Paris: la vie en rose by Jessica Lee

I have so many photos to share from Paris. There's no way I could share them all in one post, so I'll go slow. Maybe a couple for each day.

When I flew into Paris, it was night. I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport and took the RER (train) to Gare du Nord (major train station).

I remember walking to my hostel, which was expensive for a hostel ($30/night), but also really fancy. I got lost somewhere along the way, but it brought me to so many beautiful scenes. I realize I spend a lot of my time lost when I travel. It's frustrating most of the time, but there are some moments when I discover something really cool that's off the beaten path.

I've pretty much accepted that I am not good with directions in a new city unless the city is like New York, where the streets are all numbered and the city is laid out like a grid.

In Europe, many times, streets are laid out like Pentagons (Paris, Barcelona), and it's slightly difficult for someone used to grids (like North Americans) to navigate. Anyway, I digress.

One of the main things I love about Paris is that everywhere you go, it's picturesque. You don't even have to be at the touristy areas such as Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or Champ de Mars, to get a good photo. Everything is just designed elegantly. The whole city is photography-friendly with cobblestone streets, old majestic buildings and beautifully-dressed locals. And when you enter the cafes, the pastries are aesthetic as well.

My first day in Paris, I had to tell myself to calm down with all the photos I was taking. You know when you get too excited about something and sometimes stop breathing? That was me. But I love that feeling of excitement. It's one of the reasons I love travel so much. I love seeing new things and feeling that sense of wonder and joy. It's a feeling of realizing how lucky you are to be standing where you are, and wanting to share that joy with the whole world. I don't think you can ever get that kind of feeling sitting in a cubicle. This is why I travel.

Gear Update: Minimalism and Strategy 2 months in by Jessica Lee

It’s been two months since I started my journey and I keep reflecting about how I can improve on packing for the next trip. I agree with the 80/20 rule in that only 20 percent of the stuff you pack you end up using 80 percent of the time. Therefore, the next time I backpack anywhere, I plan to cut my packing down into half of what I’m bringing- only the useful things I use most of the time.

I’ve found that carrying stuff can seriously limit what I’m able to do. For example, I wanted to make a day trip to Pisa, Italy, instead of staying there but I couldn’t walk with all my things to the attractions and then hop on the train to the next city. If I were able to pack everything onto a daypack, then that would be perfect.

The flipside of having so little things of course is that you can’t go shopping. There were many times I saw beautiful leather goods in Morocco but I always held off on buying things because of the agony I would endure carrying belongings from town to town.

I think the solution is a balance between minimalism and strategy. What’s weighing me down right now are books that I’ve finished reading but won’t give away and a jacket that I have no use for because I bought a warmer one along the way. On my next trip, I plan to bring only things I can part with and one set of clothes that will stay with me the whole way. And all of my electronics so I can process my work. This trip, I brought things that I could part with (like a pair of sweat pants I regretted saying goodbye to when I found out it was cold in Malaga), and that made more room in my pack as I bought new European things.

I’m lucky because I’m meeting a friend from home who has kindly offered to help me bring some of my things back home so I can travel lighter the rest of the way, but I know I won’t always have friends who travel during the same time as me, so for next time, I will have to be smarter with what I’m bringing.

Of course, I’ve definitely improved with my packing since two years ago when I couldn’t even walk 300 metres to my hotel in Indonesia with my luggage and had to get a taxi. These days, walking 1 km with my stuff is possible. One can always improve though- hopefully I will be a packing pro by the next trip!

Chefchaouen, the blue maze town in Morocco by Jessica Lee

 I spent most of my time in Chefchaouen, Morocco, being lost.

Of course, being lost is not the worst thing that could possibly happen while travelling, as my friend Myra pointed out to me. Food poisoning and being robbed are definitely worse.

Chefchaouen, to me, is a blue maze, disguised as a town. I am usually lost in a new city/town, but the structure of Chefchaouen really threw me off and amplified my state of "lostness". I took a walk after arriving at my hostel the first night and tried to find the bus station for travel the next day, based on the street signs and asking locals. No such luck. I never found the bus station, so I wandered the town.

After wandering for a while, I was ready to go back to the hotel and settle in for a nice cup of hot tea.

It was an hour of walking around the same corridor five times in the dark before I would admit to myself that I was lost. I asked a local for help and tried to follow their directions. I was still lost after another 10 minutes.

I asked another local for help. I showed them my map and to the giant X (my hotel) marked on it.

The problem with Chefchaouen is that there aren't many street signs on the streets, so most of the time, you don't actually know which street you're on.

The kind stranger whom I asked for help offered to walk me to my hotel and so I followed him. Unfortunately, it was the wrong hotel.

Back to square one.

What was frustrating was the fact that I remembered initially walking by the same street when I first found my hotel. I knew I was close by, but just out of reach.

I asked another local for help, while showing my map and the older woman (who did not speak English) walked me to another hotel. Again, it was not the right hotel.

It's a funny story now that I tell it, with locals bringing me to all different sorts of hotels and hostels, but at the time, I was close to panic. Where was this mysterious corridor to my hotel and why couldn't I find it?

Finally, of course, third time's the charm and I asked a store keeper for directions, and one of his workers, a teenage boy, led me down a path. On the way, he said hi to one of his friends, and they chatted in Arabic. I could only hope that they weren't plotting to lead me to some alleyway and rob me.

Thankfully, this time, it was the right hotel (hidden in some corridor, of course), and I didn't come to any harm. I went to bed slightly hungry. I was afraid if I stepped out again for a snack, I wouldn't be able to find my way back again- not an ideal way to live, but there was no way I was going to go through an hour of trying to find my way back again!

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