2012 – A Traveler’s Review

2012 – A Traveler’s Review

Hey everyone, I hope your holidays have been very merry! I just wanted to take some time at the end of the year to recap all of the craziness that was 2012. And really guys, it was crazy, I promise.

Without further ado…

January

The start of the year found me living in Chicago and tackling my last semester of college along with two internships, a part-time job as a cater-waiter and a growing social calendar. (more…)

And for the sake of open blogging, the start of 2012 also found me reeling from a soul-wrenching break-up and getting back in shape.

(Seriously though, how much does ending a serious relationship suck? I never want to go through that again. Ever.)

February

During 2012 I worked as an event photographer from time to time. Despite enjoying how the title of “event photographer” gives me a few (much-needed) cool points, it also led me to one of my best nights of 2012 – the Tickled Pink Breast Cancer Benefit. I danced and cocktailed the night away with my best friend/roommate, Alyssa (pictured below), who was working as my “photography assistant.”

Tickled Pink

Another February highlight was working as a backstage dresser in New York for Fashion Week. Alyssa saw a Facebook post requesting volunteers for the Farah Angsara show so the next thing we knew we were booking a last-minute flight to New York.

The show ended up being very fast-paced and hectic; you really do strip couture off of braless teenage models backstage. After the show I got to spend a few days wandering around one of the world’s best cities, and crashed for a few nights at a family friend’s 5th avenue penthouse. (Life on the other side? Really freaking cool.)

New York Fashion Week

March

 St Patrick’s Day 2012 was a sunny, 80-degree day in Chicago (unheard of in March for all my warm-weather readers). My Chicago crew, little brother and I donned green, attended a house party, took a limo to a club at 6 pm and danced there until the wee hours of the morning. The one thing we didn’t do? Take pictures.

April

In April I skipped a week of school and flew down to West Palm Beach to meet up with my family and extended Georgia family for a much-needed spring break. A little sun was exactly what I needed after months of cold-weather drudgery in Chicago.

South Beach

I also went to Miami for the first time and promptly decided it was somewhere I could see myself living. Balmy weather, wild nightlife, delicious Cuban food and mojitos? Sounds perfect to me.

May

In May I graduated! My family, grandparents, aunt from Georgia and several family friends all made it to Chicago for my graduation, for which I was very stressed-out grateful.

But really, even though entertaining 14 relatives for a week was a bit hectic, it meant the world to me that my family went to such great lengths to celebrate my graduation.

Loyola Graduation

Loyola Graduation

Leaving Chicago for good left me with mixed emotions. On one hand, I had been living there for four years and was very attached to all of my good friends in town, and on the other I was very ready to see what life is like in other places.

That being said, the last year of college was a very happy one, and I was really going to miss the happy rhythm of good friends, pulled pork tacos, hot yoga classes and crazy nights out in Wrigley that my life had acquired.

Chicago

June

And so how did I kick-off my post-graduate life? By spending the summer in France to stay with the family I work for every summer!

To get the cheapest flight I ended up flying to Dublin via Boston. During my layover in Boston, my cousin Eddie took me on a Harpoon brewery tour and showed me the gorgeous view from his apartment in Southie. Boston is another city where I would be happy to find myself.

Boston

After an epic weekend in Dublin, I finally arrived in Paris. The next six weeks I spent in France were perfect, as always. The family I work for is truly my second family, and I basically consider their children my little siblings. During the summer I took the kids out for excursions to the menagerie or the pool and helped cook French recipes for dinner.

I also enjoyed a few visits from friends and a weekend down to the south of France for a beach vacation. Rough life, eh?

Louvre

July

At the end of my stay in Paris I decided to embark on a two-week solo trip to Brussels, Corfu and Cork and Dingle, Ireland. The trip overall was one of the best in my life and made me a true believer in Couchsurfing, solo travel and saying yes to road trips with strangers.

Solo trip

I also turned 22 in a sleazy club in Ireland with a group of French and American backpackers I met at the hostel. Because how else should you turn 22?

August

When I got back I started Ashley Abroad and enjoyed lots of family time at my lovely cottage on Lake Huron.

September

In September I enjoyed beautiful fall weather in Michigan, went to Chicago a million times, dealt with a lot of pesky visa issues and anxiously awaited my return to France. During my time in Michigan I was starting to get listless, and ended up putting on more than 10 pounds from my sedentary lifestyle. Ugh.

October

On October 29th I moved to France and met the family with which I would be living for the next nine months. To my delight the family was even cooler than expected, but I admittedly did find myself panicking at the beginning of my time in France; would I really be living an hour and a half from any nightlife? How would I make any friends?

November 

After a blissful few days at an apple farm of the North of France, I spent the rest of November settling into my life in Paris. For a few weeks I wandered around in the rain with a camera, wondering how my life had gone from partying with good friends in Chicago to living in the suburbs with no plans on Friday night.

Luckily I soon met Edna from Expat Edna as well as some other very cool travel bloggers. Thank you blog and Twitter!

