belgium wins.

after my week in paris, i hopped a northbound bus to ghent, belgium.

last time i was in belgium, i was hitchhiking through (from paris to amsterdam) with my daring friend, noelle. so i didn't get to experience much more than holding a cardboard sign on the entrance to the highway outside of brussels and waving to curious belgians at stoplights...

but lucky for me, the beautiful belgian couple i met at a couchsurfing meet up i hosted a year ago in ohio have become VERY dear friends of mine :) sweet daphne and mathias invited me to visit their homes in ghent last june, and seeing how that was my last month of non-rev flying, what kind of girl would i be to say no?! a silly one. so i went, and it was beyond delightful.

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i happened to be catching daphne in ghent on her BIRTHDAY. so we had a lovely sunday brunch celebration, and i got to meet her entire gorgeous family. ^^this is daphne and her momma, just being adorable. 

later on in the week, we did some exploring around the historic city center. ghent is one of the quaintest little places i've ever seen. we did some exploring on foot with daphne's mom and mathias, and then some on bicycle with friends (because dutch speakers sure do love their bikes)---the latter experience i do not have documented, because i wouldn't be here now if i tried (see: this super old post).

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i also had the crazy fortuity to be in belgium for their very first game in the world cup in 12 YEARS... and they WON! :) it was absolute madness, and SO very fun to see the streets crawling with happy belgians celebrating their country's long-awaited victory. 

:) more photos from belgium coming soon!

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paris

my last time in paris, i did everything a girl should do with exactly one week in paris. i sipped cafe cremes on outdoor patios, drank wine straight out of the bottle along the seine with a crowd of friends, picnicked beneath the eiffel, watched the anonymous pianists in shakespeare and co., marched through the louvre, put a love lock on a bridge, danced on the most romantic rooftops, and fell a little bit in love every single day.

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paris, you are enchanting. until next time. 

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paris, mon amour

i flew to paris by myself last june, on a total whim. 

a dear friend of mine invited me to visit her home in belgium, so that was reason enough for my last transatlanticism... but then another sweet girl from my hometown (who's been writing me for some time about her impending romp through europe) urged me to meet up with her somewhere along her route.

so time and space came together just right, and then there i was sitting cross-legged on a west-bound metro train into the city---my two travel bags propped up on the seat next to me like a lumpy companion, dewy sunshine glowing on the blurry terraces speeding by my window, and the somber early-morning chaos of chatelet / les halles straight ahead. 

it was a sunday morning, and the station was filled with all the young parisians who were just finishing their saturday night, stilled covered in glitter and paint, sleepy-eyed and soft-spoken and even more beautiful than i remembered. 

i was invited to stay with my french friend chloe, in her studio just down the steps from sacre coeur. but my plane arrived too early for a weekend and i didn't want to wake my sweet host. so i waited at one of my favorite cafes for a few hours---on the busiest street in montmarte, with the most beautiful view of the church above.

i never mind sitting at a parisian cafe alone, but this morning was particularly extraordinary. the sky was gorgeous and the tourists shuffled by quietly and my waiter began an innocent flirtation by bringing me a single, free pink macaroon. 

but soon the innocence of a tiny pastry turned into passing smiles and winks. and then, before my caffeine even set in, my waiter began whispering to every customer in the cafe, "hey, do you see that girl over there? ::pointing at me:: we are engaged to be married! go and tell her congratulations."

so one by one, visitors of every nationality (french, english, german, spanish, australian...) approached me with a unique accent and an outreached hand and said, "hello, stefanie? congratulations on your engagement!"

i blushed so long and so hard that by the end of the hour, i felt absolutely dizzy. but hey---i got free coffee and a pretty little macaroon and made some of the sweetest early-morning friends. aside from giggling bashfully by myself, i talked for about an hour with an artistic new yorker with french ancestry, who was in paris studying for the summer. by the end of our conversation we were already great friends, making plans to see each other again soon. 

she snapped this funny shot of my waiter drawing a heart with his name in it on my hand...

later on, i reunited with my chloe and met up with megan and her travel buddies.

