Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dirty 30!!

We started off the evening with a glass of wine on our rooftop. It was so nice! We talked, watched the sun set and just enjoyed our apartment.

After a short nap, we left around 11:30 to go to a club called Goa in the neighborhood of Trastevere, which is known in the tour books as the real Rome. It turns out there were many clubs in the area, most of which didn't have signs. So we heard (what we thought was) good music at one club and I went to the front of the line. My Italian isn't good at all but I said "due" (two), the bouncer asked me who I was with (in English), I pointed to Matt (who was of course super-cute with jeans and a black corduroy jacket) and he let us right in. We were so pumped about going to the front of the line and getting in that we didn't think of asking what kind of music they had. So we went in and it was hip-hop. Not my favorite. We stayed for a while and Matt said we should go. I probably would have stayed since we had already paid to get in and we didn't even know where the other club was, but we left, which turned out to be a great idea. One of the door people told him that Goa was around the block.

We got to Goa around 1, which is apparently the time to go to a club because there was a huge crowd trying to get in. No line, just an enormous bunch of people. We got into the bunch and slowly moved up. I saw people taking out IDs, and I took out my ID and held it up with the California part showing. The bouncer saw that and let us right in! Yeah California!

The club was one of my favorite I've been to. It wasn't very big (maybe 1/4 the size of the Vanguard) but it had cool lights everywhere, a video DJ and lots of cool people with different styles. Everyone looked great, but really different, which was a breath of fresh air from the usual in LA, where it seems like women's syles are so similar (which I also noticed in Paris). The best part about the club was the mood. Everyone was just having a good time and seemed happy to be there. Really open to each other (people do make eye contact), dancing, talking, etc. Matt and I were in our own world since we basically couldn't communicate with anyone, but we had the best time. The music was great, the club had dancers with multiple costumes (one was like a mime with multiple masks, one like a bird with a slinky but still classy feather outfit) - so much fun!

From there we decided to walk home. We walked for a long time towards the Colosseum. At one point, we heard loud electronic music coming from over a huge garden wall. We tried to go up the exit to get in (we were already dressed to go - why not?), but the door person said they were closing.

After some more walking and help from some friendly Romans, we came upon the Colosseum. So amazing at night!! It was lit up from the inside and the area was deserted since it was so late. It was a sight to see and the first time we had seen it. We walked around there and then (thankfully) found a cab. The perfect end to our night.

The next day we went to a huge lunch and then back home to our couch for an afternoon of movies. I was a little torn about spending an afternoon relaxing, but it was ok after we discussed the fact that we were out so late the night before, and we have been traveling, learning, doing new things every day for 16 days straight. We were just exhausted. It ended up being really nice just to be together in our apartment. We had also bought some treats on the way home from lunch, which we snacked on the rest of the day.

Yesterday was my 30th birthday! We woke up and Matt sang to me. We slowly got ready and traveled to see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps. In between, we ate a pizza at a cafe and window shopped. Window shopping is a lovely past time that the Europeans have and I think I am going to continue it in the US (even though I know window shopping at Urban Outfitters and Banana Republic won't be the same...)

We spent the afternoon relaxing and reading in our apartment, which was actually a highlight of my birthday. The cool air and lovely evening light streaming into our room, relaxing in the afternoon/early evening.

Then we went to our rooftop terrace and had champagne. We talked about our trip and looked through our photos. I couldn't have asked for a better 30th birthday! That night we decided to go in search of a pizza restaurant that Claire, the woman we interviewed, recommended. Yes, we had pizza TWO times on my birthday! We coined this our eating adventure. We had to take the bus and the metro to an area that is off of the tourist maps of Rome. It took much longer than we anticipated and ended up being more of an adventure than eating. We did find the restaurant, and we did have pizza, but we had to rush to eat since the metro closed at 11:30. All part of the traveling adventure.

On the way home, Matt stopped and got us a dessert to go from a restaurant a block from our house. We took it home and he set it up with two candles from the apartment (near the dessert) and sang to me again. What a day!

