Sleeping On the Street for Monte Carlo…

Ever since the 2011 masterpiece Monte Carlo starring Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, and Katie Cassidy was first gifted to us mere mortal by the gods– I have dreamed of visiting the nation of Monaco, and dipping my toe into the high-life.

For all the plebs out there unfamiliar with the plot of this oscar-snubbed gem, basically Selena’s character discovers she looks *exactly* like a snobby rich heiress named Cordelia. Selena then casually assumes her rich-counterpart’s identity (via an incredibly terrible, generically “European” accent) for free lobster and an all-expenses paid trip to Monte Carlo with her two best gal pals.

Unfortunately for me there were just two *slight* obstacles standing in my way of having said experience:

  1. I have no money.
  2. I don’t (to my knowledge) have a identical-looking billionaire whose life I can hijack at will.  

So, despite the dominos being stacked against me, I decided to recruit a friend and make the journey to the mecca of class and sophistication that is…….Monte Carlo.

*Spoiler alert* Unless you’re a fan of really hard mattresses– like concrete level hard– the trip wasn’t exactly “nice.”

You see how I put the word “nice” in parenthesis? Yeah, well that’s basically as close to a pun as you can get in the written-language– don’t worry it’s about to make sense, I promise.

Staying in Monaco itself is outrageously expensive, and in my broke opinion just not an option for students trying to pinch every penny. Luckily, the French city of Nice (pronounced like “niece”) is just a short 30 min train or bus ride away– get the pun now?!?

Nice is also full of hostels that cater towards travelers on a budget, so by logging onto HostelWorld, my travel partner (Lucy “Juice” Johnson) and I were able to score beds in a shared dormitory for about $12 per night per person!

Geographically speaking, Monaco isn’t the easiest place to get to (unless you have a private jet), but by using one of my favorite train searching websites, GoEuro, I was able to find a series of trains that would allow us to get there and back for about $70 roundtrip– a price well worth paying to see how the lavish live.

In fact, I even thought $70 round trip seemed a little too good to be true! But the optimistic-dumbass inside lurched yet again at the “opportunity of a lifetime!”

So, as it turns out, the reason the tickets were so cheap is that we had a rather long layover (is it still a layover for train travel?) in the small Italian border town of Ventimiglia. Have you ever heard of it? No? Well neither had we– and that would prove to be our demise.

We arrived in Ventimiglia at around 10pm on a Thursday night, and gingerly awaited for the departure of our next headed to Nice– at 5:30am the next morning.

Now, at this point in our globe-trekking careers Juice and I had already grown accustomed to “roughing it” for the sake of a cheap bus, plane, train etc. So we were completely prepared to claim our corner of the station and plop down for a few hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, what we didn’t realize was that the train station in Ventimiglia also serves another function during the chilly month of February (oh, did I forget to mention this was all taking place in WINTER). The entirety of the small train station transforms at night, and not into some retro underground club, or teenage drinking spot– no. The train station becomes the sole shelter for the entire homeless population of the town.

Juice and I were quickly packed like sardines between dirty mattresses that wreaked of urine and and colorful characters shouting at us in a Italian. I feel obligated to say that I’m sure most of these people were very nice, and one man even offered us some of his potato chips, but the few belligerently drunk ones made me, and Juice in particular (a petite woman) feel sufficiently unsafe.

This would normally be the point of the story where all of you are like, “Oh, thank god they’re going to leave and get a hotel room,” but ‘tis not the case.

Our cheap asses still decided to try and sleep there, and believe it or not I was able to get about 2 hours of shut-eye until Juice woke me with a slight jab to the ribs at about 1am.

“Gunnar,” she whispered under her breath. “We have to get out of here.”  I sat up and noticed that she looked concerned, but also like she was about to burst into laughter.

“Ok,” I said while quickly beginning to pack up our few unpacked clothes were we had used as makeshift blankets, “why, what happened?”

“There was a man in a parka,” she whispered.

“What?” I asked, obviously very confused.

“I wasn’t really sleeping, but when I looked up from the ground there was a man in a parka standing like a foot away– just staring straight at me.” She was laughing, but we both knew that this was no joke.

“Lucy!” I exclaimed, “why didn’t you wake me up sooner!”

“I didn’t want to make a scene! I had no idea if he was drunk, or senile, but I was freaked out!” I accepted her answer, but also felt bad that I had dozed off and left her alone in the uncomfortable gaze of “parka man.”

We quickly gathered our things and decided to just walk around the small town. It wasn’t actually that bad! The streets were empty and the buildings were pretty, not to mention the walking kept us warm. We even made out way all the way to the beach and dipped our feet into the Mediterranean sea.

