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Roineabhal, Scotland

September 20th, 2010

Going from partying in London to the remote Scotland countryside was quite the shock. It took me about a week to get used to it, but here I am in Scotland and feeling a sense of peace settling in.

how i'm livin' - the Bed and Breakfast in Scotland

I am at a gorgeous four-star Bed & Breakfast in a remote, secluded area of the Scottish countryside. I am here working in exchange for room and board. Every morning I awake at about 7am and get dressed and go down to the kitchen. I help Maria (the owner) serve breakfast (eating my own in between) and then clean the kitchen and downstairs area. Then I move upstairs to the guest rooms and clean them. I’m usually done with work by early afternoon, at which point I am able to have some lunch and enjoy free time.  Sometimes Maria serves dinner to the guests so I help out with that too, serving dinner and cleaning the kitchen and dining room afterwards.

I am happy to say that my mother’s superb home training is up to par with the standard of hotels and 4-Star B&B’s… I already knew how to fold towels and fitted sheets properly and make tight hospital corner flat sheets on the beds.

In my free time, if it is raining outside, I will stay indoors and curl up with Conan the kitty and a good book or get caught up with some of my favorite TV shows (lately that happens to be True Blood) on my computer. If it is not raining, I will take a walk outdoors or sometimes go into town with Roger (Maria’s husband).

Conan sleeps on my lap as I read in the lounge

During my first week here in Scotland I was pretty sure I’d end up going completely crazy. Let’s face it: I am not a country girl. I love the city; I thrive in the city; the chaos of the metropolis makes me feel truly at peace.  The work keeps me busy, however, and allows me to multi-task. I am able to drift off mentally into my own little world in my head while working furiously at cleaning and doing my various jobs. It’s a good balance for me, I think.

Scotland is gorgeous, needless to say. The scenic countryside is reminiscent of Ireland, except Ireland is definitely greener. The Scots seem to be very friendly folk as well, which is great. I am glad for the opportunity I have here, for sure. It’s a nice change of pace – the work I’m doing is a welcome change, I enjoy being busy and occupied and it makes me appreciate my free time all the more.

falling in love again…

September 16th, 2010

I find myself falling in love all over again. The first time I heard jungle (drum-n-bass/DnB) it was love at first beat. It was the late 90’s and I had been walking from room to room at Home Base in Oakland, CA, at a huge massive rave. There were approximately 12,000 kids there at that party: dancing, sweaty bodies writhing on the dance floors. I walked from room to room and when I entered the DnB room, I fell instantly into love. The dark, grimy beats instantly captured my heart and soul. My body moved involuntarily to the beats: this was the beginning of a love affair sure to last a lifetime.

me and some new friends at a DnB club in London (Renegade Hardware at Club Area)

I find it hard to explain how the music moves me. I believe anyone that is truly moved by music, words or art, whatever the genre, surely must know how I feel. DnB puts me into a sublimely happy state. Just listening to the music on my iPod while I walk around makes me feel ridiculously high. I used to turn on DnB at high volume at home and clean my house, dancing around while I scrubbed and polished.

Partying to DnB in London was absolutely euphoric. I cannot begin to explain how it made me feel, to be in the UK (the birthplace of my love) in a massive club with DnB beats pounding through some of the best sound systems I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. While partying in London, I refused to be inebriated, I had a few drinks but never got drunk, because I wanted to be there 100% to enjoy the experience. I stayed at the clubs until 6am, walking home with the sunrise, still feeling high from the music.

The experience of partying in London was not one I’ll soon forget. I lack the words to describe how insanely happy and high I felt; if I could find a way to dance to DnB every night of the week, I would. Being in a dark club with heavy bass, hot bodies, sweat, dancing… there’s something about it… I wonder if I will ever grow out of this. It’s doubtful. Ah, DnB, my first love… you’ll always have my heart.