December

At the beginning of December I journeyed to Germany with Marina, my Couchsurfing host from Corfu, for an absolutely amazing weekend full of snow, latkes and clubbing.

We had the best time ever with our Couchsurfing host, Christian. It’s funny how Couchsurfing works; Marina was my host and then became my friend, and then we both became friends with our host, Christian.

Germany At the end of December I happily found myself back home in snowy Michigan for Christmas. I also ended up getting a job as a travel columnist with a local newspaper who found me through this blog. Yay!

Flemings

So if I learned one thing from 2012, it’s that you should just say yes in most situations. Say yes to pink ouzo shots, say yes to last-minute Bassnectar concerts, say yes to jumping off 40-foot rocks in Greece, say yes to Couchsurfing, say yes to hipster electronic festivals with your ex and say yes to meeting with editors and other bloggers.

And if you have to hustle, hustle hard. In 2012 I worked all of the following jobs: cater-waiter, dog-sitter, event photographer, au pair in France, tennis instructor, freelance writer, Spanish-language blogger, marketing intern, event planning intern, translator and back-stage dresser at New York Fashion Week.

Also, don’t settle for less than what you’re worth. Every time in 2012 when I asked for something (i.e. a raise in my freelancing jobs, a reference to get an au pair job, a job as an event photographer, etc.) I got it.

And take offers seriously – if someone says that you can stay with them in New York, find a way to stay with them in New York. If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that most people are incredibly kind and generous. Most people want to help you – never forget that.

And also think about starting a blog.

Okay, end preach.

 

And here’s 2012 in numbers:

6: Number of countries visited (Belgium and Greece make 27 countries total!)

3: Number of hostels I stayed in

5: Number of Christmas Markets visited

2: Number of Couchsurfing experiences

1: Number of Thanksgivings I cooked

4: Number of beach vacations

1200: Number of dollars made from freelance writing

64: Number of posts written

365: Number of days I was grateful to be living such a blessed life

 

Thank you all for reading Ashley Abroad, your comments and emails have given me so much encouragement to move forward with this little blog. It really means the world to me that you take the time out of your busy days to read my little corner of the internet. May you all have an amazing 2013!

Love always,

Ashley

Saturday Snapshot 12

Saturday Snapshot 12

Hey everyone, happy Saturday! This Saturday Snapshot is actually on time, can you believe it?

So this week I endured a travel blogger’s most-feared nightmare; my computer crashed and the hard drive has been wiped clean. So my upcoming editorial calendar has been ravaged because I lost all the photos I had taken for them. While I had backed up a lot of my photos, almost all the pictures I’ve taken in France so far are gone, as well as almost all of my documents. (more…)

My next plan is to buy a MacBook Pro because I have had it with PC nonsense, considering my last computer (an HP) was an absolute terror. I had to replace its battery three times, there was no internal clock so I was constantly googling, “Time in Detroit”, it was super slow and it had to be plugged in at all times or it would abruptly shut down. I can’t wait to have my first Mac and be worry-free from computer problems, hallelujah!

So anyway, I am writing this from my cozy house in Michigan, looking out the window to see a blanket of snow covering the family minivan and cherry tree in the yard. Isn’t that wholesome?

Without further ado, this is what I did this week. I couldn’t choose a favorite shot so please vote in the comments!

Photo A

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland! While normally I am fervently against all that is fake (i.e. Wonderbread, Las Vegas, etc.) I really have a special place in my heart for Disneyland due to several cherished Orlando-trips as a child.

Photo B
P1060884
The sun emerged from Paris’ ever-present overcast sky long enough for me to snap this picture of the castle. Who wants to move in with me?

 

Photo C
Du Pain et Des Idees

On my last full day in Paris (at least for a while), I revisited my absolute favorite bakery in the city, Du Pain et Des Idées. I sat outside on that bench for a while and every French person who walked by chattered about how famous and delicious the bread is there, which is called Pain des Amies, or Bread of Friends.

Photo D
Chausson aux Pommes

And this really wouldn’t be my blog if there wasn’t a bit of food porn, right? This is a chausson aux pommes, basically an apple turnover with a flaky, buttery crust.

So how were your week? Are you as excited for Christmas as I am?

Eating, Drinking and Being Merry at Cologne’s Happiest Christmas Market

Eating, Drinking and Being Merry at Cologne’s Happiest Christmas Market

One of the highlights of my Germany trip was a visit to Cologne’s oldest Christmas market, Markt Der Engel. And though we visited five different Christmas markets during our stay in Cologne, I have to say this one was my favorite by far.

Everything about the ambiance was simply magical, from the stars twinkling in the trees to the bundled up children riding the carousel. Friends talked and laughed loudly over steaming mugs of Glühweinand it seemed like everyone had just gotten off of work. And most importantly, there were plenty of yummy thinks to eat and drink.

Christmas Market Cologne

Christmas Market Cologne

German Christmas Market

Christmas Market Cologne

The first order of business was to try Currywurst, which is essentially pork sausage drenched in curry ketchup. When I told Christian I had never tried it before, I think he almost fell over. And considering an estimated 800 million servings are sold in Germany each year (according to my good friend Wikipedia), I can see why.

