That Time a Man Gave Me His Knife in Barcelona

This is going to be the first time in awhile there are no photos. Once upon a time, these posts relied on words alone to be interesting. My iPad won’t connect to the hostel wifi and I’m on the hostel computer. I hope this will suffice.

I’ve been short on posting in the past day or two because the days have been relatively mundane. I spent five hours on a train yesterday to get to Toulouse. My hostel was a young couple’s home- a condo turned into a hostel. Their living room was my common space, their computer my computer. It was darling. Tomorrow I’ll share a picture of just how cute my room was. I ventured into Toulouse, walked in every direction before picking which of the seventy crepe places I’d eat at, and ended up at one of the first ones I’d seen. Ham, cheese, mushrooms… and then they served a Nutella one for dessert. It was the first time I’d eaten Nutella that hadn’t followed a friend saying, “You don’t eat Nutella???

I can’t find half the punctuation marks on this keyboard. Don’t mind me.

Today, one three-hour train to a one hour break to a three-hour train to Barcelona. I’d gotten on one of the local trains that stops at every single little stop between two bigger cities. It was tedious, but beautiful between Toulouse and Barcelona. Mountains, snow, land…

When I arrived at my hostel in Barcelona (9 euros a night!!!) I immediately threw all my clothes into laundry (11 euros a small load, how disgusting is that). The woman said, ¨You’re sure you need to do laundry?¨ I needed it five days ago.

Not wanting to sit around my hostel all day waiting for laundry, I put on the only clothes that had escaped the wash process. My black shorts and blue tank. Not bad a) if my black shorts hadnt shrunk to the too short stage months ago and b) if it was a respectable month to wear shorts. Its not.

But I ventured out. Broken Greek sandals, too-short black shorts, blue tank… snow coat.

Wandered, wandered, wandered. Barcelona is the first place Ive really returned to on this trip. Munich I did, but within a week, short of any big life experience happening between visits. A lot has changed since Dad and I were here three and a half months ago. A lot. In all forms, physically, mentally… simply reality…

The sun was going down and I still hadn’t picked the perfect paella to eat. I realized my outfit wasn’t going to fly much longer. Too many whistles were being heard and I was afterall getting pretty cold. I leaned in to read one more menu in the window, ten minutes from my hostel.

The man at the table asks me if Im Swedish. I said no. He guessed another nationality. No. American. ¨Youre kidding!¨ He said my red hair makes me look Swedish.

Now its red.

He asked if I was on holiday. Hes a middle-aged man. He offers to buy me a drink, I decline, we talk five minutes more. He says oh come on, please, I’m a happily married Swedish man with a big presentation here tomorrow, just throwing back a few whiskeys. One beer.

Such a funny beer. We exchanged travel stories. Wouldn’t you know I’m sitting drinking with the engineer featured on Discovery Channel’s Megabuilders – Bangkok Megabridge episode. Hes kinda a big deal. Without telling him my interests or last name, he tells me the head of marketing at his company is named Janae Russo.

He can’t believe I’ve been traveling alone for two and a half months. With no problems. No muggings. He tells of the last time in Barcelona when he had a knife put to his neck. Earlier today, he’d bought a knife so he’d been prepared.

Im weary of being in my too-short shorts for too much longer, after dark, and he says ¨You cant go out like that after dark.¨ I explain I know! That’s why I declined your first offer for a drink. He said we’re going across the street and buying you a dress. I crack up. No we’re not, my clothes are just in the laundry.

He says he’s walking me home. He’ll shake my hand at the door, points at his wedding ring.

We get another beer. He says he cant believe I have had no issues traveling yet, and then says two pretty cool things.

One, he’s realized if you’re going down a dangerous street and don’t realize it, they’re less likely to mess with you. You don’t know to be afraid, and thus, you don’t look afraid.

Two, I apparently look ¨leather-backed.¨ Like my backpack is made of leather, not some crappy nylon. Been there, done that, Im not an idiot.

Finally, he said, I know why you’ve had no problems. It’s that smile. You’ve smiled your way through Europe, haven’t you.


It was the funniest two drinks I’ve had. When the waitress came out, she said ¨God answered your prayer!¨and they laughed. Apparently, three minutes before I showed up, she’d asked how he was and he said fine, but drinking alone sucks and wouldn´t it be nice if someone, say a woman 1.65m and 53kilos arrived.


