Here’s the thing—I could probably write a seriously detailed, day by day account of my trip to Paris. There wouldn’t be anything new, or anything you couldn’t find on any other travel guide website…good places to eat, stare at fashionably dressed French babies, and where to stay (I will be posting about the awesome cooking course I took at La Cuisine Paris, however). But the thing about travel is that the real stuff, the stuff that changes you and makes you want to get back out there and see the rest of the world? It usually doesn’t have anything to do with where you ate or how you got there; it has to do with how you felt while you were doing it. Or, in my case, being somewhere familiar, yet exploring totally unknown feelings with the sort of depth only afforded you when you are outside your comfort zone.
My recent trip to Europe was my first real, grown-up trip to Europe. Previous trips involved rushed planning, occasional reluctant couch surfing, and lots of stays in hostels. But at 28, my days of successfully sharing a room with a half dozen other people or happily falling asleep on an IKEA bunk bed are a thing of the past. The prospect of staying in a hotel was great, but the task of sorting through the word vomit that often qualifies as reviews on various travel sites proved to be a daunting task.
The easiest (and best) hotel choice I made during Eurotrip 2013 was The Circus Hotel in Berlin. It is a centrally located sibling of the popular Circus Hostel (my taxi driver told me people frequently get confused about which place they’re staying, since they’re quite close to each other). I was feeling fancy, so I booked a Junior Suite for 110 Euros a night. The room was pretty big, especially by European standards (and it was exactly the same price per night as my closet-sized hotel room in Paris).
I didn’t spend too much time in my room because Berlin beckoned, but the time I did spend in my room was wonderful. My room faced the courtyard portion of the in-house restaurant, and there were a couple of nights during my stay that were especially warm and so I kept the windows open but wasn’t disturbed at all by my fellow guests.
The restaurant itself was absolutely fantastic. On my first night, I somehow managed to lug my extremely jet lagged body to the bar/restaurant for dinner and to listen to a
local jazz trio. The food was delicious, the atmosphere calm and relaxing, and the drinks stiff.
The front desk staff was extremely helpful, offering tips of places to eat and drink in other neighborhoods, helping me print out a pass to the Reichstag, and assisting me in booking a taxi to the train station on my last day in Berlin.
My fellow guests ranged in age from late 20s to late 50s, an age range which means that the hallways were quiet at night, and the bar and restaurant were filled with the gentle murmur of conversation rather than the bubbly almost delirious conversation of students on their first trip abroad (for that experience, visit The Circus Hostel).
When I go back to Berlin (because I absolutely will), I plan on booking at The Circus Hotel. It was an excellent start to my Eurotrip, and I only wish I’d had the same luck when booking my hotel in Paris.
I used to have really good skin. Like, pretty much perfect (aside from the freckles). People constantly complimented me on it and I always felt a sort of guilt–I didn’t do anything to deserve it, besides inherit my mom’s genetics. If I noticed my skin getting dry, I’d drink more water. If that didn’t work, I’d apply lotion. Any kind of lotion. I frequently fell asleep without washing makeup off my face, and my entire skin care routine involved Dove Body Wash and a wash cloth.
But now, as my 20s draw to an end, those carefree days are a thing of the past. No sunscreen? Serious sunburn. Forget to wash my face at the end of the day? A field of tiny, braille-like bumps will crop up across my face. Happy Hour that’s too happy? That’ll be two rolling suitcases the color of granite underneath my eyes. The final straw came in December when I got my first real zit (yep). It was an angry red and resistant to any of the home remedies that I found on the Internet. I tried to cover it with concealer, but nothing worked. So for a week or so, I walked around with 28 years worth of lazy skincare karma beaming from my chin. I invested in Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer, and my skin began a gradual recovery. I mean, it was by no means perfect, but I didn’t have any Mount Vesuvius clones popping up on my face.
As I prepped for my trip, I remembered that during previous Transatlantic flights, my skin grew grey and pallid, and I knew that if that had occurred when my skin was good, something shocking might occur in my old age. I began scouring YouTube for in-flight beauty routines, and stumbled across the treasure trove of magic that is Lisa Eldridge’s in-flight beauty routine. But the real gem I uncovered was her French Pharmacy video. I decided that one of my main goals in Europe would be to acquire these holy grail products she spoke so highly of. And when I walked into CityPharma in Paris 6th arrondissement, I seriously doubted whether any skin cream could be worth throwing elbows with the City of Light’s bright young things.
Turns out, it absolutely was.
During my 20 minute stint in beauty wonderland, I picked up a wide array of magical beauty products that I am now wishing I’d purchased more of.
When I told people I’d be starting my Eurotrip in Berlin, they almost uniformly asked “Why?” And not in a normal, curious way, but in a tone that suggested I’d said I was heading to Afghanistan for a beach vacation. And to be perfectly honest, I can’t really offer up a good explanation of why I decided to go to Berlin, I just really wanted to. In college, I was assigned the task of writing a 20-page research paper on German environmental policy, a task I balked at because my professor had explicitly forbidden me from having France. But throughout the course of my research, I became fascinated by post-Cold War Germany. A country that spent the better part of the 20th century either at war or recovering from war had taken it upon itself to devote significant time and energy to the creation of a greener country. My research indicated that it was part of a broader feeling that the country owed a kind of debt to the rest of the world, but to me, it also indicated a sort of pragmatism that I admired (and that my own home country frequently lacks).
Still, it never occurred to me to visit. I’m petrified of going to countries where I don’t speak the language. Yes, I know that many people speak English, but I don’t want to be the sort of American who travels to another country and expects everyone to speak my language. But last year, after a particularly eventful episode of The Amazing Race (yep) set in Bavaria, combined with assurances from many friends that Germans were friendlier about language skills than I might think, I decided it was time.
I planned to spend four days in Berlin and four days in Bavaria, where I’d visit a friend from college. I mastered “I’d like a beer, please,” and “Where are the bathrooms?” and prepared for Deutschland.
And let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised.