Europe Anniversary!

March 26th 2015 marks a year since I toured Europe with my close friends. It was one of the most defining moments in my life. For me, life began when I realized there’s a whole world out there that needed to be discovered. My road to finally gaining the courage to travel across the Atlantic wasn’t an easy one. I always believed traveling around the world was a privilege reserved for the rich or famous-definitely not for someone like me. In November 2013, I was like many recent graduates, feeling lost, confused and defeated. I was making very little progress at work and my daily routine was beginning to feel monotonous. All my friends around me were putting down payments on homes and cars and I could barely figure out what I would eat for lunch. My spirit was broken, as it seemed like everyone was progressing so seamlessly into adulthood and I felt so empty. I prayed for the day when I would find my passion and start living for me. One day, while at Barnes and Nobles, I stumbled across a book in the travel section. The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. I sat down on the floor and read the book cover to cover. My spine tingled as I read about the vineyards of Italy and the vibrant culture of Spain. I yearned to ride on the double decker buses in London and dance the night away in Paris. It hit me; I didn’t want a house or a new car (well eventually I would), what I wanted at that very moment was to see the world.

The best part about traveling is figuring out where you want to go. Pulling out a map, which almost feels like the whole world is at your fingertips. It’s exciting to pinpoint which countries are within close proximity of each other and how to maximize your trip. My friends and I decided to go with London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Vatican City, Barcelona and Amsterdam. We were going to maximize our options some more while in Spain by taking a flight to Ibiza or a ferry to Morocco (which a lot of people don’t know is an option) but decided to figure it out once we got there. I found a multi-city flight that took us to three out of seven cities on our itinerary (NY to London, Barcelona to Amsterdam and Amsterdam back to NYC for $800) and we took trains in between the rest of the countries for as little as 13 Euros. Since I was traveling with three others, everything was split four ways, from our hotel rooms to our taxis. This reduced costs for the overall trip immensely.

London was such a treat. From Heathrow, we took the tube to Lambeth North, which dropped us off across the street from our hotel. We went on the London Eye, followed the audacious sounds of the Big Ben until we were engulfed in his presence and antagonized the Changing Guards outside of St. James Palace. Speaking of palaces, Buckingham Palace was glorious. It’s adorned with gold and highly secure. The London Club scene is so fun. What I liked about London was that it was a European version of New York City. I didn’t feel like I was in another country at all (except when crossing the street).

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After spending some time in London, we took a Eurostar train to Paris. Paris was a dream. I literally was awestruck by its beauty. It was everything I imagined and more. The city is bustling but it retains an air of class and grace. Our hotel was right across the street from the Louvre Museum which was our first stop, followed by dinner on the Champs Elysees, a walk to L’Arc D’Triomphe and a failed attempt at getting into the hottest club in the city, Club 79. Our adventures eventually lead us to having a picnic in the park by the Eiffel Towers where we devoured Nutella Crepes and Vin (Wine). On the Love Lock Bridge, I made a wish to find love again. A few months later I met my boyfriend and we are currently in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. Paris is truly magical.

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From Paris we took an overnight train to Venice Italy. We drove through the mountains of Switzerland and made a quick stop in Milan. It was so fun being on a train for over 14-hours knowing that our final destination would be Italy. We played heads up on our iPhone and pigged out on junk food. When it was time for bed, we told ghost stories until we fell asleep. When we woke up, we were surrounded by the beautiful and vast waters of Venice. Venice was a fairytale. We immediately walked across the Grand Canal until we found our hotel. We made our way to lunch at a quaint restaurant where we had authentic Italian pasta and seafood. It was here that I tried Octopus for the first time. One of the best things you can do in Venice is get lost. Whether you do it on purpose or by accident, it’s inevitable. Don’t freight, somehow you’re going to find your way back. Our perfect Gondola ride was ruined when my friend accidentally got Nutella on the Gondolier’s hat; he cursed us out in Italian and told us to get off his boat. You had to see it to believe it.

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Rome was an historical haven. Our hotel was in the midst of the Roman Forum. Rome was literally like stepping back into time, yet it’s a modern European metropolis. What I grew to love about European culture, especially Rome, was how embracive it is of its past while progressively advancing into its present and future. The merge is almost harmonious. Our first stop was Vatican City, which is considered a country. It’s located in the midst of Rome and is majestic. The art, the columns, the fountains were all remarkable. From Vatican City we made a wish at Trevi Fountain, had authentic Roman Pizza, and explored the city until the middle of the night in search of Italian pastries. We met so many people along the way.

IMG_2823 IMG_2881 Baila Mi Cha-Cha, this tune was in my head when we landed in Barcelona. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) from Love and Basketball played ball in Spain and this song was the opening soundtrack to her new life abroad. I couldn’t shake the tune as we took walks along the beach, ate lunch on the boardwalk and partied until the wee hours of the morning in Barcelona clubs. One of the most memorable things about Barcelona was the food, from the paella to the tapas, it’s all so flavorful. Although we planned to take a day trip to Morocco or Ibiza, we became so engulfed in Barcelona’s culture that we decided against it.

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Amsterdam was one of my favorite European cities. From the cool trams to the canals and lofty buildings, it’s just one of a kind. The vibe was super relaxed and the Dutch are so friendly. Our first stop was Museumplein to witness the genius of Van Gogh’s artwork and the infamous Red Light District before dark; beautiful women in windows waiting to be sold for sex was heartbreaking but in the Netherlands this act is totally legal. Next up, The Anne Frank Museum, which singlehandedly changed my life. At the risk of sounding cliché I learned the true meaning of freedom while standing in that tiny attic that Anne and her family lived in for years to escape execution. We are so privileged, we have so many freedoms and liberties and we literally have the resources to make a difference and change the world; after leaving Anne’s attic, I knew my life would never be the same again.

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We covered all of these cities in the span of 13 days. We were constantly on the move, which was awesome. We were able to do everything on our itinerary and more with hopes of returning to each of the countries we visited one day in the near future.

My first trip to Europe changed my life and now travel has become my addiction.

10 Overseas Travel Prep Tips

It’s officially summer folks, which means a lot of us are travelling. Having recently come back from an extensive overseas trip, I have some valuable tips that I want to share with you if you are planning on travelling this season:

1. Passport

Don’t forget your passport. This is probably the most important identification you will have for your trip. Make sure you allot enough time to get a new or renewed passport if need be.

2. Pack Light

With the hikes in baggage prices, avoid over packing your bags

3. Exchange your money before you leave

The exchange companies overseas will charge fees like you have never seen before. Please avoid them by all costs (pun intended). Also get a list from your bank of their affiliations with any other bank in the country you are travelling to so you can easily retrieve money without high cost fees and exchange rates.

4. Research

Do your research on any country you are visiting. I can’t emphasize this enough. A lot of countries all over the world operate different from us in the United States. There are so many blogs, book stores, google maps, review sites like Trip Advisor and travel agents out there that can assist with all the information you will need for your upcoming trip. Use these resources; it’s so vital.

5. Itinerary

Probably the most important piece of paper you will have is an itinerary or a breakdown of how your trip should go (even though a few changes may occur). Make sure to have a list of places you are visiting, dates, hotel names and addresses, phone numbers, confirmations etc. Everything you will need to survive while out of the country should be included in this list

6. Download Important Apps

There are amazing travel apps out there for smart phone users. On my recent trip to Europe I downloaded “What’s App” as a means of texting and MagicJack to make international phone calls to my family for free. It’s amazing what you can discover on the App store

7. Know the basics

If you are travelling to a country that speaks a foreign language, know the basics words such as hello, good-bye, how much? Where’s the bathroom? So you can communicate with the locals

8. Maps of train systems

I think it’s very important to get familiar with different countries metro systems (before travelling) so you won’t get lost or overwhelmed. Also using the trains can help save money on otherwise expensive taxicabs

9. Beware of Pick Pockets and Robbers

It seems as if tourist have an invisible sign on their forehead which says “ROB ME.” Some people can spot a tourist from a mile away and with that being said, it’s always wise to be cautious of your belongings, your purse if you are a lady and your passport. You would never want an ideal vacation to go sour because something was stolen from you…what a nightmare.

10. Be Open Minded

Indulging in another culture unlike your own could be frightening. However you have to go into an experience wanting to take it in to the fullest. Let your hair down and enjoy the lifestyle of foreign cultures. Try different foods, dance in the streets, sleep in, relax and just enjoy life. You never know what you will learn and you may also discover, people across the world is just like you in a lot of ways.

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Taste of Europe-Food!

“When the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie that’s Amore”-Dean Martin

I loved the food in Europe and looked forward to it as well. To be honest I was a little disappointed in Italy’s food. Maybe I didn’t go to the right restaurants, so please don’t hold this statement against me on my next visit, but I really expected Italian food to be orgasmic and it was blahhh! Italian pizza is actually delightful though. We drank vino/vin a lot with our dinner. When in Europe…do what the Europeans do was our motto and they love wine!

How we chose restaurants? At random. If the price was right we were there. If not we kept moving and literally walked around until we could all agree on a reasonably priced restaurant who’s menu accommodated all of our taste buds. I think we only ate at McDonalds once, and that was a snack. We tried to indulge in the delicacies of each of the countries as much as possible.

London

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Fried Haddock and Chips

France

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Duck, Chicken, Beef and Pasta (although you can’t see my pasta) in Paris

Italy

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Seafood delight in Venice
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Italian Treats

Spain

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I still dream about the Mussels

Amsterdam

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Ahh! The treats we brought back to our hotel in Amsterdam was heavenly…

Barcelona Remixed

“Maria Maria you remind me of the West Side Story”-Carlos Santana
Kydee WilliamsDay Two in Barcelona was way better. We had an early start and made our way to the beach. Barceloneta was calling our names, as the sun shined bright and was beaming in our faces. We were in SPAIN and it finally felt like it. We took a bus to the boardwalk and settled at a cozy restaurant where we shared an array of Tapas and Paella. AHHH! Spain food was to die for. So rich with flavor. I loved how much seafood they used in their dishes. We then walked to the beach and relaxed there for hours.

Kydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsWe decided to head back to the hotel so we could get ready for the night. Our first stop was Chupitos where they light your drinks on fire. Burn Baby Burn. We then ate dinner at the most amazing restaurant ever…La Flauta (I still look at the pictures of the food and salivate over the mussels and prongs). Dinner was followed by a night on the town where we danced the night away at The Sutton Club.

ChupitosKydee WilliamsKydee WilliamsThe next day, we had a jam packed schedule. After a little R&R by the pool, Parc De Guell was our first stop. At the peak of this attraction, we saw all of Barcelona and it was literally breathtaking. We also saw the amazing artwork of Gaudi. I love all of the bright colors and abstract architecture in Barcelona. It’s such a metropolis, however it still has some out of the ordinary structures that’s exquisite. I spent the rest of my day as a tourist walking around, shopping and just enjoying all it had to offer. I also had an amazing dinner with LaSaundra where we reflected on the trip and everything we learned.

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Kydee WilliamsKydee Williams IMG_3311That night it was time to experience the world famous Opium Nightclub. This club is one of the best clubs in Barcelona, standing out from all of the other clubs I’ve ever been to because the party continues onto the beach. It’s fabulous. We stayed there for a few hours and then found a tapas bar, where we ate some more…the food in Spain is addictive.

Kydee Williams Kydee Williams Kydee WilliamsKy’s Verdict: Barcelona was fun, but probably the one place I enjoyed the least. I think after traveling for so long, you become numb. For me, Spain wasn’t what I expected. I realized I loved the countries that made me feel like I was in Europe, rustic, archaic, historical and Barcelona was just like being in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn with loads of Spanish speaking citizens. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful city. Some people suggested that I may have liked Madrid better…who knows?

