Adventures in France.

Living in France was more than a life-changing experience. Rather, it was a series of surreal moments and personal growth and new challenges, often on a daily basis. I have always been independent, but living in France gave me the opportunity to try something completely new: traveling alone.

I taught English during my second year working in France, and a benefit of working for the education department was the paid school holidays. I lived off rice and beans while teaching to afford to travel during all the breaks! That February, after carefully consulting a map and the train lines in France, I decided to travel to two unexplored cities (Toulouse and Marseille) and one old favorite (Nice) before meeting up with family in Paris.

My first stop was Toulouse, “la ville rose.” It took three trains to get there, and by the time I was checked into my hostel, I had only a little energy. That first night I relaxed by visiting Bapz, a darling tea room recommended to me by friends. Decorated with vintage dresses, old hats, parasols, and other charming items, Bapz embodied the tea room of my dreams.

The next day I explored the city, stopping whenever something caught my eye. My favorite was the Church of the Jacobins and its cloister, with the tomb for St. Thomas Aquinas. The day was mostly gray with light rain, but while I was sitting in front of his tomb, the sun emerged from the clouds, allowing the colored light from the stained glass windows to dance upon the walls. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

I splurged on brunch at Bapz. I couldn’t help myself!
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I made a friend N from New Zealand at the hostel. That night and the next day, we toured the Musée des Beaux Arts and the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation, wandered around the city a bit, and enjoyed several good meals together… including a snack at Bapz!

After three nights in Toulouse, I once again caught an early train, this time, to Marseille. I arrived just in time to meet my friend K from undergrad for a picnic lunch at the beach! I met up with her again that night, which resulted in my first (and only) motorcycle ride. You have not lived until you have seen the streets of France from the back of a motorcycle.

The next day, I took a quick trip to Aix-en-Provence to meet up with E, a friend of mine from church. The weather was gray again, so we mostly window-shopped and dined.

My last full day in Marseille was low-key and spent with my hostel roommate (and new friend!) T. She and I toured the Natural History Museum, but otherwise just enjoyed the sunshine.

Marseille wasn’t the best of French cities, but my next destination was—and is—my second-favorite city in France. This was my third trip to Nice, and definitely not my last! Being the meticulous planner that I am, I managed to be in Nice during Carnavale.
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My first full day in Nice was very relaxed. I bought tapenade, bread, and fresh strawberries from the famous Marché des Fleurs for a picnic lunch by the beach (in the rain… still awesome). The highlight of the day was definitely the parade for Carnavale. I bought a standing ticket, so I was right in the middle of all the action. It rained the entire time, but that’s why I had my rain coat! At the hostel that night, I (surprise) made a new friend, another American teaching English. T and I ended up talking for six hours straight!

The next morning I was ready for something new, so I ventured on a day trip to Saint Paul de Vence, the birthplace of impressionism. Beautiful sights, beautiful art, amazing history… I was in heaven. I ran into T at the hostel again that night, and we spent another six hours talking.

I dedicated my last day in Nice to the art museums I had missed on my two previous trips. I loved the Musée des Beaux Arts, but I was largely unimpressed by the Matisse museum.

I hated leaving Nice, but I only had an overnight train between me and Paris, the City of Love… Which you can read all about here!

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Guest post by Belle Vierge. A fellow feminist who loves to travel! Find her here: http://www.findingmyvirginity.com

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Volunteering Abroad.

Please visit: http://www.millenniumelephantfoundation.com

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Millennium Elephant Foundation. Saliya and Veejay.


March – April 2012.

Millennium Elephant Foundation, Kegalle, Sri Lanka.

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During the initial visualisation and planning stages of my travels I had never considered volunteering abroad. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me as it didn’t seem like much fun. How wrong you can be!

Luckily for me, at the time I was starting to put my trip together an old friend of mine was working as a Volunteer Coordinator at an animal welfare charity in Sri Lanka, Millennium Elephant Foundation. Although I still wasn’t sold on the concept, my family and friends reminded me that this was going to be the trip of a lifetime and I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Amie and see Sri Lanka. I booked my trip with Sri Lanka as my first destination and planned to stay for a month.

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The MEF gardener Sena, with some volunteers.

The Daily Chores of an Elephant Volunteer.

When I arrived I was assigned to an elephant named Seetha and introduced to her mahout, Kapilla. A mahout is a individual who is paid by the elephant’s owner to manage and look after them. Mahouts spend the vast majority of their time in close contact with their elephants. The next day my volunteer duties were to start and I couldn’t have been more nervous/excited!

A typical Monday – Friday routine looks like this…

06:45 – Wake up.
07:00 – Meet Kapilla, clean Seetha’s bed.
07:45 – Accompany Kapilla and Seetha to the river, help Kapilla with Seetha’s bath.
08:30 – Breakfast with the other volunteers and the Coordinator.
09:30 – ‘Vet check’. Volunteers feed their elephants a doughball infused with essential vitamins devised for their individual needs. The elephants also have their feet swept and checked for signs of rot.
10:00 – Gardening/transferring dung to the paper factory next door (yes, they recycle elephant poo into paper!).
12:00 – Lunch (otherwise known as nap time).
14:00 – Campaigning, fundraising, social media networking.
15:00 – ‘Project work’. Everyone has a different project to work on during this time. Usually it’s something related to your skill set. In my case I was helping to write a newsletter and helping local school children improve their English.
16:00 – Enrichment. During the day the elephants work as a tourist attraction, but that must be a bit boring for them. So the enrichment program is a way to allow them to interact with each other and their surroundings.
18:00 – The elephants are put to bed.
19:00 – Dinner.

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Volunteer Grace sweeping her elephants feet during vet check.

Working at MEF was without a doubt -the- highlight of my trip. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to fully engage in Sri Lankan culture and being able to work with elephants in a hands-on capacity is something I’ll never forget. The other volunteers I met were all solo travellers like myself, so it was easy to make friends and bond with people quickly. We had weekends off so we had the opportunity to explore the country, visit the beaches and cultural sights, etc… which was fantastic. If anyone out there is planning to take a round-the-world trip, you simply must volunteer somewhere at least once! I regret not looking for similar opportunities to this in the other countries I visited.

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Seetha giving me a bath!