London’s Objectives

September 9th, 2010

The ship was absolutely enormous with eight levels; the lower levels stored the cars and busses and the upper levels had various lounges, sleeping areas, a cafeteria, movie theater, shop, spa, bar, etc. I wandered around checking everything out before I went up to the bar, ordered a shot of whiskey and a pint of Guinness, and sat down. The only other ship I’d been on that was this fancy was a cruise ship (which of course had more amenities); this was indeed the fanciest ferry I’d ever been on! It was already 9pm; the ferry ride from Dublin to England took approximately three hours, so we’d be on the ship for a while yet. There were children running around screaming, sliding on the slick floors and playing. I enjoyed my Guinness and then went into the quieter “living room” area where people were watching a movie. I stayed there for the duration of the ride, talking to a new friend I made there.

When we got back on the bus and it slowly drove off the boat onto land, I drifted into sleep and slept rather fitfully through the seven hour bus ride to London. I arrived in London later than scheduled but was greeted nonetheless by my friend Paolo (an old schoolmate from my sophomore year at boarding school in California), who was to host me during my stay in London. He helped me with my luggage and we got on to the tube and made it to his house. Once at his house, he presented me with a package he’d put together for me: maps, important phone numbers, a tube card and a local cell phone with pre-paid credit. The nicest reception I’ve ever received, I think! I settled in and we walked around his neighborhood, picked up some groceries and made lunch together. That evening he headed off to work and I hung out at the house putting together my plan for London.

I had three objectives for my London trip: Party my ass off to Drum-n-Bass, buy a few items of warmer clothing to shield against the cold weather I’d surely have to deal with quite soon and take a tour to Stonehenge. I booked my tour for Stonehenge that night and also researched DnB clubs.

In the following days, I spent my time during the day with Paolo walking around London and doing a bit of shopping. I got some cute, simple and flattering long-sleeved tops at the Benetton store, a few sweaters at Esprit and a coat at Zara

In the evenings, when Paolo went to work, I went out in London alone and did some exploration of the pub scene, which I found to be quite satisfying! A pint of beer costs about ₤3 in London, so it’s not a bad price at all. My first night out I happened to meet a group of (married) guys who were out having a piss. We all started talking, and they invited me to a local’s pub that is not on the tourist route. I had already had two beers and two vodka gimlets, so I was on the road to sauce town, but I accepted their offer and went to the local’s bar. The guys were all great, excellent sense of humor and I had such a good time with them! I staggered back to the tube right before it was set to shut down for the night and made a midnight snack for myself and Paolo before I toppled over into bed.

My first week in London passed in this manner. It took me a while to really feel confident and comfortable in London, I noticed. Longer than most other cities I’ve been to. Maybe it is because of the sheer size of the city –it’s bloody HUGE! Also, much to my embarrassment and chagrin, I got lost on the tube more than once. I just do not understand why it took me so long to get acclimated to London – I pride myself on learning cities quickly and being able to get around confidently within a day’s time. I don’t know why London offered such challenges, especially since I’d been before in 2003.

Thankfully I felt comfortable in London within that first week, because after the first week, party time officially began with my first Drum-n-Bass party in London that Friday night!

Ireland’s last days

September 9th, 2010

me, with the Dingle Peninsula in the background

After a few days in County Mayo, Jen and I drove south down the coast to Galway. Along the way we made many stops to take in the picturesque scenery and snap photographs. The coast of Ireland is by far some of the most gorgeous landscape I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing thus far! We arrived in Galway in the early afternoon, and after settling in at a friend-of-a-friend’s house, we went downtown, walked around, had dinner, and got a few pints of Guinness. The pubs along the main strip all had live bands playing and there were lots of people out having a good time.

The next morning we left early and drove further down the coast to the Dingle Peninsula, where Jen had booked us a few nights at a Bed & Breakfast. Along the way we made more stops as before. It was a lovely drive. We got to Dingle, checked into the B&B and chilled out for a while, then went to the village and had dinner in the local pub. Being around locals is always a treat! The Irish are so friendly and tend to have a great sense of humor!