After about two more hours of walking aimlessly we realized that we had no clue where we were, and more importantly no idea where the train station was. The next hour was spent wandering up various streets, until thankfully we once again stumbled onto the train station.IMG_9795

However, this time we opted for the colder outside, as opposed to joining our homeless friends and “parka man” in the slightly warmer inside. I said that I would stay up this time, and let her get some sleep, as I had already gotten about two hours worth earlier.

The next hour was cold, but uneventful, and soon enough it was time to board our 5:30 train to Nice. This was where we would encounter our second frightful character of the night– “Trena Man”.

We immediately boarded the train when it arrived at the platform, and grabbed a row of seats in an empty car. I took the window and left Juice the aisle.

The first 10 min of the 30 min train ride were uneventful, but then that things got a little out of hand. A man, who appeared to be extremely intoxicated, entered our train car and loudly proclaimed, “TrEEEEEEEEEEEna.” Juice and I turned to look at each other and I immediately told her to switch spots with me so she’d be by the window.

“TRENNNNNNNNNNNNA,” He yelled even louder. Juice and I didn’t know if we should burst out laughing or say our final prayers. “TREEEEEEEEEENA,” he yelled one last time before sitting two rows in front of us.

Yep, the entire car was empty and he chose to sit right in front of us. To make matters worse, HE TURNED AND PUT HIS HEAD BETWEEN THE SEATS AND JUST LOOKED AT US.

He remained like that for about 5 minutes, and then just got up, stood right next to us, yelled “TRENNNNNNNA,” a few more times. The situation was so awkward and I felt so uncomfortable that I started laughing uncontrollably. Juice totally thought I was going to pee my pants right thereI was laughing so much. Eventually “Trena Man” just walked out of the car. 

We arrived in Nice at about 6am, and of course our hostel didn’t allow check in until 11am. So, we did want any person would do– bought some chocolate and decided to take a nap on the beach.  


The rest of the trip went fairly smoothly! Nice remains one of my favorite cities, mainly due to their stellar Matisse Museum, delicious moules and frites (mussels and french fries), decent prices, and picturesque landscape.


Monte Carlo proved to be a wonderful experience, but utimatley a let down. We didn’t have enough money (or nice enough clothes) to get into any of the boujee icons from the movie.  Though we did ultimately worked up the courage to ask for a table at the iconic Paris Cafe, we stuck out like sore thumbs, Juice in particular with her socks and birkenstocks. We ordered daiquiris ($25 per drink!) and left as quickly as possible.  


*Side note* for anyone who’s as confused as I was about the whole “Monaco” vs “Monte Carlo” naming system, basically “Monaco” is the entire lil country, and “Monte Carlo” is area inside it with the casinos, beach, and some shopping.

Ok, so now for my professional opinion– visit Monaco for a day because it’s fun to see the old town and castle, as well as walk through the ritzy Monte Carlo, but budget most of your time (and money) for Nice.

Nice is full of museums, parks, hikes, and their beach is honestly a lot prettier. All Monaco has is an over-priced aquarium and rich snobs who judge you for bringing a backpack into the Paris Cafe (I’m talking about you old man with the designer aviators).


That all being said, there are two conditions under which I *highly* recommend going to Monte Carlo:

  1. You have a lot of money.
  2. You have an identical-looking billionaire whose life you can hijack at will.  


Please enjoy these photos of Juice when she ordered like 4 entrees of Chinese food in Nice and couldn’t finish it all.



Running *THE* Marathon (26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens)

(Please note that the word “running” in the title is an umbrella term, encompassing the various “genres of movement” of which I used in order to finish the race)

After returning home from my summer in Alaska, I decided that I needed to pick another “big adventure” to follow it up with. Alaska had pushed my mental and physical limits to near-exhaustion, so it wasn’t an easy task finding something that would prove an even larger challenge. Naturally, I decided that there was really only one challenge hard enough– a marathon. But not just any marathon, I decided that if I was going to do this– I was going to do it right. After some light googling I discovered the “Athens Authentic Marathon,” a modern-day race that traces the original journey made back in ancient Greece– yes, the original 26.2 miles from the city of Marathon to the center of Athens. The very course that every other marathon in the world today is based on.

Let it be made abundantly clear that any amount of athletic ability I had at one time possesed earlier in life evaporated the second I started college. The freshman 15 was no joke for me, especially considering the local cuisine at my school consists entirely of pasta, pizza, and red wine.

Per usual, without any realistic expectations (or even basic reasoning), I decided the opportunity was “once in a lifetime,” and therefore found it necessary to immediately shell out 400 dollars for the race registration, lodging at a hostel, and a round-trip flight from Milan to Athens. I booked all of this stuff on August 8th 2017. The marathon was on November 12th of that same year– leaving me a window of 3 MONTHS TO PREPARE, a timeframe my optimistic-dumbass thought more than necessary– as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, ’twas not.