I would have to say that it is really strange to be 30. Almost surreal. I had mixed feelings about it yesterday until Matt looked at me at one point and said "don't worry, Pix - being 30 is a really great place to be and I know you'll like it" I instantly felt better. I'm not looking back - 30 here I am!!!

Today we are doing another Context Travel tour to see the Colleseum, Pantheon, etc. - the sights of Rome. Tomorrow we travel back to LA. We leave here at 8am and get into LA at noon. Traveling back in time!

I will write more and post photos/video when we get back to CA.

Jessica O.

Siena & the Vatican

Our trip to Siena was short and sweet. We took the bus there and got to see the Italian countryside. It was very picturesque and looked exactly like I imagined it would. Rolling hills, old buildings, lots of trees and grape vines. Entering the city of Siena was surprising because it looked like a small town - almost like Athens, Ohio. It had a Blockbuster, McDonald's, etc. I guess I wasn't expecting Siena to have entered the 21st century. It was a city whose peak was in the early 1300s, but the plague in the mid-1300s killed 75% of the population. Now it is a relatively small town that is known for its mid-evil style buildings and its annual horse race between the teams for each of the town's districts. The bus took us into the city center, which was much more like I had imagined it. We walked through small streets, up and down steep hills, saw mid-evil looking houses/buildings, and basically got lost in the intricate maze of the center of town. We finally found the huge palazzo where the horse races are held. After a glass of wine, we decided to take the bus back to Florence to have dinner.

That night, we had one of the best dinners of the trip. Salad, pesto fettuchini, Florentine steak and an amazing dessert. All in a place called Ristorante. So much fun. Apparently Florentine steak is a Florence specialty from cows that are raised a certain way. I haven't been very excited about meat these last few years, but this was one of the best steaks I have ever eaten.

The next day we had a cappuchino and we were off to Roma! Upon arrival, we navigated the bus system and went to our fab apartment. It is on the top floor of a building in the back streets of Campo di Fiori, which is an area near the Tiber River known for its daily farmers' market. We have a balcony off of our room looking out into a courtyard as well as a terrace on top of the building where we can see out over the whole neighborhood. We met the owner, who gave an extremely long presentation about the apartment (I was ok with this until he went through a list of apartment rules) and then we went to meet a potential writer for the travel website. BTW -we now have a name for the website jetsetdarling.com! How cute is that?? Matt came up with it the other day, and we got the website yesterday.

So after the extended apartment intro, we met Claire, an Australian who just quit practicing law and moved with her husband to Rome. She was great and even better when we found out that we have the same birthday! What are the odds? From there, Matt went to meet another candidate. I went to the grocery store to get some food, but I was so very exhausted that we had a quick dinner and went to bed.

The next afternoon was our tour of the Vatican. We went through Context Travel, which gives tours by art/architecture professors or historians with no more than 6 people in the tour. It was fab. Our guide was an American who has been living in Rome since 1991 and teaches art history at a university. We learned so much about the art collection, architecture and history of the Vatican. The guide told us that if you spent two minutes looking at each piece of art in the Vatican, it would take over 14 years! Highlights were: an extensive discussion about the process of painting and meaning of the paintings on the Sistine Chapel (including the fact that Michaelangelo hated doing the job), seeing the beautiful sculpture (including Michaelangelo's famous sculpture, Pieta), and learning about the 120+ year process of designing and building St. Peter's Basilica. It was also interesting to learn that Bernini designed the high altar in the front of the basilica and used bronze taken from the Pantheon.

After the tour, Matt and I went back to our neighborhood for dinner. I tried bruchetta and spaghetti al pomodoro. Bruchetta is bread with topping (could be tomatoes, olive tapenade, artichoke tapenade, etc.) and spaghetti pomodoro is spaghetti prepared with cream, egg and bacon. They were both interesting and Roman specialties that I wanted to try. (Have you noticed how much eating is involved in this part of the trip? Frightening!) We went home to nap because Matt had planned a fab night out for my birthday!

I'll write about our night out in my next post.