The next day it was cold and a bit damp, so we drove around the Dingle Peninsula, took a short hike, snapped lots of photos, and then went to the town of Dingle, which was absolutely adorable! We walked around town for hours, stopping in the shops, having lunch, taking pictures and generally having a good time.

streets of Dingle

The following morning we awoke before the sun, packed up the car and made a mad dash from Dingle, which is pretty far south, back up to Dublin so that we could return the rental car. On the way we stopped at the Rock of Cashel (a huge old castle) and did a short tour there, and then hopped back in the car with the pedal to the metal to get the car back in time. We made it back in plenty of time.

We each said our individual goodbyes to Dublin – Jen took a long walk around the city and I went and had some Guinness! Jen flew back to San Francisco the following morning and that evening, I hopped on a bus to London.

pigs-blood pudding is totally vegetarian…

August 22nd, 2010

swan lake in county mayo, republic of ireland

Her knuckles white, she gripped the steering wheel, back erect. The nervous energy in the car was thick. I took a deep breath and focused on relaxing my body, staying calm, and sending only positive, confident vibes to Jen, who was behind the wheel of our rented car. I was glad she had chosen to be the first to drive but totally empathized with her nervousness. We had just picked up our tiny silver rental and were trying to find our way out of Dublin to the expressway. Driving on the wrong side of the car and street was a disconcerting experience for both driver and passenger. Thankfully it was a pretty straight shot from the car rental company to the highway and Jen drove beautifully, despite the fact she was tense. Once on the highway, Jen grew confident and her anxiousness dissipated.

We drove north-west and ended up in a small village outside of Castlebar (County Mayo) where we were staying for a few days. Jen had a colleague who is from Ireland and he organized it so that we could stay with his parents for a few days.

We somehow found the Walsh home (there was no physical address and we were given spotty directions) and were given a very warm welcome. Mom (Rita) Walsh had a fire going in the living room, which I promptly situated myself in front of, and Dad (Kevin) Walsh made us some very, very strong hot toddies (which he made with a clear whiskey in an unmarked bottle I liked to refer to affectionately as “fire water”). Rita put out some dinner for us and could not seem to get over the fact that I’m a vegetarian

Irish men bidding on cattle at the cattle Mart in County Mayo

and don’t eat meat. I imagine there aren’t very many vegetarians in Ireland, land of meat and potatoes!

That night we slept well, thanks to the warm fire going in our room and the body warmth the hot toddies provided. In the morning we awoke early and Rita already had breakfast going in the kitchen. Rita pointed out plate with what looked like round pieces of black bread. She told me I’d like that, being a vegetarian, since it was filled with lots of grains. I took a piece and broke off a rather large bite. I chewed and swallowed. It tasted good and the crunch of the grains was pleasing. Before I put another piece into my mouth, I inquired about the color of the bread. It was seriously dark black and I’d never seen anything like it.

“So, what makes this bread so black?” I asked, looking up at Rita. The look on her face was priceless. It was almost like a deer in the headlights. She looked over at Kevin and back at me. I sat there waiting for an answer, bite number two poised to my lips. Clearly Rita was not going to answer, so Kevin piped up in his quiet, easy way of talking.

Dad (Kevin) Walsh sitting in the kitchen at the farm house in County Mayo

“Well,” he said, “What makes it that color is the pig blood it’s made with.” I’m quite sure the look on my face was priceless as well. PIGS BLOOD?!? Rita looked at Kevin with daggers in her eyes; I, on the other hand, had to control myself to avoid falling over with laughter. Why would she think pig’s blood pudding was vegetarian?!? Surely she knew what it was made with! Totally hilarious, right? Anyway, no harm done, I put the rest of the blood pudding aside and carried on with my breakfast.

We spent three days on the farm with the Walsh family and it was a relaxing, easy time. Their eldest son, Jude, took us driving through the countryside every evening, where we captured gorgeous photos. Rita took us to a street faire in a small neighboring village. Kevin took us with him to the Mart (where cattle are sold) which was an interesting new experience. It was fascinating to have an intimate look into the life of Irish farming, for sure. The countryside in County Mayo was breathtaking and I got some excellent photos!