It’s no surprise that I stopped training in any form the moment I returned to school (two weeks after registering for the race). But in my defense, Lugano is SURROUNDED BY MOUNTAINS, so it’s practically impossible to go for a long run without half of it being at an incredibly steep incline.

Before I knew it the marathon was right around the corner (one week away to be precise) and I had run a collective total of 0 miles in the past two months. I decided it was crunch-time and begrudgingly went for a 3 mile jog, of which I made it about ⅔ of the way before stopping to walk the remainder.

My friends, and even some professors, were all very-much concerned for me, asking not-so-cryptically if I still planned to run the race.

“Oh yes,” I would tell them, “and I’m sure it won’t be too hard.” I’d say whilst raising a large chalice of wine to my quivering lips. Because in reality I knew it would be difficult, but I also knew that if I had any hope of finishing the marathon– I needed to push absolutely every doubt out of my head.

In true university-student fashion, I decided that the final step in my “lengthy” preparation process was to get sufficiently drunk the night before my flight to Athens. But to be fair, there was a belated Halloween party with free booze, so I mean it was really the most economical decision.

I boarded my flight the next day hungover, but ready to race. I had planned the 3-day trip Saturday to Monday, with the race falling on the Sunday. I arrived in Athens around 1pm on Saturday, and hopped on the metro to the city-center. I had to stop by an arena to sign-in and pick-up my bib, fill out final papers, and receive my too-small free t-shirt (because of course August me thought I would slim down enough to fit into it– you know with all the training I was going to have to do…..) Afterwards, I stopped for a falafel on the street as I walked to my hostel, adamant about getting a good night of sleep.

I woke up at 5am the next morning and had to walk about a mile to the nearest shuttle stop. There were shuttles stationed all over the city responsible for taking racers to the starting line in Marathon.

I boarded the bus and tried to hype myself up as much as possible– I was going to finish this race. I got to the starting area and had to mill around for about an hour until my wave was called to the official starting line. There were a lot of people running the marathon– about 15,000 in total– but before that gun went off there was a slight fear inside that I would somehow manage to be the last one, or worse yet get booted from the course for taking too long.

Bang! The gun went off for my wave and suddenly I was running, “Hey!” I thought to myself, “this isn’t too bad!”

And in all honesty it really wasn’t, well not at first. Much to my surprise (and I’m sure yours, too) I was able to jog the entire first half of the race, 12.7 miles, without stopping to walk. But just as I passed that marker, I made an awful mistake.

As I passed the half-way mark, I decided that it would be a good idea to walk a little so I could conserve my energy for later– BIG MISTAKE. As any seasoned runner would probably guess, my legs immediately locked up and I found it incredibly hard to even walk.

The next 12.7 miles were full of swearing, a lot of walking, and some light crying dispersed between the two. I flat-out refused to run up any hills, so if I saw an incline I literally just started to walked. This was also the part of the race where I was passed by the people who run ironically in full costume– I was no joke passed by someone in a giant Pacman suit and his pack of four friends dressed up as the colorful ghosts.

But it wasn’t until the power-walkers started to pass me that I really got discouraged. Trust me when I say nothing’s worse than watching an elderly woman in leg warmers breeze past you. I also got comically large cramp in my calf, and had to pull over to the side of the road to stretch it out. I writhed in pain as I watched the entire muscle continually suck itself into my leg, and then sporadically shoot back out.

I do have to commend the people of Athens for their incredible turnout on the sidelines to support the runners coming through. However, that being said, there were a couple of times when the constant shouts of “Bravo!” “Stop walking, you can run!” “Bravo!” “Pick up the pace!” literally made me stop, look piercingly into the eyes of a large-breasted Greek grandma, and then walk even slower.

Eventually, after about 6 hours and 10 minutes, I was about to reach the ancient stadium in the city-center of Athens. The finish line is at the far end of the stadium, and I have to admit that nothing would’ve been more fulfilling than sprinting to the finish line as the full-stadium cheered me on, but that wasn’t really how it happened for me.

Most everyone had already finished that race, so the stadium was practically empty. While people around me had started to pick up their pace, smile, and even withdraw their phones for selfies– I was hobbling like a maniac, desperate to put an end to the misery that had been the last 6 hours of my life.


I left that stadium with a banana, an awesome medal, and much to my despair a mile-long walk to the nearest metro stop. But I had done it, and I was ecstatic.

Looking back on it, I am glad that I ran *the* marathon. Mostly because there’s really no cooler marathon to run (in my book at least) and so on the bright side, I’ll never have to run one again.

I highly recommend “running” a marathon at some point in your life, but given the chance again I would definitely log some more miles before the big day. It is my humble opinion that anyone is capable of finishing a marathon, because if I can do it cold-turkey after months of gorging on wine and pizza, certainly anyone else can do it too.

Side-note: I still have to go back to Athens because after finishing the marathon I refused to walk up the stairs to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, which I feel obligated to visit in my lifetime.