Jessica O.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fierenze and Pizza

Our last two days in Paris were so great. Traveling by myself is something I have always wanted to do, so Matt and I decided to spend a day on our own and then meet up for dinner. I went to the internet cafe and had an espresso and wrote. Very leisurely. Then I went over to Jardin de Luxembourg. One of my best experiences in Paris! It is a huge park in the heart of Paris filled with gardens, sculptures, fountains and people. There are hundreds of chairs around the park so that people are chatting with groups of friends, reading by themselves, spending time with family, people-watching - basically just being there and enjoying a Sunday afternoon. The park is huge, and I only saw a small part, but I also saw another area where they were selling giant balloons and cotton candy and had a merry-go-round for kids. Apparently they also have a mini-replica of the Statute of Liberty. It was like something out of a movie. I walked around for a while and then pulled up a chair and people-watched and read.

One thing that I noticed about the French is that it's ok to look at other people. When we first arrived in Paris, I thought everyone was staring at us because...we were foreign? Looked like tourists? Who knows. But after being there for a week, I realized that everyone is constantly looking at each other. The only thing about it is that once someone realizes you are looking, the thing to do seems to be to look away. In other words, you don't really make eye contact with strangers. But it's ok, even normal, to look at other people. In fact, cafes and bars are often set up for people watching. So different from the US.

I had a list of three things that I definitely wanted to do in each city. In Paris, eating oysters was on my list if they were in season. They were! So Matt and I met at 7pm in our favorite neighborhood at a fab restaurant for oysters. They had a menu of 4 different kinds and then each kind of oyster was available in 3 sizes. So we ordered the oysters, had a bottle of wine, and chatted. Really enjoyed our last night in Paris to the fullest.

The next evening, we took an overnight train from Paris to Florence. We chose to take the train because Matt loves trains and we thought it would be a good way to see some of the French/Italian countryside. We had also taken an overnight train in Thailand and it was super-fun. Well...this train wasn't as great. We left late - after dark - so we didn't get to see much and it was a little claustrophobic. We also went to eat in the dining car and there was terrible energy. Lots of seemingly frustrated people packed into a little space. So, we ended up eating a cold ham and cheese croissant in our little room and went to bed.

When we got to Florence, we went straight to our hotel. So exciting! We are staying in the Grand Hotel, which used to be the palace of a wealthy Florentine family. It was converted into a hotel about 200 years ago and was just remodeled using traditional Florentine decoration and architecture. Needless to say, it is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in. Even better, I had told them that we were on this trip for my 30th birthday celebration so they upgraded our room to a top floor suite. It includes a balcony with a view of the Duomo and red rooftops of Florence as well as the Arno River. Just amazing!! To top it off, after we got into the room, they delivered a bottle of complementary champagne. Heaven!

After we spent some time relaxing, we set off to explore Florence. We went to a bookstore and bought a city guide and then walked over to the Duomo. The Duomo is the crown jewel of Florence. It took over 100 years to fully build and is a giant church with a dome at the top. In the 1400's, they couldn't figure out how to build the dome, so they had a competition with a prize to the person who could figure it out. Brunelleschi made it his life's work to find a solution to this architectural puzzle, which was to be the most extraordinary and daring achievement of the times. In the end and after 16 years of construction, they built the massive dome that appears to rise towards the sky without any means of support. We also climbed to the top of the dome where we saw the most amazing views of Florence. The climb was a little scary (especially because I was wearing flip flops) and reminded me of climbing up the Statue of Liberty. But well worth it. So beautiful and peaceful from the top, where you go outside to a giant balcony.

The next day, yesterday, we went to two museums (including the Uffizi) and the Boboli Gardens. I have never been really excited about art in the past, but after all of our study for this trip, I have been so looking forward to all of the art in Florence. The thing that fascinates me the most is the history of the Renaissance. It was a time period in which the most wealthy families showed their riches by commissioning the best artists to paint, sculpt, design new buildings, etc. It was also a time when the artists first felt free enough to move away from religious art (which was all that was accepted up to this time) and into all types of creative expression. They believed that their abilities to make beautiful art were gifts from God that should be used for the betterment of society. In this way, they were making art for God. So lovely.