The sausage could be ordered with mild, hot and really hot curry sauce. I went for hot. How hot could it be in Germany? I thought to myself. My country borders Mexico.

Currywurst

Well, I really ate my words on this one. It was so hot that I ended up consuming an alarming quantity of snow (much to my companions’ delight) to cool my scorched tongue.

Once I stopped hopping in pain, we took a few laps around the market. Something I noticed about the market was that it was truly a family affair, with lots of kiddies enjoying the festivities as well.

German Christmas Market

Christmas Market Cologne

Christmas Market Cologne

Christmas Market Cologne

I was overwhelmed by the market’s ample food choices, and unfortunately didn’t get to try everything. I think you would need the entire month of December to taste all the waffles, candies, sausages, and other goodies we saw.

German Christmas Market

German Christmas Market

German Christmas Market

While the boys drank (or rather, chugged) some of Cologne’s finest Kölsch, Marina and I stuck to piping hot Glühwein as we were rapidly losing sensation in our outer extremities.

Christmas Market Cologne

German Christmas Market

Everyone was talking loudly, drinking Glühwein out of mugs and hanging out with friends. The best word I can describe it with is, “merry.”

Christmas Market Cologne

IMG_1714

German Christmas Market

Our final food selection of the evening was also probably the best; Kartoffelpuffer, or fried potato cakes, served with molasses and apple sauce. Having grown up in a largely Jewish town, I screamed out, “LATKES!” and beelined for the stand.

Christmas Market Cologne

And if you can’t find it in your heart to enjoy something so crunchy and golden, you are probably the Grinch.

Have you ever been to a German Christmas market? Do you like the looks of this one?

If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter! As always, I also love hearing what you have to say through the comments below. 

First Impressions of Germany

First Impressions of Germany

So on our first morning in Germany, we were delighted to wake up and find everything covered in snow.

Christian, our Couchsurfing host, and his friend Kevin trekked like gentlemen in the fresh powder to fetch us some Brötchen. We draped the yummy rolls with nutty slices of black forest ham and squirted mustard on them from what seemed like a toothpaste tube.

German bread

Cologne

My friend Marina, who hails from the balmy Mediterranean of Crete, was especially excited about the snow. And as a born-and-raised Michigander, I felt it was my duty to teach her how to make her first snowball, or as they say in German, schneeball.

Cologne, Germany

I loved strolling Christian’s neighborhood of Nippes (Admittedly, the name made me giggle. It’s pronounced exactly like “nipples” without the “l.”) It was residential without being staid, and the buildings were very colorful.

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

Marina had her next lesson in snowy climate fun when we stumbled upon a real-live, street-wide snowball fight. I asked Christian how to say “snowball fight” in German while dodging schneeballs left and right. (It’s Schneeballschlacht, fyi. Doesn’t that sound a little scary?)

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

We spent the next three hours at the NS-Dokumentationszentrum, Cologne’s World War II History museum that is located in a former Nazi interrogation prison.

The experience was moving, informative and emotionally draining. By the end of it I was begging everyone to leave because I desperately needed an alcoholic beverage of any kind.

NS-Dokumentationszentrum

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

We sought nourishment (and warmth) at a cute bakery. I thought it looked like the perfect place to rest my weary, frostbitten feet, but I was rushed along to a nearby Christmas market with a Brötchen in hand.

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

We then headed to Cologne’s Angel Market, which turned out to be my favorite Christmas market in Cologne. I loved the twinkling star-lights above all of the buildings.

Cologne, Germany

We finished off the day with some Glühwein, which is essentially hot wine stewed with spices like star anise and cinnamon.

Cologne, Germany

And as I learned in Germany, Glühwein and good company are kind of necessary after a long, cold and snowy day.

If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! As always, I also love hearing what you have to say through the comments below. 

Saturday Snapshot 11

Saturday Snapshot 11

Hey everyone, I’m sorry that ONCE AGAIN this post is not coming out on the correct day. I’ve barely been taking photos because I’ve been super busy with last-minute Christmas shopping so please excuse the poor quality of most of them.

Without further ado, here is what I’ve been up to this week!

(more…)

Photo A 

Breizh Cafe

 

I met up with Kate from Adventurous Kate for crêpes at Breizh Café, and the apple crêpes with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce were better than elementary school snow days. (Sorry for the wacky simile, it’s what immediately came to mind when I thought of the best thing ever.)

 

Photo B

Dinner Party

Last night I went to my friend’s beautiful house for a dinner party. I absolutely love her taste in just about everything, but considering the fact that she’s a Parisian interior designer that probably makes sense.

 

Photo C

Pierre Herme

While I do have a thing for the macarons at Laduree, the Christmas-themed ones I tried at Pierre Hermé kind of blew my mind; I especially adored the white truffle and foie gras flavors. Who else could make a FOIE GRAS macaron taste good?

What was the best thing you ate this week?