Espana…I’ve Arrived

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Kydee WilliamsHonestly, when we landed in Barcelona El Prat Airport the vibes were a bit off for me. I wasn’t excited. At this point, I was sleepy, cranky and had very little energy. My emotions were quite odd, because every country we visited up until this point made me giddy like a little girl.

Now, the hard task of finding the hotel had begun. Once in Barcelona, we discovered that our hotel was located at the end of town in a neighborhood called Diagonal. Learning this made me even more mad because this was my first mistake when choosing a hotel. I didn’t spend enough time researching the neighborhoods of Barcelona and figuring out which one would be best for us.

Ky Tip: If you are ever visiting Barcelona and want to be by the action you may want to find hotels in Barceloneta or La Rambla.

We took 3 trains and 1 bus to get to our hotel. On the last train, I felt a lady try to go in my purse. She unsnapped the lock and luckily I felt it and asked aggressively “What are you doing?” She turned away with shame on her face as if she didn’t understand and got off the next stop. I couldn’t believe I was almost pick pocketed. This experience made me paranoid for the rest of the time I was in Spain.

Ky Tip: Europe doesn’t have as much lethal crime as the U.S does but they do have pick pocket’s all over. BEWARE! You never know who you’re around and who is watching you. Don’t be the one who ends up with a missing passport or cell phone. Always be conscious of your belongings and wear bags that are harder to get into or that you will feel if someone is trying to get into.

Once we got outside of the train station it was pouring rain. We stopped at a bakery before making our way down to the hotel. At least it was close to the metro. Once we checked in, we realized there was not much for us to do. It was raining, the pool was closed and we had no idea what Barcelona was all about. Eventually, we faced our weather blues and explored our neighborhood. There was a mall next door to our hotel so we went shopping. We then tried to find a cute restaurant to eat at but came to the realization that we were in the middle of no where and there were no restaurants in the area (Hard to believe right? Well it’s true). We went back to the mall and ate Chinese food (Ridiculous..where’s the authentic food?). As blessed as we were to be in Spain, this part of the trip was turning into a disaster.

The rain got worst as the night went on. Fatigued to the max, we decided to spend our first night in Spain in the hotel and have a girls night in the beautiful and girly Desigual common area.

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Dealing with Anticipation…Ahhh!

I don’t know many first-time to Europe travelers who wouldn’t be anxious about their upcoming trip. I couldn’t wait. I counted down the days, and did many things to distract myself including hosting two events and becoming completely involved in my projects and work obligations in hopes that time would pass by faster. I just wanted to go already!!!! Anyway, in true Kydee fashion I did some “corny” things to prepare for my trip which I share below:

  1. Watched “Mahogany” with Diana Ross in preparation to sing Do you know where you’re going to do you like the things that life is showing you…” while in Rome
  2. Watched Sex and the City-American Girl in Paris Part I and Part II. Carrie was so miserable, but it didn’t take away from how beautiful the city of Paris is. It actually illustrated to me the importance of being in Paris with the right person or people.
  3. Watched Spice World just because the group travelled all over London and I wanted to get a feel for it too…#dontjudgeme
  4. Read an excerpt of A Belle in Brooklyn by Demetria Lucas which told a story of chance encounters while in Paris.
  5. Spent my Sunday afternoons in Barnes and Nobles reading about all the countries I would soon be visiting.
  6. Google Maps became my best friend. Did you know you could discover the make up of a country or city using this? It gave me the exact feel for where I was going.
  7. Fashion for this trip was important, like Carrie from SATC said going to Paris (or Europe for that matter) meant bringing out those once in a lifetime outfits. I literally created a fashion collage on my walls.
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I eventually started dressing like a parisienne, imitating their style and love for hats…this was about 2-wks before I finally left