So all of the museum touring was amazing but exhausting. The best part was seeing all of the paintings and sculptures that we've spent so much time learning about.

We went home and napped and then went out to what we heard was the best pizza in Florence. I will admit that I am addicted to pizza. (We briefly considered traveling to Naples just to try what I had heard was the best pizza in Italy.) Needless to say, I was pumped. We went to a restaurant that was across town out of the tourist areas, and had the BEST pizza I have ever eaten.

So amazing I can't put it into words. Definitely a highlight.

Today we are off to Siena. We are taking a bus there and plan to spend the evening walking around the small town. I'm excited to see a smaller city in Italy as well as the countryside on the way.

Jessica O.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bonjour Paris!

We arrived on Tuesday in Paris! So fabulous! We took the eurostar train from London that travels at around 180 mph and got here in 2 hours. Our introduction to Paris was the wine and dainty meal served on the train. I was so excited to get there.

We arrived at a grand train station around 3pm, got on the metro and found our apartment. It is a cute studio in Le Marais (in the 3rd) with two art galleries on the first floor of the building.

Paris is so exotic. It is actually much harder than I thought it would be not speaking French. Thankfully Matt speaks enough to get us around, order food, etc. Anyway, we still had terrible jet lag (Paris is 9 hrs. difference from LA) so we slept for a few hours. From there, we got up, and took the metro to Champs Elysees, which is a long road that is the upscale shopping district in Paris, which, I found out later, is really only used by tourists. The Arc de Triumph is at the end off the road, which was a beautiful sight all lit up at night. I wanted to look fabulous to go to this area, so I somehow thought it would be a good idea to wear heels. Not a good idea. Lots of walking and I didn't feel very fabulous anymore...

Matt and I went to a restaurant that was a few streets away from the touristy area of Champs Elysees and ordered wine and a cheese plate. You can imagine my joy when the restaurant owner brought out a serving-tray sized plate full of cheeses and set it down next to Matt. So we ate the most fantastic cheese that night chosen by the owner. They left the huge plate next to Matt for a while, which was so distracting! The cheese!!

We spent the next day exploring Paris including Palais Royal (in search of Didier Ludo, an upscale second-hand handbag store that wasn't as great as it sounded) and Saint Germain. We couldn't seem to shake the jet lag, but we made plans to meet Sam and Laura at the Louvre at 9:45am the next day. After being up for almost 4 hours that night, we woke up at noon. The alarm didn't go off, and we were so bummed! We had no idea how we were going to meet up with them again since they didn't have a phone, and we weren't staying in the same area. In London, we had decided that if we didn't catch up before then, we would all meet at 8pm on Thursday under the Eiffel Tower. We hoped that was still the plan, even though we had missed meeting that morning.

So Matt and I set off to the Louvre around 1:30. Fabulous! It was overwhelmingly crowded, but it was so great to see the Louvre in person after all we had learned about it. The Louvre was actually the French royal palace for hundreds of years, until one of the King Louis decided to move it to Versailles. It started out as more of an estate, and then generation after generation of kings added to it to make it more grand. One of the halls is so long that kings used to have horse races down the hall. And the art! The sculptures, the paintings, the moat (an excavated part of the original moat that was used to protect the Louvre against invaders) - and we didn't see most of what was there.

The other exciting part of the Louvre was that Matt was famous! No less than 4 groups of people took pictures of him. Some people tried to hide that they were and some people just walked up to him and snapped his photo, but we figured that he must look exactly like someone famous. I'm married to a star!

After several hours there, Matt and I raced over to meet Sam and Laura under the Eiffel Tower. At about 8:20pm, we figured they weren't going to come, but we decided to wait anyway. It was so surreal, I felt like I was in a movie - just waiting to meet someone special under the Eiffel Tower. Matt was walking around looking for them, when suddenly, Sam was walking towards me! You have no idea how happy I was! We waited around until 9 to see the *glittering* Eiffel Tower, which was the BEST! The four of us went to dinner at an Italian restaurant and then off to a cafe for drinks.