Ridiculous. Our new friendship, these drinks completely unexpected, and now we’re walking back to my hostel. I promise, short on details here, I knew it would be completely safe. Plus, it’s realistically only six o’clock. I’d turned down the third beer because I’d only eaten a blueberry muffin and pain au chocolat all day. Beer and pastries.

ZARA. Next thing you know, he’s pulling me into the upscale clothing store. ¨You need a new pair of jeans.¨ Im cracking up. He’d just been flummoxed I have for four months what he has for four days. ¨You must be… size 24.¨ Yeah, right. 28 on the best day.

We’re giggling. I tell him we’re not buying me a pair of jeans, and luckily Zara seemed to only have jeans that came with built in spandex/underwear/something that made us laugh. We left.

He had to use the restroom and walked into a bakery. ¨Um, restroom for me and drink for the lady.¨ The bartender asked me what I wanted and I told him I didn’t really need anything. We chatted instead.

At the door of my hostel, Pele, as promised, shook my hand.

And then strongly insisted I keep his knife. His brand new, rather large, protection knife.

I now have in my pocket what I assume is a very expensive blade. Picture to come.

My life doesn’t stay mundane for long, does it.

***edit – for people who hadn’t read yet, I can upload the photos now… Pele’s knife. Now in my pocket.***



Goodnight, Paris.

My time in Paris has come to an end. At ten nights, it’s the place I’ve stayed the longest, but I knew that would be the case all along.

I feared my bag would break her if we put it on… This worked instead.

Nancy left yesterday. We spent our last morning wandering Christmas markets down by the ferris wheel, surrounded by booths (and smells) of waffles, hot wine, chocolate, cheeses, sausages… Ornaments, toys, decorations. Christmas music played, lights are lit… The holidays are here.

The cherry on top of a perfect weekend, including the best French onion soup of our lives at dinner the night before, was our last stop. The Ferris Wheel.

Notice the calm children.


I’m terrible at making faces. That was supposed to be “scared.” Remember “mad?”


I can’t believe that picture was taken three months ago.







The rest of yesterday was relatively lazy. I rechecked into my previous hostel and spent the evening at the hostel bar’s open mic night. I’d been there the previous Sunday, the same guy started it and I am now hooked on Stereophonic’s Dakota. Also, I always love a good acoustic male-sung Baby One More Time. So much.

I made plans to leave Paris tomorrow and take a train to Barcelona. I’ve never made a train reservation more than an hour in advance, but since tomorrow night I had plans with an old friend, a PR rockstar (no embellishment, owns his business and is a guitarist in a band), I wanted to confirm early. We were going to be bar-hopping in Barcelona. It was going to be an awesome night.

“Tomorrow? No, that is not possible. There is nothing I can do for you.”

Panic sets in. Backpacker fatigue panic, the irrational tired kind where I’m suddenly feeling 1) “trapped” in Paris, 2) never going to be allowed to leave and 3) “but you can’t call it backpacking if you just keep staying” scared of being considered a backpacking failure.

Are those tears? Oh… No. They passed. The head cold is really messing with me.

I can’t afford the full-price fare to Barcelona and the Eurail reservation spots were gone, so bar-hopping will take place in New York or Boston when I return. I’m off to Toulouse, France, instead. All with the goal of getting to Lisbon, Portugal, as the last big checklist place.

Finally, I said goodbye to the red purse. We’d had a rough couple days.


I spent my last night out of the hostel but far from the Eiffel or anything you think of when you think “Paris.” I found a local restaurant and ate croque Madame and drank vin chaud (hot, spiced wine). I journal wrote, I wrote a cliché poem, I questioned whether or not I might have gotten bed bug bites last night that are making a delayed appearance.

That might be tomorrow’s story.

Goodnight, from Paris.


PDA and Posing in Paris

Love is everywhere in Paris. Everywhere. Even written in the grout between tiles of the grungy bathroom stall in the Arc de Triumph.

