The following post was written Friday, September 7 at 10PM and contains deleted scenes from Portugal and France, including the moment that led me back to India.
Since I got back from India in 2015, I have thought about it every single day, and I’m not exaggerating. Sometimes more than once a day. I would remember a funny moment, or a ritual, or a person, or a huge ass plate of paneer makhani, or how much more I liked myself during the months I spent there, and I would wish I were back there. I have always known in my gut that I would return. And here I am, on a flight to Goa.
When I left New York in June, I knew I would spend some time backpacking around and visiting friends. I also wanted to test whether I could earn a living building my own dream after years of helping to build someone else’s dream. I had a few ideas about how that could work and intended to use this on-the-road time to test one or some of them. (Quick recap: I started in Australia and then spent a month in Vietnam before flying to Portugal to meet my family. I was unsure of exactly where I’d be going post-Portugal, but I knew it needed to be somewhere I could afford to live while figuring out the business thing. But first, Portugal.)
Well, I landed in Lisbon one day before my family and stayed in a hostel because I didn’t want to pay for my own night in the hotel where we would be staying. All of the backpackers in the hostel were obviously on the Europe circuit so it was a little hard to relate because my story was like, yeah, I just got here from Australia, and then Vietnam, here for a family vacation, but I’ve been backpacking… in Asia… and then I’m gonna keep backpacking…but not in Europe…?
The next morning, with my big pack on my back and my small pack on my front like a baby bjorn, I did the 20 minute walk over to the hotel to meet my family. It was such a great reunion when everyone arrived!!!
Happenings in Portugal:
1. We rented a Nissan SUV to drive around the country. It was a stick shift and my dad drove the whole time. We made it to Lisbon, Lagos, Coimbra, Porto, Cascais, Sintra and back to Lisbon. We wanted a way to stay entertained in the car, so we started looking into podcasts. Someone (not me) found some podcast called The Teacher’s Pet, which is a 13-episode true story about this Australian scandal where a teacher was having an affair with his high school student and then his wife mysteriously went missing / was murdered. This happened 30 years ago and they never convicted the teacher because they couldn’t prove it was him who murdered his wife (to get rid of her so he could continue his affair with this student) but now they are re-opening the case. Honestly, this was the absolute weirdest thing we could have ever chosen to listen to, but we listened to 13 episodes of this. Needless to say, given we were listening to this Australian narrator tell us this story for hours during each car ride, we just could not restrain ourselves from speaking in absolutely horrible Australian accents to each other for at least 80% of the trip. Spoiler alert, Chris Dawson *probably* murdered his wife.
2. My family made fun of me the entire trip for blogging and dressing like a complete backpacking hippie. Lizzie was calling me Steve Irwin the whole time because of my crossbody multi-pocket toolbelt of a “purse.”
3. We tried Tiger Prawns, aka enormous shrimp. Never seen or had these anywhere else. Each prawn was the size of a banana, maybe bigger!
4. One day in the town of Sintra we were driving from one palace to another and we kinda got lost. When Google Maps Lady navigated us onto a very, very narrow road that was probably only meant for motorbikes, we had a major scare as we had to get the rental car up a hill, stick shift, with literally 3 inches of clearance on either side. I thought we were going to scrape the entire side of the car on the stone wall next to us. Some locals at the top of the hill could see us struggling and I’m pretty sure they clapped for us when we made it onto the main road unscathed.
Beautiful castle in Sintra, Portugal.
5. I did not wear a single drop of make-up the entire trip.
We had so many delicious meals and belly laughs in Portugal. It was so, so good to be with my family. After they left, I stayed in Lisbon in a different hostel for a couple more nights. I met some awesome people (what uppp Quim!), spent a day at one of the best markets I’ve ever been to (it’s called LX Factory, and hi Chanel, if we lived in Lisbon we would be here literally every Sunday) and went to an electronic/jazz dance party in a public park on a Sunday afternoon.
From Lisbon, I flew to Lyon, France to visit Chantal, my former coworker from co: who became a close friend. I landed at 1am so I got a hostel just to crash until the morning when Chantal picked me up. Chanti is not exactly the backpacking type although she made sure to reiterate to me that she did bring a backpack – in addition to her suitcase – on her recent two-week vacation to Greece. She had never seen a hostel before so when she picked me up in her new white Audi she came inside to scope it out. Hilarious.
In Lyon, Chantal had me doing all of the things. She had me on the 20,000-steps-a-day plan. It was soOoOo great to be reunited with this girl and to be able to see the new life she has set up for herself with her hubby Nico. And it was just adorable to see Lyon through her eyes because she was so proud of all of the city’s sights and traditions. She took me to a traditional bouchon for lunch (read as: extremely indulgent lunch tradition specific to the city of Lyon) and made me try these Lyonnaise mini raviolis which were just the most savory little morsels. Smothered in cheese and to die for. At her apartment she fed me San Marsellin cheese (like brie but creamier and delicious-er) and Chartreuse (a digestif born in Lyon). She also took me on an adventure through the traboules of Lyon, which are these hidden alleyways and walkways through the city. One of the traboules spit us out in an artsy, grittier area of the city and I was loving it.
super dope building in Lyon where one of the traboules spit us out.
Love finding little space invader dudes around the world.
The bouchon where we had the delectable mini raviolis
Me and Chantal in the park in Lyon.
Me and Chantal on top of the Opera House in Lyon.
Since Chantal and I used to work together, we’re always dreaming up business ideas together. One day we spent a few hours unpacking (erm, no pun intended) a potential travel business that we could co-found. We both got really excited about the idea and decided to have a working session the next day (lol, yes, really, we love this shit). And this was the beginning of the lightbulb moment for me. Because we were bouncing idea off each other, and as excited as I was about the potential of the travel business, I realized that there was really no business I wanted to work on more than the one I have been talking about for three years since I got back from India.
So, I’m in Lyon with Chantal when I have this lightbulb moment and I’m like, whoa, Chantal, I think I need to just go back to INDIA. Chantal is totally supportive and was one of the first people I told about this idea back in 2015 so she was like, yes girl, go get you some INDIA and launch this damn idea already.
But first, I had plans to make a quick trip to the south of France to see Laeti in the caravan!
[If you don’t already know who Laeti is you can read about how we met here, in the Kathmandu section].
Chantal sent me off in a Bla Bla Car, which is like Uber Pool except it’s someone driving their own car along a route they’re already planning to take and they offer up the remaining seats to people who want to carpool. Chantal helped me find a driver who was making the journey south. After five minutes in the car we stopped to pick up another passenger. There was a bodega right there so I jumped out to grab a water bottle. I asked the guy behind the counter how much it was, but he didn’t speak English. I assumed it was one euro so I held up my index finger – which I assumed to be the universal sign for “1” and said “One???” He didn’t understand. Then he held up his thumb and said “Un.” (1.)
10 hours later, around 6:30pm, I was dropped off in a supermarket parking lot where Laeti was waiting for me. I told her immediately that I had decided to go back to India after France and that I would need some help getting a visa sorted. She was the best possible person to be with because she totally understood the logistical requirements around making this happen. She was like, don’t worry Allie, we are going to figure out how to get you this visa! We will go to the consulate in Marseille! We will go to the embassy in Nice! But first we are going to drink a massive bottle of rosé and eat a shit ton of cheese.
It was uh may zing to be BACK in the caravan, in this random town of Le Plan-de-la-Tour, for a SECOND time!
Some happenings from Le Plan de La Tour:
When we got to the caravan, Laeti had a bottle of red wine but she couldn’t find her corkscrew. Next thing I know she is busting out a DRILL. Girl starts drilling a screw into the cork and then grabs a wrench to pull the cork out. Caravan life.
She’s a real jill-of-all-trades, this girl.
This time, I got to meet Laeti’s Aunt and Uncle who are ballin’ and have the most lovely home just five minutes from where the caravan is parked.
Their two kids are also super cool. They’re 15 and 21 (I think). They were looking at various Yeezys and other expensive sneakers on their phones when I arrived. Sneaker culture knows no borders.