Ireland’s Troubles

August 22nd, 2010

“Where are you staying?” the customs woman harshly demanded. I pulled out my iPhone and looked up the address of the youth hostel I had booked for my few days in Dublin; she fastidiously wrote the address down on her notepad.

“How long do you intend to spend in Ireland? When are you leaving? Why don’t you have a return ticket? Who are you traveling with? How much money do you have in your bank account?” Her severely toned questions were like gunshots – unforgiving explosions fired back to back with hardly any pauses for my answers. My responses seemed to satisfy her, because she flipped to a blank page in my passport, stamped it, and sent me on my way. Welcome to Ireland!

a small waterfall - a hike taken in Glendalough (outside of Dublin)

I was practically shaking after that interrogation, however. Never before have I experienced such treatment at customs! Thankfully it was the worst treatment I received in my time in Ireland; the Irish proved themselves to be just lovely, generous, kind people; but let me not get ahead of myself.

I had a few days in Dublin by myself before my travel partner, Jennifer Wellins (an old colleague from my banking job in San Francisco), was to arrive. I spent the days walking around Dublin, imbibing mass amounts of Guinness, and just generally chillin’ out. Jen wanted to take holiday and decided to meet me in Ireland and travel around with me for two weeks. She planned everything – we were to spend some time in the north and then rent a car and drive around the south – which was a relief because I was sick of planning! I looked forward to handing the reigns over to someone else and just sitting back and enjoying the ride.

A girl friend I’d met in Amsterdam also happened to be in Dublin the same time I was, so we met up a few times for dinner, Guinness and live music. The pubs in Temple Bar all had live music every night; all of which was hit or miss, but it was great fun to see the local talent.

Jen arrived on 3 August and we spent two days in Dublin exploring and taking day trips hiking and such. That Friday, we took the train up to Belfast for a few days. When we arrived in Belfast I immediately noticed some differences – the tension in the air was almost palpable and they didn’t use Euros, they used Pounds. This was surprising because I wasn’t previously aware that Northern Ireland was part of the UK. Our first night there we went to a Food & Music Festival in a huge park near our hostel, which was lovely; lots of delicious cuisines and great live music.

The next day, we took a black taxi tour, which was basically a political tour to learn more about the recent civil unrest of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The taxi tour was quite informative and rather shocking for me. I had no idea of The Troubles Northern Ireland had been going through! (For more information and history, check out the Wikipedia article on the topic, linked.) Our taxi driver was on the Catholic side (the original Irish) and hearing his perspective was both insightful and heart breaking. Hearing about the violence and civil unrest that people had to live through, seeing all of the murals on the sides of buildings… it was all very touching.

political murials seen during the taxi tour in Belfast (Northern Ireland)

After our taxi tour, we took a bus up to Derry and did another political type of tour there in the walled city. This tour offered a different view of the civil unrest and violence. The man leading the tour was probably my age, so he’d grown up with all of the violence around him and I was very interested in hearing his stories. So fascinating! He told of tankers full of English soldiers rolling down the streets, stopping Irish people on the streets just to bother them. If someone was stopped, Irish people would pour out of their houses to stand in silent solidarity, daring the soldiers to DO something. It was sobering to hear the stories, see the murals and walk along the streets where so recently violence and death happened.

Our last day in Northern Ireland was spent on an all day tour of the Giants Causeway. We drove all around the coast and saw some gorgeous scenery. It was lovely! The countryside in the north was absolutely stunning and breathtaking but the recent political unrest definitely left sort of a negative energy hanging around… so that was sad and sobering.

We left Northern Ireland and took the bus back down to Dublin to spend one night there before picking up our rental car and road tripping the Republic of Ireland for a week!

Berlin

August 13th, 2010

Berlin Neighborhood

My time in Berlin was, sadly, short, but I had the opportunity to make a few observations. My first night there, I arrived at the apartment share I’d rented using AirB&B.com and met my roommates for the four days I’d be there. After settling into my (large, roomy, gorgeous) room, I freshened up and decided to take a walk around the neighborhood and get something to eat.