On Friday, Sam, Matt and I got up early to go to a market near Sam's hotel. It was part permanent market (inside), part farmers' market (outside). A highlight of the trip! We went to the meat counter, the cheese counter, the fruit counter, the bread store - at each one, you wait your turn, and then the proprietor spends as much time with you as needed. Answering your questions, painstakingly cutting your portions and wrapping them. Everything is done with such care and purpose. Just what I had hoped to find in Paris! (Sam and I also daydreamed of getting into a ring with each other and battling it out with giant hamhocks that were hanging from the ceiling - the photo of us also has the hamhock.) We saw people carrying huge half-pigs around and lots of older French people grocery shopping. The most impressive part of the whole event was when I went to buy figs, and the woman hand-picked the best figs for me. Can you imagine?? Lovely!

From there, we took our picnic on a bus to Versailles. It was beautiful, but I eventually was bored seeing room after room that is so overwhelmingly big, ornate, and really just over the top. The audio tour was also super-boring - mostly discussing the paintings on the ceilings rather than the history of Versailles, the kings/queens, etc. This is one tour that I actually wished we had gone through a company so that we could have gotten more information. The best part of the day was when we went into the gardens and set up our little picnic on the grass. It was the first sunny day of our whole trip and we just ate in the manicured lawn of Versailles. Matt, my brother and me.

That night we saw Sacre Cour (a beautiful church on a mountain top) and sampled "onion soup" which is French onion soup to us. It was much lighter than our version, but oh so good.

Finally, yesterday, Matt and I met up with our friend Derek and his boyfriend, Ramion. I went to high school with Derek and Derek and Matt actually studied in France together in college. So we both knew Derek separately, which was cool. The four of us spent a few hours catching up at a cafe in the Marais (our neighborhood) and then walking around. That night, Derek and Ramion took the four of us to Djoon - a restaurant that turns into a club. We were definitely the only non-Parisians there, which was super-fun. I just had the best time with everyone. I got to ask Ramion a lot of questions about the French. Before we came to Paris, Matt explained to me that the French are much more solemn-faced than we are. You don't really smile at strangers here. This has been so hard for me! I feel like I'm always trying to be serious or hold back a smile. Ramion told me that it was actually ok - sometimes he thinks it's refreshing to see people smile. Good news for me!

My main goal was to go to each of the cities we were visiting and to relax and spend time in the city like the locals do. But in the process, I realized that the first time you visit a place, you have to see the tourist sites. Otherwise, it's much harder to appreciate the culture and history of the city. Since that realization, we have embraced being tourists! Of course, we have also relaxed at cafes for much too long, window shopped, strolled around town - all just like my beloved French - but we're also packing in the tourist experiences.

Overall, I must say that I absolutely love Paris and I can appreciate the French attitude. Ramion put it best when he said that the French "live naturally" They don't have to be at work at a designated time - they just come between 9 and 10 and then work accordingly. They aren't fake and aren't overly polite - they're just themselves. It may not come across as being really nice, but you always know where you stand with a French person.

The best of Paris: French language, saying Bonjour every time you enter a store, imagining Sam and I dueling with ham hocks, listening to French, the way the cafes set up the tables outside for people watching, Derek and Ramion, pan au chocolat, really all of the food we've eaten, lingering in cafes, being on vacation, the super-convenient metro, dreaming about moving to Paris.

Lots to think about...but so very much to love about Paris!

Tomorrow we leave on an overnight train for Florence. I'll write more soon.

Jessica O.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

London: Land of Pubs, Dreary Skies and My Kin

September 12, 2009

We arrived in London after a 10 hour flight from LA, got on the tube from Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus is like the Times Square of London only all of the buildings are super-old, beautiful and grand. We met Sam and Laura in the hotel lobby. So good to see them! One of the things I've been looking forward to the most about our trip.

After getting showered and ready, the four of us set off in search of a pub called The Harp. This was recommended by Kim Loeffert's boyfriend, Peter, who lives in NYC, but is from London. (He sent us about 3pgs. of inside info. on things to do in London, which was so fantastic and also one of the inspirations for our website.) So his notes give vague directions to where we're going and say that the pub is down a street two feet wide. After some wandering around the area that seems to be part theater district (like Broadway) part porn/sex shows (red light district), we found the tiny alley that we later found out was the skinniest street in London and went into the backdoor of The Harp. It was full of Brits - always a good sign. I had a Guinness, which I have been looking forward to in London. So much more fresh and almost a little nutty - tasty!

We hung out there for few hours and Laura and I had some great conversation about living in the present moment. She has read A New Earth and Awareness, which as you probably know, have been life-changing books for me. We also talked about the fact that by doing this practice, the "challenges" that come up in daily life seem so much less important.

At the Harp, we also learned that you don't tip the bartenders in the UK. We did, and after we asked, a British woman kindly told us that instead of a tip, you can actually offer the bartender a drink. If they are allowed to drink on the job, they would have half a beer, compliments of you.

We all wanted to try Indian food, which we had heard was amazing in London. So Laura turned on her sweetest Southern charm for some Brits and asked where we should go. We ended up at Maharashi in Soho (yes, London has a Soho too!) where they have white linens and tablecloths. Much different than the Indian restaurants we're used to, which are usually more Indian decor and less fine dining. But the food was so good! It was actually spicy, which the Indian, Thai, Vietnamese restaurants refuse to do for the non-natives in LA, even if you ask for it. Besides the spice, I was surprised to find that our Indian food in LA is just as good.

After dinner, Laura and I went back to the room and Sam and Matt went for another drink. I was so tired (even though we slept almost 8 hours on the plane), and I passed out at 11pm (3pm in LA).

After spending half the night WIDE AWAKE, Matt and I got up at 8am to see Buckingham Palace, the home of the Queen of England. It turns out that the Palace is only open to the public 8 weeks of every year, which just so happened to be the time we were in London. I know that my writing skills could never do justice to what we saw, but the palace was just divine. Glittering gold ornately carved designs on stairwells and ceilings, plush fabrics with bold covers on furniture, wallpaper that is so rich it looks like it has dimension, color coordination in each room down to the last detail. My favorite of all were the marble sculptures - busts of kings/queens/dukes and carvings in the curvature between the walls and the ceilings that either tell a story with the carved figures or just add to the grandiose character of the room. The other stunning part of the palace is that many of the rooms look out onto acres of green lawn with a river in the back. Right in the middle of London!

From there, we sped over to a super-fab restaurant, Bob Bob Ricard, in the trendy part of Soho. This was our first interview with a writer for our website, and the restaurant was suggested by our interviee, Louisa. For each person we are interviewing in London, Paris and Rome, we asked the writer to meet us on a certain date and time at a place they would review on their travel guide for the website. So Bob Bob Ricard is a cute restaurant with an air of exclusivity that is all aqua-colored including the booths, curtains behind the booths, server uniforms and walls. They feature "The Toaster" where the server brings you a toaster (plugged into your booth) and a bowl of bread for you to toast your own bread. Very cute, fun and different. Louisa is not only an experienced writer, (most recently under contract with Virgin Media), she was also extremely personable and seemed to be just the type of person we are looking for.

From there we went to meet Sam and Laura for the "original tour" of London. I am absolutely horrified to admit that we each paid 24 pounds (about $40) to go on a double-decker bus tour of London. Now this is a prime example of "never say never." I am the first person to gawk at tourists on these tours in LA. I may wonder aloud, "Why in the world are they on that bus?!" or "Such a crazy, touristy view of LA!! How lame!"

My only justifications for this tour in London are (1) we were only in London for 48 hours and (2) there weren't any specific sites I was dying to see. I know, still lame. Anyway, it worked out well, and I promise, I will try to never again knock the tourists on the double-decker buses in LA.