We took the ferry to St. Tropez one Sunday to roam around the St. Tropez market. Laeti’s aunt makes ceramics and Laeti grew up spending Sundays at the market selling these ceramics with her aunt. The St. Tropez Sunday Market is one of the best markets I have ever been to. Different from LX factory in Lisbon. LX is urban, edgy. St Tropez is beachy, bohemian. So much white crochet. So many brightly colored pom poms and fringes and layers and linens.
Laeti works in the ER at St Tropez hospital. During my visit she had her last shift at the hospital (as she, too, has been saving to travel again). It was a night shift, so I had to stay overnight in the caravan all alone. I didn’t have a data plan so Laeti left her phone so I could have internet access because there was no way I was gonna lay there in the silence of the woods without putting on some music or some Netflix. The only downside in this plan was that if I needed to reach Laeti for any reason, her phone would be with me. So I had to choose between being able to contact Laeti, or keeping her phone with me and having internet. So I obvz chose internet. Yeah. I’m a big girl, look at me staying in the caravan all by myself. So around 8pm I was ready to boil some pasta. I see I’m working with a gas stove and I have no idea how to turn this thing on. I know I’m supposed to turn on the gas and I have a vague image in my head people using those long lighters to light the gas… but I’m not totally sure.… and I’m afraid of trying to light something that isn’t supposed to get lit and accidentally blowing up the caravan. Thank goodness for the internet. I googled “how to turn on a gas stove” and yeah, you totally just turn on the gas and then use one of those long lighters.
But then, I realized I didn’t have a corkscrew for the wine either. I was definitely not about to bust out the drill so I googled “ways to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew.” Interesting stuff! The only way I could actually attempt was to place the bottle into the heel of a sneaker, and then smack the sneaker-bottle against a tree which apparently forces the cork out as a result of the pressure. K well I smacked that shit against a tree about fifty times and just felt like I was going to break my arm. I also felt like a really big dum dum alone in the woods smacking this bottle inside a sneaker against a tree while bark is just falling onto the ground. I did not drink wine that night.
Laeti got home from work at 8:30am and needed to sleep for the day. I decided to walk into town. 3km. I had no internet, and nothing to distract me from the walk. Just me, in a hundred degrees, with no shade, taking in the scenery.
The walk from the caravan to town.
One day we went to a daytime mansion party somewhere near St Tropez. There was a bar, a DJ, some day beds… very nice little South-of-France house party. After the party, we drove down to the beach and watched the moon rise. It looked like the sun coming up over the ocean. It was stunning.
At the mansion party in the south of France. The headband is one of Sunny’s, I bought it last time I was in India, and more are coming within the next week! They will be one of the first products available for sale via reign_wala.
THE CARAVAN - angle #1
THE CARAVAN - from the front
THE CARAVAN - by night.
Me and Laeti at the Caravan on the morning we said goodbye. It’s cool, we think we will meet up again in Nepal in the next few months ;)
After doing some research, Laeti and I determined that Marseilles and Nice were not options for my visa. I would have to go to Paris. I wanted a minimum of six months and I needed approval fast because I couldn’t afford to stay in Europe for another two weeks bleeding euros. I decided to take Bla Bla Car again for the journey to Paris (10 hours, including rest stops, from the south.) Laeti drove me to the nearby town of Le Muy, where I met up with the people who were driving. It turned out to be a group of like 8 people, who all live in Paris, who had rented a house together in the south of France for a week of vacation and now they were all driving back to Paris together. They were awesome. They spoke English and we had really fun, funny and interesting conversations in the car about things like the environment, filmmaking, and the different tones of voice people use on the phone for the different people they’re talking to. (Because Igor answered the phone and I could tell, just from the one side of the conversation I could hear, in French, that it was his Dad). We ate Burger King on the way. By the time we got to Paris ten hours later I felt like these guys were my homiez. (Much love to you Antoine, Nina and Igor!!)