The neighborhood I stayed in was filled with bars, restaurants and clubs; definitely the place to be in Berlin, which is known for its vibrant nightlife scene. I walked into a late-night burger joint and was astounded to see not one, but four different veggie burger options on the menu. I ordered a veggie burger (only 3.5€!) and a beer (only 1.50€!) – both were delicious after a full day of traveling.

The first thing I noticed about Berlin is that the streets at night are not well lit at all. The streets were quite dark; very few street lights provided luminosity.  This was markedly different from any city I’d been in, and to be honest the lack of light made me feel rather unsafe, despite the fact that I’m a tall woman who can most definitely handle her own. I certainly didn’t feel threatened in the least by the people in the streets; it was simply the lack of illumination that made me feel a bit insecure.

jam session with DJ Craft in Berlin

I had another beer at a pub and then went home to get some sleep. The next morning I went to a café next to my apartment to have an espresso and noticed that the barista was playing some DnB over the speakers in the café. After enjoying my espresso and croissant, I asked the barista if she knew where I could find a club that plays DnB music. She said she didn’t, but pointed to a young man sitting outside having his breakfast, and said he should know. So I walked outside and asked him. He was quite friendly, and we got to talking. His name is Sil-Yan, and he told me that he was a pretty well known DJ and also part of a very popular hip-hop band in Germany. He invited me to a jam session he was doing that evening, and since (obviously) I had nothing else to do, I agreed.

Let me say, I love music. It is one of the more important things in my life and gives me such pleasure. I loved sitting in the Berlin penthouse apartment listening to music for hours, drinking with my new friends and talking. It was such a wonderful way to spend an evening. After the jam session, Sil-Yan and I got a midnight snack and then went back to his studio (up the street from my apartment) and hung out talking and laughing until about 4am.

graffiti along the park in Berlin

The next morning I woke up with the worst sore throat and body aches. I don’t know why I felt so sick, but I was definitely knackered! Determined to see some of Berlin, however, I dragged myself out of bed and took the subway to a spot in Berlin Sil-Yan had suggested and walked around. I felt so horrible, though, so I stopped at an Apotheke and picked up some throat lozenges that had a bit of painkiller in them. Bad idea. About an hour after finishing a lozenge, my sinuses had a serious reaction to the small amount of painkiller. I got stuffed up almost instantly and felt completely miserable, so I took the train back home and spent the rest of the afternoon and night in bed with a fever and headache. I just drank water and slept on and off for about 24 hours.

The next day, I felt a lot better after all the sleep and water. I still had a wicked sore throat, but I no longer had a fever and my sinuses had stopped reacting to the painkiller. I walked around my neighborhood and spent some time in the park, then met my new friend for dinner. That evening we went to a Biergarten where Sil-Ya

graffiti along the park in Berlin

n was playing a DJ set. I had a great time, despite my sore throat. I just nursed a few whiskeys and had a fantastic time listening to excellent music.

My overall impression of Berlin is highly positive. I had such a good time and made some wonderful new friends. Berlin seems to be a very expressive, artistic city with a pulsating nightlife scene. I loved how the young people expressed themselves through their hairstyles, clothing and personal style. I also adored the graffiti everywhere; there was literally no surface in the city left untouched by artists and their paint. I also appreciated how affordable the city was – definitely one of the cheaper places I’ve been to in Europe. The people of Berlin were astoundingly friendly as well, or maybe it was just the people I met, either way, I was quite impressed. I’m really looking forward to spending more time in Berlin, that’s for sure.

GLAMsterdam

August 1st, 2010

I started partying [raving] in the late 1990’s and I feel that the raving lifestyle both changed and defined me for a time. During my party years, I really got into the drum-n-bass genre of electronic music and became quite the connoisseur. I stopped going to raves in the early 2000’s but I never stopped listening and dancing to DnB. I was a regular at a San Francisco weekly party called ‘Eklektic’ and got to know everyone that went there as well – the DJ’s, promoters, party kids. It was like coming home once a week; the people became my party family.  When I lived in NYC, I also went to DnB parties regularly and got to know the party scene there too.

