Topless in France

The other night I sipped a Manhattan for the first time.  For some reason its moniker unearthed images of a splash of gin, perhaps vodka and a sassy fruit liquieur to temper it. Instead, what met my lips was the hard bite of bourbon whiskey.  It made my eyes water a touch.  It’s funny how names can set a tone for us, categorize our behaviors.  What Jackie Desforges discovers in group travel is how freeing it can be to leap beyond where you are from or how you are expected to be. And the ending!  Oh, how Jackie surprised me.  That is the Manhattan in a nutshell.  Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.

 

New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Florence

Pssst… I might be passing through Italy on the Ultimate Train Challenge.  How exciting is that?  I’m told  a must-do experience is buying a bottle of Italian wine for 4 Euros and washing that back with bread and cheese.  It’s a fitting analogy for Natalie Vartanian’s first ever Contiki tour.  Frugal, with an uexpected punch.  Please lap up today’s Summer Chick Tale.

It was fall of 2008, I had broken up with my boyfriend of two and a half years, moved in with a friend of mine who had a spare room and was coaching a Leadership program that was half-way done. Sounds like a sad state of affairs, yet the break up was long overdue and everything else in my life was acting as a catalyst for change toward the life I had always envisioned for myself. I saw it as the beginning of my freedom. One day my girlfriend, Laura, and I (who I was living with and coaching with at the time) were lounging at home and talking about traveling. When she mentioned she had never travelled internationally I nearly fell off the couch!

“What? You’ve never been abroad?! That’s it, we’re going somewhere together!” I felt like a mama bird that wanted to put her under my wing, whisk her off to a far away destination and let her soar towards her next life changing experience.

Besides that, I had not been out of the country in over two years thanks to being tied down in my relationship. Okay, we went to Hawaii, but that doesn’t count … it’s technically still the U.S.! I was itching to go somewhere, anywhere and bad!

Hence started the research of where to go once we finished with our Leadership program. Since Laura had never done anything like this, and she’s a controller by nature, she started the literal research right away. Honestly I was glad for that since my first two trips I was the one planning, organizing, making it happen, etc. It was a nice break to have someone else taking charge. So when Laura brought up the idea of doing a Contiki tour, that fit in perfectly with my mood of not doing shit but showing up and being carted around the country. My version of royalty, I know! Plus the idea of being with other people our own age from all over the world in another country during the holidays (i.e. Christmas hoopla), sounded pretty sweet. We picked a winter tour of Italy, paid for our package soon after and were set to head for Rome the day after Christmas.

Venice gondolas (Natalie and Laura)

As luck would have it, or maybe it was the cosmos saying we needed even more adventure, we missed our connecting flight to Rome (I swear we didn’t even hear them calling our names over the PA system) and had to take the next flight, which took off the following morning. We paid for a hotel in Atlanta and made the best of the situation. Since we did not arrive to Rome on the originally scheduled day, we also missed the Contiki group’s bus ride to Venice, the destination where the trip officially started. In order to catch up with them we paid for a train ride from Rome to Venice for the day we arrived and organized meeting up with the group at the hotel. Not only was the train ride gorgeous since we saw snow falling and rolling landscapes, but we got there just in time for dinner at a nearby restaurant.  This should have been a foreshadowing of some of the shenanigans to come the rest of the trip.

Our tour took us to Venice for a day, a brief visit to Pisa, Florence for two days and ended back in Rome for two days. Like the bunch of tourists we were, we snapped pictures like crazy but also soaked in the culture and beauty that is Italy. Our tour guide, Cristian, was amazing. He was real, funny, knowledgeable and over all a little entertainer. Before long we were singing classic Italian songs during the bus rides and acting all sorts of silly. You really do bond with the people you are traveling with, not all but definitely a core group. We had between 30 and 35 people on our tour and I still keep in touch with at least seven or eight of those people today.  It was a shorter trip, eight nights and nine days, and a chunk of it was transportation time going from city to city.

Destination: Ecuador

This is what I’ve heard about Ecuador.  You can consume guardiente, an intense spirit made from fermented sugarcane that is pretty much considered the national liquor of Ecuador. You know what guardient translates to in Spanish?  “Fire water”.  Which is the apt image for Marie Elena Martinez’s story.  She drinks from the solo cup of travel and undergoes a trial by fire of sorts.  Enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.

Quito

The Lan flight was empty enabling me to situate in a window-aisle seat combo and spread out.  Snug in in-flight linens, I tried to watch the uber-hot Jolie-Pitts in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I was on a plane to South America.  Alone. Up until this morning, I had never even been to Miami solo.  Let alone, the continent of South America.  What was I thinking? A big talker about most everything, I’m not sure I believed myself when I announced my plans.  I knew my friends and family certainly didn’t.  Now, I was 35,000 miles above the Pacific.  Too late to turn back…  While my head freaked out, my body overdosed on the mental exhaustion.  Seemingly, I dozed off.  A pretty, dark-haired stewardess was now gently waking me as the pilot announced that we were approaching Quito.  Fasten seat belts; return seat backs to the upright position, and all that jazz.  Wait!  What?  We’re here? I’d slept through the entire flight.  Movie credits were rolling on my seat’s personal screen.  I wasn’t ready!  I hadn’t done my in-flight processing.  God Almighty, what happens next? My pulse quickened, body moisture returned.  I reached for the overhead fan. 

By |July 13th, 2011 |Categories: July 2011 |12 Comments

Surprisingly Solo in Scotland

Come on, did you think I wouldn’t include a category for solo travel?  It’s a given.  Just as it’s a given that I opt for drinks at a patio over a deafening nightclub.  One does not equal another.  Solo travel is not the same as group travel.  In Stephanie Yoder’s case, a duo turned into a discovery.  Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.

North Sea (1)

This story is not about a boy… but like so many good solo travel stories it starts with one.

I was 21 and studying abroad in London. I’d just gotten out of a five year relationship and was relishing the freedom of being abroad on my own, although truth be told- I was never actually alone. Within days of arriving at University College London I’d made tons of awesome friends, fellow study abroad students mostly, and whether I wanted to go out for pizza or go to Italy, I always had someone willing to tag along.

It was tagging along with those friends on a weekend trip to the white cliffs of Dover when I met this boy. His name was Grant, and although he wasn’t Scottish (in fact he went to my university at home), he was studying abroad at St. Andrews University and that seemed exotic enough. Over the course of a booze filled evening we danced recklessly, wandered the streets and shared a romantic kiss on the moonlit beach while Dover castle glittered in the background.

I didn’t know this guy but that was damn romantic, so when he invited me to come visit him in Scotland for the weekend I