And then I was in Paris. It was about 8pm. I checked in to a hostel in the neighborhood of Belleville. The next morning I went to the embassy and submitted my visa application. They told me it would be six business days at minimum before it was approved, if it was in fact approved. Due to the timing of my submission (Thursday morning, which didn’t count as a business day, and was just before the weekend) it would end up being more like two weeks stuck in Paris. I know, it sounds like a First World Problem to be stuck in Paris. But here’s the thing. I’ve been to Paris twice before. I’ve seen the sights. Paris is expensive as hell and I was bleeding money. I needed to save. And, once I flip a switch on in my head – like the one that I’m going to start a business in India — I cannot turn it off. And all of my energy must be directed at that thing. So being in Paris, I felt handicapped by my inability to just get going already.
So, nothing from Paris really matters except this: when you are following your inner light, the universe conspires in your favor (as written in The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho). Yes, I was stuck in Paris, but the universe gave me a gift. I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw that my Aunt Suzie and her husband Jon were in Vienna, Austria. I had forgotten they’d planned a trip to Europe. For those who don’t know, although we don’t see each other as often as we’d like my Aunt Suzie has had a profound influence on me since forever. When I was a kid, she was always teaching me new vocabulary words, like adytum and mellifluous. She had a jewelry and accessory obsession and whenever she needed to clean house she’d come over with bags and bags of stuff for me and my sisters to dig through. She probably seeded the early curiosity around jewels and metals that later became my full fledged addiction to handcrafts. On every January 3rd since 1987, she would deliver me a handwritten birthday card. The words inside were always so carefully chosen, the sentences so perfectly constructed. You can see how her affinity for articulation has translated to the digital world if you just read her comments on my Facebook stuff (Suzie Dietzek Gladstone). For a long time Aunt Suzie was my cool single Aunt. She set an unmatched example of independence back then and she still does now. She has been a voice in my ear my whole life, telling me I can do absolutely anything – that the power is within me. And then about eight years ago she met Jon, her now-husband. They are the most wonderful complements for each other, these two.
So I see they’re in Vienna and I text Aunt Suzie like, hey, I know it’s a long shot but any chance you’re hitting Paris on your route? I’m unexpectedly stuck here for a couple of weeks. And she’s like, actually yeah, we have five days in Paris! We’ll be there Sunday. Like, really??? What a well-timed coincidence. Thank you, universe. Thank you.
It was truly a blessing to be able to spend this quality time with Aunt Suzie and Jon, and in Paris of all places. Back home, we are always running around and rushing around. Squeezing each other in. Carving out two hours for a lunch date. We never make the space to just indulge in conversation and be with each other without rushing to the next thing. And, yeah, I’ll admit I found comfort in having my family with me during such a vulnerable time. Aunt Suzie and Jon were not only amazing company but also incredibly generous travel companions. And so supportive of my newly solidified vision.
Me, Aunt Suzie and Jon at one of our many dinners in Paris! (Aunt Suzie I am still fantasizing about the sea bass from this place.)
Other highlights from Paris include NOT securing the Birkin bag (I simply cannot re-live the two-week-long story here because it actually deserves a post of its own someday… and also I’m still salty… so hopefully you saw it on Insta), meeting @aaroncohenmusic and his manager @alsomgmt who gave me lots of free business advice, re-uniting with @lacarrier after having met at Coachella earlier this year, and being invited to lunch with Antoine, Nina and Igor, my new friends from the Bla Bla Car!!!
On Business Day Number Five, I sat in a hostel common area checking and refreshing the embassy website to see if my visa was approved. I knew it was unlikely as they’d told me six days minimum, but I couldn’t help myself. I thought maybe just maybe I’d be the lucky one whose visa came early. I knew the window for approvals would close at 2:30pm and it was about 2:25. Nothing. And then, I hit refresh just oneee more time, praying I’d be the last approval of the day… and there it was. One single line on a white computer screen: Your Visa is Ready for Collection. Guys, a wave of emotions crashed over me, filling my whole being with tingles from my hair to my toes. A wave of relief, excitement, disbelief, gratitude, anxiety, humility. @aaroncohenmusic was sitting across from me and can vouch: I was shaking! I grabbed my bag, speed-walked to the embassy and collected my visa with a huge grin on my face. And then, I booked the 10pm flight, that very same night, to India.