^^^megan and i :) it was a fantastic visit, filled with long afternoon walks, wine picnics beneath the eiffel, and (as always) one too many crepes. 

more pictures of beautiful paris coming up next!

and click here for earlier posts on paris :)

give me big sur // give me bixby

"all the way from san francisco // as i chased the end of your road // and i've still got miles to go."

maybe it was death cab for cutie, or maybe it was hunter s thompson's letters, or any other number of writers who have idealized big sur and the bixby canyon bridge for me... 

it was every bit as good as i imagined it would be. this first time in big sur made me unbearably giddy at the sight of those giant rocky cliffs and windy roads and bluuue blue seas that just carry on into infinity. 

we camped for just one night at a campground with a few redwoods on the other end, (staring up a redwood tree is nothing quite like i've ever seen before.) and it was just enough to leave me craving another, longer visit. 

my favorite memory from this little trip was an adventure that didn't even involve any of these ^^^ breathtaking views. but it was breathtaking in a different kinda way. it was at night, after we set up our tent. noelle and delaney and i went on a late night hike with nothing but ourselves and a single flashlight. i hadn't been in the wilderness in california since that one time i was 11 in yosemite and that bear growled by our tent and scared me stiff. so this time, even though we didn't stray too far, i couldn't help but thinking about all of the creatures i couldn't see who were probably watching us or smelling us or curious about what we might taste like. but i didn't voice my fears to the other girls, because i didn't want to sound silly or like a city girl, or like a person-who-fears-things-with-teeth-and-claws-on-every-dark-walk-through-a-wood. so i stayed silent and focused on my steps as we traversed a pitch black dirt trail, and then over logs, and then boulders, until we found ourselves at the edge of a rushing creek. the water brought a break in the trees and a narrow path of sky that was littered with some of the brightest stars i've ever seen. delaney led us to a big round rock right in the middle of this little river---the perfect spot to stop and sit and look up for a while. so we sat there, for what felt like half an hour, completely silent and transfixed on every element around us. cold rock beneath us, flowing water on either side of us, multiple-hundred-year-old trees hovering over us, and billions of balls of fire lightyears away from us. 

i'm so thankful for moments like these in the grandeur of nature, to stop and let the power of wonder overpower all of our buzzing irrational fears. 

perfect days at hull bay

on the north side of st thomas, there's a quiet little stretch of beach that all the locals go to. it's just about as beautiful as magens bay, but on a much smaller scale. my best girls and i spent our down days stretched out in the sand with cheap beer, watching surfers ride the winter swells, paddle-boarding out to the point, and enjoying each other's presence until well past sunset.

these are the days i'll look back on and melt into the memories of. love and beauty and absolute bliss.

boats and babes

during my VI visit, i had the anomalous good fortune of having almost* all of my best friends free from work on the SAME DAY. in the world of "island time" and last-minute bookings and work dependent on weather and captains who call you at 9pm (when you're already at the bar) to tell you princess cruises just booked a morning trip and "be at the dingy dock at 7am"... having all but one of your friends completely free is like winning the damn lottery.

so, we went on a boat trip about it!

quincy called her captain friend and he pointed the bow toward the british virgin islands. we spent a day around norman island, mostly at the willy t (a bar on a boat just offshore, with a dock to tie up to and a ski to take shots off of with your friends---a beautiful and silly combination). we swam and giggled and danced and had the most perfect day.

from snow to island

after a week in ohio, callie and i went back to the virgin islands---she, to resume her new life there, and me, to visit with the rest of my very best friends and do some work for a culture website.

i was asked to conduct interviews and take pictures around the virgin islands for a culture website that contacted me at the beginning of the year. although it was a temporary gig, it was a surreal and momentous thing for me to essentially make money from travel for the first time---a small, but reassuring step toward a lifestyle i've been hoping to manifest for a long, long time.

at the very least, it was an excuse to fly back to my little rock of paradise and spend invaluable time with my favorite people in the world! ;)

amber took me surfing at hull bay to test out my new skill. i may have stood up on my first wave in costa rica, but i hardly made it past the arduous paddle out to the waves in st thomas (my sailing muscles are looong gone). but this beautiful best friend of mine has turned into a proper island girl since i moved away last spring---surfing and free-diving and spear-fishing like a champ on her every day off. i am so proud of her.

i also got to visit with two-thirds of my old castaway crew! my captain and first mate are like family to me, so spending time with them was so comforting and fulfilling. 

kim was the first friend amber and i made on the island, and we have been so grateful for her ever since. she is such a sweetie that she attracts animals everywhere she goes. like this pack of strange fluffy creatures that found her at hull bay.

so many precious people to me, all in such a beautiful place. i am one lucky girl.