As I travel Europe, I am constantly on the lookout for DnB (and now Dubstep, my new electronic music obsession) clubs and parties to attend in the various cities I’m in. When I arrived in Amsterdam I immediately made a Google search for DnB parties in the area and found a few that I planned to attend. I RSVP’d on the party’s Facebook page and immediately got a message from the party’s promoter, telling me that he had added me to the guest list for the three DnB/Dubstep events that weekend! Yay!

AIR club card needed to purchase drinks at the bar... fancy-schmancy!

Friday night I went out to AIR, a newer club on the Amstel canal. I got there at about 12:30am and the place was virtually void of people, with grimy Dubstep beats reverberating throughout the dark space. I checked the space out – it seemed pretty upscale and glamorous, with light shows, a huge projection screen above the DJ booth playing loops of artsy scenes and smoke blowers. Slowly people started to trickle in. Most of the girls were dressed up but the guys were all casual. The people seemed to be very young too – in their late teens or early twenties.

The drink policy at Air was interesting – you have to go buy a card upstairs near the entrance and add credit to the card. The card itself costs 2€ unless you add 30€ or more credit to the card. I just bought a 10€ card and had 8€ credit – kind of annoying, but I considered it a cover since I got into the club free anyway.

The shot-pouring policy in Amsterdam clubs is worthy of note as well. They are very… parsimonious, to put it kindly. A measuring device is attached to the mouth of the hard liquor bottle, and the shot is poured through into the glass, measured exactly to the drip. This is something I’m not used to, as most times bartenders are quite liberal with their pours. Amsterdam leaves no room for generosity with their hard liquor!

Enough of my observations on the liquor purchasing and pouring policies! After AIR started filling up and a DJ change occurred, the music transformed from Dubstep to some type of music (commercialized club junk) that I didn’t particularly like… but I stayed on for a few more hours in hopes the music would change, but alas, it did not, so I took my leave.

Monday night was Cheeky Monday – a weekly DnB party near Dam Square and the Red Light District area. I got there around 11pm and it was already going OFF. The space was small, hot and packed with young people (probably in their late teens / early twenties) dancing and drinking. I bought a 4€ beer and a 1€ shot of ‘red vodka’ (no idea what that was, but it tasted good!) and sat down to observe the crowd and drink my beer.

The music was excellent – really dark, dirty, nasty beats – I absolutely LOVED it. As soon as I finished my beer I got up and pretty much danced my ass off with the kids until about 3am when I decided I should ride my bike back home. The DnB was absolutely amazing though, the DJ played some real old tunes I recognized from the 90’s and it was just hilarious to me to be partying in Amsterdam with a bunch of kids, who were most likely wee babies in the 90’s, and I’m here going OFF dancing my ass off to these tunes I recognized and have loved throughout the years… it was just a real good night.

After a great night in Amsterdam rocking out to my first love, DnB, riding my bike in the cool early morning air along the city streets was exhilarating and also helped to sober me up a bit, which was good, because the next morning I had a train to catch to Berlin!

I AMsterdam

July 24th, 2010

The train ride from Brussels to Amsterdam was surprisingly fast. I settled into my plush, first class coach seat and thought I’d get some reading done, but before I knew it, we were pulling into the Amsterdam Centraal station! I gathered my luggage and walked outside to hail a cab. The cabbie took me to my flat for the week in the Museumplen district, a short 6km from the centre.

view up the Prinsen-Gract canal near the Anne Frankhuis

The first thing I noticed about Amsterdam was all the bikes! Even more bikes than in Paris! It seemed everyone got around by riding a bike, there were bikes chained up along the streets and canals, and bike riders cycling quickly along the streets. There are specified bike lanes for bikers, a sidewalk for pedestrians and of course the street for cars and the tram.

We arrived at my flat and I collected the keys from a friend of the owner, waiting outside the flat to receive me, and proceeded to get settled in to the flat. It’s a gorgeous open one-bedroom with lots of light and in a great neighborhood. I took a long walk around my new neighborhood that night and noticed that, despite the late hour (11pm), people were still out talking, drinking and laughing in the various neighborhood pubs.