I’d never choose a random bathroom stall to permanently leave “Janae and (Name) Forever.” So dirty. So germy. So occupied by random strangers and gross acts. Placement is everything. It’s also why I look at bridges with the love locks and question sometimes what the thought process was behind the lock on the worst part of the bridge – on the side rail, near the bottom corner, out of the sunlight where barely has the bridge begun to arch over water…

Nancy and I went to the Grevin Wax Museum this morning. The first room you enter is a circular room with mirrors surrounding you. The entire group enters and the doors close. The lights turn off and scenes begin to surround you as music and sounds begin to play. You’re in a Medieval Palace, then deep in a jungle… And across the way, in a not very crowded room, a couple was making out.

Nancy and I had the giggles the entire time. It was time to go have fun with some famous friends, and some ones we just thought were funny.



Take my picture with her because I’m taller!

She was glaring at me, so I was shooting spider webs at her.




I’ve now got pictures with Phil Collins and Phil Collen.



The wax museum was so much fun. We took the bus to the Arch de Triumph next and climbed 284 steps. Nancy got a taste of my last three months this week. The bus ride was beautiful as Paris is all lit up for Christmas, the stairs were tough and dizzying, and the view was entirely worth it.










A little while later, we were standing in line for the Towers of Notre Dame. A couple edged in front of us. It was a forty minute wait and this girl made it unbearable. The neediest girl we’ve ever seen, she must have leaned in and kissed her boyfriend’s cheek 200 times, each with a big smooch sound accompanying it. They weren’t making out, they weren’t holding hands, but these loud pecks were endless. Hysterical at first, uncomfortable after awhile, and the guy didn’t seem to be loving it. He seemed annoyed. They were speaking Spanish and at one point, something he said made her mad. Her eyes darkened and her arms crossed. The line behind them had a few minutes without the sounds of these cheek smooches.

And then they returned.

What we were thinking –
Nancy: Hi um, can you say whatever you said to her before that made her mad?
Me: He’s thinking… Get. Off. My. Face.

The security guard, as though trying to prove his job was necessary, would come up to us every few minutes telling the line to squeeze together. Squeeze closer. Get closer to the kissing couple.

Nancy didn’t want to be any closer. This smile was fake.


After waiting in line for forty minutes, we climbed a few hundred stairs and ended up at a… Gift shop?

Wait, really? A few guests around us look confused as well. Nothing higher seems open, access is restricted… Is this it?

Nancy let out an anguished “Nooo” that bounced off the walls of the tower, echoing loudly and causing me to dissolve in a puddle of laughter in the corner with the postcard rack. This can’t be it. Why.

It wasn’t. The stairs (387 in all) were opened a few minutes later, and up we went.









It was another great day in Paris. We finished our night with a boat tour on the Seine, which was absolutely stunning. Nancy leaves tomorrow, and I’m back on my own for two and a half more weeks.

I can’t believe it’s almost over.


Sudafed and Champagne… In Paris

We slept in.

We got lunch. Girl talk. At length.

It started raining.

We retreated to the hotel for umbrellas. We already have colds to fight.

We started our sightseeing day at 2:30p.m., and we were so efficient.


Our first stop was the Museum D’Orsay and I can finally add something to the art conversation – I love neo-impressionism. Or as I said in the museum, “I like dots.” A lot. While saying “I like dots” much like The Christmas Story’s “I like the Tin Man,” we heard “Janae?”

In this random room in a massive museum in Paris, France, Natalie, a Syracuse University student studying abroad this semester in London happens to be calling my name. She’s in Paris for the week. We were in our fraternity together.

It is a small, small world.

A few hours later, Nancy and I went to Saint Chapelle and, as we were waiting, the security guard calls out “Madame…” and we look back, assuming we were in the wrong entry line or otherwise doing something wrong.

Clinton and Sally were waving at me. Remember my Australian friends from on the way to Nice twelve days ago?

It is a small small world.

It was so good to catch up with them. Just like old friends, it seemed.

Nancy and I went to Notre Dame, too late to enter the towers but after dark and thus catching the lit up Christmas tree.



Then, the Museum of Modern Art. We had a lot of fun here. It was more our style than the other museums. Quirky. Silly.





Even if sometimes… We just didn’t quite “get it.”


We got back to the hotel and got dolled up. Dolled up for me is putting on eye makeup for the second time in three months and a dress that fits… Odd how fast you get used to no makeup and secondhand poorly fitting jeans. Doing eye makeup last night in our short-circuited dark room last night was a bit more than difficult.

No such power issues tonight, and we were off to Moulin Rouge. Or first, the Irish Pub next door, for the best if quickest eaten salads of our lives. Short on time, we asked for the check as our food was delivered and the waited choked out “Already?”



Oh Moulin Rouge. Never on a girl’s night out have I seen so many breasts. For two hours, women wore flowing skirts and necklaces while the men remained fully dressed. No-hand headstands took place on men’s heads, insane juggling and ventriloquism was seen, and one sexual fantasy after another was on display. Medieval ages? Sure thing. Modern set to “I Will Survive?” Sure thing. Circus act with ponies? Okay. Basically naked woman in a tank swimming with pythons? Most certainly.

My favorite was pirate themed. Aaargh matey.

So many boobs. All very real, by the way. You can tell such things when there are forty half-nude dancers in front of you. The rated PG-13 (R?) Rockettes. With a half bottle of champagne each, it was a silly, giggly night.






Leaving Moulin Rouge and waiting for a taxi, spotted a Starbucks. You all know by now I appreciate a good Starbucks moment. While trying to get a “Hey, look!” (I can be an acceptable female when I return to the states, my Boy, photo)…


This happened. I hope these, the awkward smile, the leaning away, the “don’t touch me” look aren’t what happen every time a male touches me.

But it did make me laugh pretty hard.




I tried to do something cute, and that’s what happened.


20 more days of European adventures.

Pancakes and Paris

Did I say a couple days? As if there weren’t going to be stories in the meantime. Nancy got to Paris yesterday morning. While waiting in the hotel lobby for her to arrive, I struck up a conversation with the most “unfun” woman. She said she was from New York and I said I live there, too, what part of New York?

“No, actual New York. I lived in Manhattan for thirty years.”

I said I’ve lived in Saratoga and went to school at Syracuse.

“Oh. Upstate. Well your school is in quite a big scandal right now.”

Yeah, I know… PSU and SU. They are very different cases.

“Well, I don’t know about that. Your school is in it’s own big scandal.”

Okay. Where do you live now?

“Florida. Boca Raton.”

Lovely! I’ve only ever been to Florida once – Jacksonville.

(scoffs) “Hah well that’s very different from Boca Raton.”

Nancy arrived just then, putting an end to that conversation. Ugh.

We asked if the room was or would be ready shortly and our receptionist said, “Yes, it should be ready shortly…

if you’d like to sit and have a cup of coffee our lobby

Or go into our restaurant and have breakfast

Or if you’d like to go ahead and take a walk

or visit a museum or something…”

Our room wouldn’t be ready for hours. We took that walk. Europeans like to serve coffee in sizes you sip slowly and after an overnight plane for Nancy and due to my need to have coffee in amounts I can chug, our first stop on Thanksgiving was… Starbucks!

The Starbucks here have big fluffy chairs and chandeliers, multiple stories and look like palaces. Very ritzy.

And because they were there and made us laugh, Nancy had Starbucks pancakes.


Girl talk – two hours, round one – happened in that Starbucks.

We were right near the Louvre and wandered for quite awhile, really only with the aim of seeing the postage stamp that is the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Napoleon’s apartment furnishings. We never found the direct route to anywhere, so we saw quite a bit more, like this skeptical baby.


We got back to the hotel and asked if our room was ready.

“Yes, your room is ready.
(four seconds later)
Let me just call housekeeping, she is on the stairs and she will let me know if your room is ready.”

Huh. Fifteen minutes later, we’ve heard no news. Is the housekeeping lady still on the stairs? Should someone go check on her?

Our beds make us giggle. Together but separate. But pretty much together.


On our way out again, I stopped in a pharmacy to grab some sort of Sudafed. “Hi, I need something for sinuses, like a Suda… Suda…” I don’t know what they call it here or what the drugs involved are, so I’m pointing at my nose.

The woman handed me a box of Sudafed. Oh.


That can’t be enough Sudafed. I need more than one dose. “Do you have multiples?”

The lady looked at me funny and said this was all they had. I decided I’d just have to come back again in four hours. It turns out it was a box of fifteen doses – cheapest Sudafed ever. No wonder the lady looked at me funny when I asked for more.

