M A R S E I L L E

If you're going to get your passport stolen in Nice (see blog post below), you at least get to take a scenic, three-hour train ride west to beautiful Marseille! *glass is always half full, am I right?* Even though Marseille is France's second largest city, it gave off the perfect Mediterrean vibe. Calm, cool, collected and gorgeous. Our main focus was to get that passport, but we managed to spend a lot of time exploring around the Vieux Port (Old Port). Everything you need is right there! Local markets, people watching, cafes, museums, metro station, shopping, the Miroir Ombriére (reflective structure), Fort Saint-Jean and all the boats you imagine yourself sailing away on.

The two biggest [sight-seeing] highlights of the trip were the Calanques National Park and the Notre Dame - de La Garde. Both incredibly breathtaking and hard to give credit to with photos. There are different ways you can experience the Calanques. If you plan ahead and plan correctly, you can hike along those coves and swim or if you're like us and planned to see them last minute, catch a boat tour (still pretty amazing).

C A L A N Q U E S • The Calanques are limestone inlets created over 12,000 years ago that connects Marseille to Cassis. France officially declared this area a national park in April 2012. I wish my photos could give them the recognition they deserve! If only you could see them from an aerial view to get the full effect (hey, Google Images). I've never seen anything like 'em...

I wanted nothing more than to jump off our boat and into that blue water!

N O T R E - D A M E   D E   L A   G A R D E • Sitting at the highest point of the city is the beautiful and grand basilica. It's got the best view in town, inside and out. It was the perfect panoramic view of the city for our last few hours in Marseille before our 14+ hour night bus to Rome (Yes, those exist and yes we took it. Yikes!) 

Beautiful, beautiful Marseille!

The Nice and not so Nice part of France

Our first city on the two-week trip around France and Italy started with a trip to Nice! Originally our itinerary looked a little something like:

Madrid -- Nice
Nice -- Florence
(with day trips to Pisa + Cinque Terre)
Florence -- Rome
Rome -- Paris
Paris -- back to Madrid

Nice was perfect because it was an affordable flight from Madrid and who wouldn't want to experience the beautiful coast of Southern France? Our drive in was beautiful -- right along the beaches swarming with tourists and folks ready to soak in that hot Mediterranean sun. We dropped off our luggage at the hostel, walked around to soak up the sights and searched for some food, but our scenic backdrop quickly turned into a traveler's worst nightmare.

THE NOT SO NICE
Within 10 minutes of exploring the city, my passport, debit cards, some cash, ids, luggage keys (and a little bit of my dignity) were stolen. You hear the horror stories, read about the European pickpocketers, but assure yourself, "It won't happen to me..." until the day it does. I felt completely embarrassed. The pickpocketer just swiped it out my zipped up bag. I didn't even feel a thing. How could I let this happen? How could I be so stupid? You've been living in Spain for almost a year!? I felt my world crumble a little... okay, I felt it crumble a lot. No tears, just utter fear.

After the initial shock (and running around the town retracing steps, looking under cars... 'maybe I just dropped it', contacting police, asking strangers) I got my thoughts in order and reminded myself "Focus on the solution, not the problem", just like my dad always says. What's the first thing to do when your passport gets stolen? Report it to the police and find your country's embassy. This is the moment where I started to count all my blessings and realized even though this awful thing has just happened to me, someone was looking out...

As we were wandering trying to find the US Embassy, my mom happened to hear some folks speaking Tagalog (Filipino language). She stops to ask them for directions, explains what just happened and one of them (Rocky) decides to accompany us to the embassy! He officially became our guardian angel, translator, tour guide and now lifelong friend. He canceled all his plans and spent the rest of the day helping me apply for a new passport, get passport photos, etc. Fortunately, it was only two in the afternoon when everything got stolen so the embassy was open, but unfortunately it was Thursday, July 3rd, aka the day before our Independence day and the closest embassy that made passports was in Marseille (a three-hour train ride) that would reopen Monday, July 7th...

So here I was... stranded.
Stranded in a city that made me feel vulnerable, unsafe, attacked and on edge. I couldn't help but feel a little off in Nice. After all, I didn't have a passport or any form of id (yikes) and I was supposed to be on my way to Florence! I asked for an adventure and surely, I got one. I realized how lucky I was that (1) no one was hurt during the pickpocketing, (2) fate led us to meet Rocky who went above and beyond, (3) all we had to do was stay in Nice for the weekend and head to Marseille and (4) we didn't have anything officially booked until July 10th so our plans were already flexible. For some reason that I may not ever understand, we were not meant to travel to Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terre this time around. Instead, we got to explore Nice and Marseille!