Amsterdam’s main city centre is fairly small and easy to get around on bike. There are lots of canals running through the city and it almost feels like a mix between Venice and Paris, but definitely more like Paris, for sure.  I learned very quickly that the easiest way to get around was on bike, so I rented a bike for the week – fairly cheap too, only 5€ per day!

I love exploring Amsterdam – riding my bike along the canals past all the ‘Coffee shops’ (shops where you can sit and smoke a joint, buy pot and pot infused foods/products) and smelling the sweet smell of sensimilia wafting out of the shops. The Red Light District is interesting too, with the women standing half-nude in storefront windows while the public walk by, peering in, and occasionally entering to purchase her services for an hour.

The Dutch seem to be very laid back, tolerant folk. I really appreciate that about Amsterdam. The approach to life here seems to live, enjoy, and take it easy. But not too easy! Work still gets done!

I took the ferry across the canal and took a long bike ride through the Holland countryside… it was so cool seeing an old windmill, riding through the small, adorable and quaint villages… the countryside here is absolutely gorgeous.

I definitely love Amsterdam!

Alternative Accommodations

July 23rd, 2010

my flat for a week in Amsterdam in the Museumplen neighborhood

I awoke to the sound of thunder and pounding rain outside my open window. I pulled my open suitcase away from the window so that my clothes would not get wet and lay back down in my bed, snuggling under the warm down comforter. It was still dark outside, and lightening dashed across the sky, illuminating my room for a split second. I figured this was a day to stay indoors, plan more of my trip through Europe, and wait the storm out; my exploration of Paris would have to wait.

I was staying in a private room in the 10th Arrondissment, rented from its owner, who also lived in the flat. The flat was a typical, old Parisian apartment with parquet wood floors and textured walls. It was impeccably clean and I had full use of the kitchen, WiFi access, bedding and a towel provided. The owner was also very helpful and friendly, giving me maps of Paris and helping me get my bearings. My room was large with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the charming courtyard below.

Traveling Europe can be very expensive and finding affordable accommodation a challenge. Initially, I thought I’d stay in youth hostels as I traveled Europe, but after hearing my younger sisters (who had been living in Germany and traveling around Europe for the past year) talk about the quality of the hostels, I decided that I probably did not want to stay in youth hostels. Besides, booking a private room in a youth hostel is almost as expensive as staying in a hotel! So, I went to Craigslist and looked for vacation rentals.

I found my Paris flat on Craigslist and I was surprised at how inexpensive (comparatively) it was, especially for what I was getting – a private room with access to a kitchen, laundry, etc. This is much more than what I’d get from a hotel or a youth hostel.

My bedroom in Amsterdam, which opens out onto the terrace overlooking a garden

During that rainy day in Paris, I looked on Craigslist again for accommodation in Amsterdam. I found a private, fully furnished, one-bedroom flat that was quite affordable and booked it immediately. When I arrived in Amsterdam, I took a taxi from the Centraal train station to my apartment for the week. A friend of the owner was waiting outside to show me into the place and hand over the keys. The apartment is large with lots of light, a huge king-sized bed, and a fully equipped kitchen and washing machine. It’s a gorgeous place and a fraction of the cost of a hotel, or even a youth hostel! I compared notes with some other travelers I met here in Amsterdam, and they were shocked at what I was paying, because they were staying in youth hostels and paying much more.

I found an article titled Europe Without Hotels in the New York Times about this new phenomenon – it’s a great read and I’m really glad this is something that’s catching on. A company based in San Francisco called AirBnB is worth checking out – I am definitely going to list my new home on this site to rent out to travelers once I finally settle down somewhere.

Staying in private homes while traveling really enhances the traveling experience while giving me my much-needed private space. It also allows me an inside look at how the locals live. In addition, staying in a private home saves me loads my food costs, because I’m able to buy inexpensive groceries and cook at home! This seems the best way to travel, hands down, and I highly recommend it!

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