major. My boyfriend is, though, and while he tries to educate me occasionally, I’m only really good at decided what’s “pretty” or not.* Though Notre Dame is a very iconic building, it looks less original to me and kind of like every other church I’ve seen in Europe. The Sacre Coeur, on the other hand, reminded me of a cross between the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley and the Taj Mahal- kind of funky and cool. Completed almost 700 years later than the Notre Dame, the Sacre Coeur is definitely more modern, though I still thought it fit in with the rest of old school Montmartre.
The inside is beautiful as well, though they prohibit any photographs as there is continual service occurring in the church. That’s right- there is 24/7 worship in the Sacre Coeur, and there has been for the past 125 years! How amazing. While we were there, there were nuns singing, adding to the ethereal atmosphere. I felt inspired to light a candle for a close friend who was diagnosed with cancer last fall. You can purchase small candles for 2 euro or a larger one for 10 euro if you also feel so inclined. On the topic of money, I was happy to enter both the Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur for free! Though it might seem obvious to some people that it would be free entrance, it was really nice surprise to do a free activity after everything else that is so expensive in Paris. If you’re on a budget, hit up all the churches for your sightseeing!
Once again, the weather was absolutely beautiful and we ended up watching the sunset from the grassy area below the church. Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur… I’d say we’re pretty good at picking sunset spots.
After watching the sun set over the city, we headed to another recommendation from our friend Will. I’ll ask him if I can post his entire message he sent us, as it was extremely helpful in planning our trip and I know it would be invaluable to others as well. Will (and others) told us to check out a fondue place called Le Refuge des Fondue, located a short 5 minute walk from Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Though the reviews on TripAdvisor are mixed, I cannot recommend this place enough!
In order to get around the tax on wine served in glass bottles, they serve wine in baby bottles! We felt a little silly at first but its a great photo op… Who can resist a Facebook profile picture drinking wine out of baby bottles in Paris? It costs 15 euro per person for cheese fondue (with the most delicious bread), a charcuterie plate, and a (baby bottle) glass of wine. Its extra for meat fondue, which we opted for, and each additional refill of wine. They also sell the baby bottles as souvenirs, which our whole group decided would be the best souvenirs ever… I don’t think my boyfriend found it as funny as us.
Its a really tiny restaurant, so they have the girls in your party step over the table to fit everyone in. Its definitely a funny experience and I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t have a sense of humor. I will admit: the cheese fondue is not the best I’ve ever had. It was kind of runny and the good cheese was at the bottom of the pot. If you’re looking for the best fondue in Paris, this is not it. But its so fun!
Montmartre is the neighborhood that most people picture when they’re thinking of Paris- winding streets that look like they haven’t changed in the past century. As Adventurous Kate wrote in her post about the neighborhood, your photos even look like they could have been taken a century ago! Check out her post to see even more gorgeous pictures. However, when in the more touristy streets of Montmartre (like when you’re walking from the metro to the Sacre Coeur), be wary of pickpockets and scams. I saw the most scams in Montmartre than any other area in Paris. One common scam is the guys who try and put “free” bracelets on your arm and then ask you to pay for them.
If you use common sense and stray away from the touristy streets with souvenir shops, Montmartre could easily become your favorite part of Paris… at least until the next neighborhood you visit.
In one of my many preparations for my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia, I’ve been going to the doctor’s office to get vaccinations. The office is about a 15 minute drive from Berkeley, in Lafayette, and on the drive back and forth I’ve noticed this strange looking graveyard on the side of the freeway.