This is my warning.
Please, PLEASE, be cautious when you are traveling. Some things are truly out of our control, but the important thing as a traveler is to be aware of all your surroundings. I urge you to read this article titled, "How to Avoid Pickpockets in Europe". It's unfortunate that we live in a society that does this, but hopefully my situation can stop another one from happening. They give you great advice on who to look out for, where to find them, who they target and what to do. 

My advice (that I need to take myself)
• Always know where the closest embassy is. Have the address saved somewhere or printed! They will tell you everything you need to know to get your emergency passport. In Marseille, I showed up at the embassy at 9:30 am and got my emergency passport at 10:30 am!
• BUY A MONEY BELT
• Never keep all your cash, cards, passports, etc in the same place
• Be aware of your surroundings
• Keep your valuables at home. Try your hardest not to look wealthy because, unfortunately, you will be targeted.

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THE NICE
Nice, I don't blame you for what happened! You are still an amazing city with the most beautiful backdrop. It could have happened anywhere and to anyone. I guess you just wanted us to stay there longer than we intended! Thanks for letting us lounge along your rocky beaches (so much better than sand!), swim in your salty Mediterranean Sea, experience and fall in love with the Mirror D'eau, walk along your plazas and appreciate your gorgeous architecture.

Never thought I'd be so happy to see that! Lesson learned.
--- <3 ---

Megan + Mom in Madrid!

Megan in Retiro Park, Madrid

Megan in Retiro Park, Madrid

There's nothing like having your favorite people in your favorite city! Especially when they're your loving mother and spirited younger sister. Unfortunately, our time in Madrid was short since we had an itinerary lined up for France + Italy. We did get a couple days in Spain to wander around in 99°F+ temperatures, drink cava sangria (my favorite kind!), shop (naturally), experience tapas, walk around Retiro Park, enjoy panoramic views of the city and sip on cafe con leches.

It felt nice showing off Madrid and actually knowing my way around. If only I could wrap up these last 10 months I've had in Spain in two days for them! What I love about Madrid is how walkable of a city it can be, highlighting all the must sees, but not feeling incredibly rushed. Plus, there is no such thing as rushing here in Spain. It's best experienced after a cafe con leche, sleeping in and that infamous Spanish stroll to make sure you don't miss those hidden gems. [end tangent] 

It had been seven months since I've seen them. Seven whole months without my mom's cooking, our sisterly tiffs, Baby Daddy marathons, SPAM (I'm only a little ashamed), and mother-daughter dates. In just a few days, we got to cover all those ;) I'm glad our not-seeing-each-other streak is over and I can be with my family again. Life abroad is an incredible one, but having your first home visit your second home is even better.

I've missed having my favorite person to photograph around! | Palacio de Cristal, Retiro Park

I've missed having my favorite person to photograph around! | Palacio de Cristal, Retiro Park

Thank you, Megan for capturing moments that I forget to capture >>

Snapshots | #VegasTravelEurope

Marseille, France -- view from the Notre Dame

Marseille, France -- view from the Notre Dame

In just two weeks of traveling I have
• explored four new cities
• crossed two countries off my list
• channeled my inner Mary-Kate and Ashley circa 2000s
• experienced every travelers nightmare (more on that later...)
• spent quality time with my younger sister + mom
• ate my weight in Croque Madames, pasta, bread, 4€ coke, egg benedicts
• spent over 26+ hours traveling in planes, trains, buses + cars
• gasped, oohed and awed at the world's most historic monuments
• realized how much I've grown as a traveler and how much I need to grow
• bought a selfie stick
• got a Chaco tan (finally!)
• accidentally flashed around 50 French men
• celebrated my sister's 20th birthday with a midnight picnic under the Eiffel Tower
and just added about 256,753,561,234,745,233,236 more places to my list of places to travel.

I am forever thankful for parents who urge me to travel, sisters who want to accompany me, friends I meet along the way and the family I end up with. I wish you could taste all the cuisine, smell the ocean, feel the wind and touch the monuments with me, but I guess these photos will have to do!

PS: Megan + I were just a little obsessed with the Eiffel Tower #selfiesticknewbie #onlyalittleshame

A "Photo Shoot" in Ávila

When you're in a beautiful place like Ávila with one of your best camp friends, you just have to take advantage of the backdrop and have a ridiculous photo shoot. Definitely ridiculous. We climbed the city walls, found our own personal tower and let our hair blow in the wind. 

All you need is to channel your inner MK & Ashley "prune" and you're set... sort of. Just ignore the pregnant-like belly (thanks, wind!) and my weird facial expressions, unlike Taylor who is crazy photogenic, so... 

Yeah.

About that...