We grabbed a quick snack, went to L’Orangerie to see Monet’s waterlillies, raced to buy a pair of respectable shoes for a night out (my sandals are now held together by superglue glued to superglue) and ran back to the hotel. We have thirty minutes to be ready and on our way to Thanksgiving dinner at the Eiffel Tower.

We blew the fuse in our room. Half of the getting-ready process happened the dark, I realized I’d lost a bra somewhere in the last day (dangit!), we’re digging through bags, we’re running late… Our hotel room looks like a crime scene.

We made it to dinner, and the top of a tower. We were in a cloud up there, but what an awesome night.











It’s good to have a girlfriend to be goofy with again.


To Whom It May Concern… One For Thanksgiving

On my way to the 14th Arrondissement a few minutes ago, a man stopped me on the street and asked if I spoke English, then said, “I have written a book, I write poetry and you look like an artist. Would you like to get a drink?”

If he wasn’t just a little too shifty-eyed, I might have said yes…

This year I’m thankful for everything that makes me smile.












Happy holidays, friends. Nancy is coming. Commence girl talk and champagne…

I’ll be back in a few days.

My Own Special Moment

My uncle lived in Paris when he was my age.

This summer, he wrote me a Paris to-do list for whenever I made it here.

One thing on the list was to visit his old building, and for documentation’s sake, snap a photo of my reflection at the door.

Four months later, I finally made it to that door.

Someone picked the perfect time to break a mirror.


I want to high-five fate.

Life is too freakin’ cool sometimes.

Occupy Other People’s Special Moments: Paris

Whenever someone asks me if I’m writing a travel blog, I pause. Yes, I am… I travel, and I’ve been traveling a lot. But travel people read travel blogs for local history, weather patterns, tips and trivia… I’m a little short on those. I like stories and conversations. Luckily it works over here where friends are strangers and strangers are friends, but when I go home to friends that refuse to have conversations with me for fear of quoting, I’ll have to get a new angle.


One of the big conversations this week had to do with Occupy Wall Street. I’ve been in Europe the entire time it’s been in existence. As a 22-year-old purposely unemployed person (at the moment), I don’t feel entitled whatsoever to an opinion on the policies, reform wants or opinions that started the movement. I’m going to remain blissfully ignorant to the grief and gripes for the few more months I can, and I’m probably going to keep disagreeing with the good guys vs. bad guys mentality I’ve been seeing in the coverage.

That said, Occupy Wall Street has managed to tick off every American backpacker I’ve talked to so far. Imagine having a conversation with someone from a far poorer country, a far worse off situation, a bigger fight to get wherever they are. Imagine they think “Oh my, everyone in the States living in tents… There are so many homeless people. Your country is really falling apart, right?”

And yes, homelessness in America is a huge issue, but you feel like a huge jerk when you have to explain, “No, most of them aren’t homeless – they’re just sleeping in tents while they protest the man.”

Here’s my honest #OWS opinion. When I hear Occupy Seattle is bankrupting the community college because the law can’t kick them off the land and maintenance fees are sky high, and when a friend Tweets “Move out of my way #OWS, I can’t get to my fruit vendor,” I question if the short-term damage is worth their intentions.

Also, the BBC coverage of a girl crossing a bridge who said, “I’m here because, like, it’s like an intellectual movement so I want to be a part of it” made me want to throw my coffee mug at the tv.

That said, maybe they’re doing what they intend. They’ve made it into this quirky little travel blog, right?


Better conversation. Funniest I’d had in awhile. You know when that person somehow lands that hot person and you sit there at your desk, or awake at night, wondering how? And, somewhat conceitedly, you wonder why you’re still single?

The other night, a male hostel buddy: “I work at Microsoft. There is a guy who wears a Christmas sweater – you know, snowflakes – everyday of the year. This man has kids. He’s created life. Toddlers who wear Christmas sweaters in July. Did I miss a memo? What girl’s fetish was that?

We all giggled over our beers. An 18-year-old kid with braces and his first beer asked if we, 28-year-old girl hostel buddy and I, wanted to join his friends for a few drinks. I always try to be polite – the response that rolled off my tongue way too fast was, “Nah, I’m good.”

Today, a cute Parisian man whistled at me. I laughed really hard. I might have had my own Paris romance if I wasn’t face-deep in a sandwich when I heard that whistle.