We saw Big Ben/Parliament (shout out to Chevy Chase's European Vacation!), many monuments, the Tate Modern Museum, London Bridge, Tower of London (a castle dating back to 1100 where Henry VIII had his wives beheaded), the London Eye (giant Ferris wheel), Tower Bridge, St. Paul's cathedral, Westminster Abbey (enormous Gothic cathedral), etc. Pretty much all of the sites in London.

From there, we went to London's east end, to a bar recommended by Louisa. Very hipster. Ironically, I think she thought Matt and I were hipsters because of the way we were dressed. The best part of the bar was being there with Matt, Sam and Laura and that we were the only tourists there. We all wanted to eat fish and chips before leaving London, so we went in search of Ye Grapes, which was recommended by both cousin Ben and Peter. True to London style, Ye Grapes was closed, but we found a restaurant nearby still open. The restaurant had short ceilings and dark wood paneling. It also had real candles on each table, which made me feel like we were in London in the old days. It reminded me that London is the land of my kin! I wouldn't race to eat fish and chips again. It was basically fried fish and french fries - nothing special but I'm glad I tried it.

The next day, Matt and I were up again early to go to Harrod's, the department store in London that can famously get you anything in the world. There is a story that the first President Bush went into the store and asked to order an elephant, and the clerk replied "would you like African or Asian?" We saw everything from clothes and cosmetics to fossils, antiques, dollhouse furniture and "children's formal wear".

Then we raced back to the hotel to get our luggage and go to the train station. Off to Paris!!

Overall - Best of London: Realizing I was actually on vacation, exploring the city with Max, seeing Sam and Laura, super-polite people, knowing that this is the land of my kin (spoken with an O Brother Where Art Thou accent) and the tube. Worst of London: JET LAG, the food, and gloomy, dreary skies.

I'll write more soon with pictures and video!

Jessica O.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Vacation Eve

Hello friends and family! I am so sorry I have been out of touch for such a long time. Life has been amazingly busy lately and so, I decided to start a blog to keep everyone up to date on my adventures!

Today is my vacation eve - what a day! I have been literally working around the clock to get everything settled at work for my almost three-week European adventure. Matt and I have been planning this trip for over a year - well, we've been talking about it since our trip to Thailand three years ago. We decided to go now to celebrate my upcoming 30th birthday, based on the fact that September seems like a nice time to go, and because I have been practicing law for 3 years. That last item is just shocking - I never thought I would be saying that.

Anyway, we have been reading books, watching movies (especially PBS, National Geographic, BBC and yes, I'm sad to say, two Rick Steves videos), researching online, etc. all about the history, geography, people, food/wine, anything we can find about the places we are going - London, Paris, Florence, and Rome. I've never actually done so much research about a place I was traveling to, but it is making the anticipation of the trip all the more exciting. All of this planning for at least the last five months, and it's here! Even more fantastic is that Sam (my brother) and Laura are meeting us there! They will be in London and Paris for a week of the trip.

Matt and I are also in the middle of creating an internet company. It involves a website for 20 and 30-something travelers (just like us!) who want to experience cities like locals do, who don't have kids, and who aren't backpackers but aren't luxury travelers. We are going to start with writers from 12 cities who will write about their cities in a booklet that can be downloaded (for a small fee) as well as regular updates on the website. So, we are taking the opportunity to interview several people in London, Paris, and Rome. We posted ads on Craigslist, went through tons of responses from people all over the world, and sent a letter back to people we wanted to meet for an interview. We asked them to pick a location that they would review in their booklet/blog for the interview and said we would meet them there. We are looking forward to meeting these people, who all seem super-interesting. I'll keep you updated on that as well.

We have reserved our hotels/apartments, a tour of the Vatican and tickets to the Uffizi in Florence - otherwise, we are playing everything by ear. My goal is to go to each of those cities and explore, sit at cafes, live like the locals. We decided to only go to those four places so that we can settle in and wander, rather than just rushing through many cities. The world is our oyster! So fab!

I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or if you would update me on your life. Hope all is well with you.

Jessica O.