Today I set out to do some of a Paris checklist provided by family. I once again skipped the walking tour in exchange for hours of walking… Tomorrow’s post might be “Today I spent eight hours reading in the park next to my hostel.”

Started at the Opera… Les Halles… Down Rue de Archives… Hôtel de Ville.







That last one I’ve been challenged visit and then write another fountain poem. It’ll happen. It’s really hard to write a fountain poem about a fountain with no water. My first instinct was to write about a sad little fountain – all cried out, dried out… But I don’t want to write that poem.

I’ll get there.


I still love bridges. What I really love is the following photo. It’s not perfect, it’s not framed like I’d prefer…

It’s just a photo of a photo of a photo!

There was no zoom used there. I took that picture openly. I had no shame in stalking that one.



I was leaving Notre Dame when I overheard a few Americans talking. We all got speaking and exchanged taking pictures of each other. I told them about my past three months, to cries of “Alone! and “You don’t speak French, how do you manage?” Oh, there have been harder places. Hungarian is the sixth hardest language in the world to learn. There’s your travel fact for the day.


They took this picture of me, and as we were parting, the woman asked if she could pray for me. I said of course, thinking that’s nice of her.

She took my arm, and on the bridge outside Notre Dame, she gave a loud, on-the-spot two minute appeal to the Lord. For a moment, I was stunned it was happening.

But then, as it became directly tailored to my trip, to the enemies I need protection from, the strangers – who I should and shouldn’t trust, the beauty this world has to offer, the protection to be coupled with bravery…

You know, it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Kinda like Nounou’s cake a couple weeks ago. Someone looking out.

When we said goodbye, she said, “It was nice to meet you. It wasn’t an accident!”

I spent the rest of the day stalking other people’s love and moments. Sometimes I like the pictures and think the couple in them would, but you can’t start that conversation.

Hey, I’ve got a bundle of time, so I’ve been watching you guys for fifteen minutes just hoping you’d kiss or hold hands or something… Good job, by the way…

So, anonymous, for you all.







Not a bad day two in Paris.



Finding Love In Paris, Part One

When I woke up this morning, I was beat. I’ve got to stop treating every day as a training session for a half marathon. That’s the goal for 2012. I bought a nice pair of running shoes over a year ago hoping that was all it would take to turn me athletic, and that never materialized. I think after 5-7 miles of walking a day in jeans and $17 leather shoes from Prague, I’m closer to capable.

Backpacking on a budget, the plan everyday starts with “…I think I’ll take a walk.” And some days, I just don’t wanna walk anymore… I decided today was not the day for the 3.5-4 hour free walking tour. When the kitchen at breakfast ran out of clean coffee mugs, I took it as a sign I should go back to sleep.

I left the hostel just after noon, which, if a late start to a day, leaves me about eight hours of… walking. I took the metro to the Louvre – for once, public transportation, and nine more times in Paris at least because I bought a ten-pack. I waved at the Louvre today. Nancy and I are going back.


I wandered and found Les Deux Magots, a cafe where all the big heavyweight writers like Hemingway had been once upon a time. There was a long wait for a table and at a point of needing coffee during my wait to buy coffee, I hoped the inspiration of being in the same area as the greats could still rub off because once upon a time, they too looked at the menu outside the door and debated entry.


Instead, down the road, I found an awesome cafe that charged less for take-away than sitting (more walking) and I had hands down the greatest tuna sandwich on a baguette of my life. Maybe the greatest sandwich of my life. Followed by a chocolate chip cookie on steroids. I will be returning.

Walking and cookies. My body is so confused by me.


I sat in the park and watched kids play soccer. The littlest one on the team was the goalie. When he was no longer playing goalie, I saw him get pegged at close-range in the back of the head and cringed. He shook his head of long blonde hair and ran after the ball once more, pausing to rub his head again and again the next few minutes. Poor kid. It looked like it hurt.


It’s 4p.m. now and I’m camped out in front of the Eiffel Tower. School kids in what look like Hogwarts uniforms are playing a game on a lawn nearby. I wonder what it’s like to have the Eiffel Tower in your everyday. On my way to the castle in Füssen, Germany, I rode the same bus as a bunch of kids going home from school. I had the same question then.


I finally got coffee nearby, sitting with a view of the Eiffel Tower. That’s a latte I won’t forget.

And then I realized the sun was setting…






And then I found… love.