10 Questions with a CS Ambassador: Stephanie

Name: Stephanie
City: Paris, France
Years on Couchsurfing: 12

Why did you decide to get involved with Couchsurfing?
I got involved in Couchsurfing before a move to West Africa, where I would start from zero socially. When I arrived, I knew no one except my boss and my roommate! The mission of Couchsurfing included the connection of people worldwide – both travelers and locals – so I figured this was the way.

Very true! What was your first experience on CS?

First host in Togo! From L to R: My roommate; our host; our host’s youngest son; A fellow surfer from Lagos; me. Aneho, Togo. 2007 (By Stephanie)

While living in Ghana my roommate and I decided to spend the weekend in the neighboring country of Togo. We were accepted by a newish host, a 40ish man in import-export business, hosting with his large (for us) family including six children a wife and several “aunties”. He was a great host, and we saw so much of Togo and the complicated relationship a person can have with his home country. He met us at the border, on the Ghana side. When the customs officer tried to make us pay the wrong price for an entrance visa, he really chewed the guy out! Nothing like having a local there to defend you and remind someone of their importance of giving a first impression of the country. He showed us beautiful places, like the coastline in front of Aneho, and more difficult places like villages in the interior and places where the country’s natural resources are extracted and where cement is prepared to send for export. Trucks lined up for kilometers, ready to return to Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso, all over. “THIS is my country!” He gestured half in respect and half in anger from the drivers seat of the car. Resource-wealthy, but under-developed and subject to selling these resources. At home, he made sure that every child met and interacted with us. His reason for hosting? To make sure that his children understood why a good education is important, why foreign languages are essential to getting opportunitites in the world, and to understand that foreigners are not “only” a source of aid and charity. My other favorite memory? One of our family dinners where we sat down to a peanut stew (mafé) with goat. My roomamte were the slowest eaters. “Oh! I forgot to bring some spoons! You must not be used to eating with your hands!”

Amazing! And I know you’re an active host, what has been your favorite hosting memory?
Sometimes I have hosted two groups of travelers at the same time, always in advance letting them know about each other and what that could mean organizationally. Once there was a big K-Pop (korean pop music) concert in Paris which attracted people from all over Europe. I hosted two pairs of young women – one from Greece and another from somewhere else in Europe – who were all headed to the same concert! I learned about this cultural thing that I was totally clueless about, and they got to meet other people that shared their passion for it!

K-Pop has truly taken over! Has there been any book that has inspired you or your travels?
You never know what you’ll find when you go to a used book sale; you buy what there is. At one sale in Paris, I picked up “Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania”, by William Blacker. Wow, it sounded like a cool place to visit! An under-visited European country with under-visited regions within it. Forget Dracula’s Castle, I needed to see these painted wooden churches. Not long after, I saw a post via a Couchsurfing Hiking group to go on a hiking trip to Romania organized by a Romanian. There was one extra spot! Coincidentally, I was looking for a destination, and thinking an active trip would be nice. After much deliberation, I decided to go. And that is how I met my husband.

Wow. From reading about it in a book to booking a trip! You truly were inspired by Mr. Blackner. So when people come to Paris, what is one thing they MUST see?
The “Promenade plantée” also known as the “coulée verte”. It is to Paris what the Highline is to New York City: An elevated viaduct with plants, flowers, and fountains that runs for a couple kilometers from Bastille to the western edge of Paris. You see all of the beautiful architecture and landmarks of Paris, without the noise and traffic. For those who want to go a bit further into the green, cross the ring road into the Bois de Vincennes or the Parc Floral. I also really like the entrance near Bastille: “Go down to where these two roads split. Look left and you’ll see a big brick wall with hidden stairs, where people seem to come and go with no source or destination. Enter there!”

Sounds beautiful. I will definitely check it out on my next trip to Paris. What is something you never go on a trip without?
1. a Back-up plan
2. Between the few things that I must do or see, as much time as possible to explore. Whole days to decide on once I’m “in-country”. Spend time with a host? Take a day-trip by public transit? 
– Pre-purchased tickets for travel and anything that’s *really* important to me to see. My trips are usually less than 10 days. Even with all the new apps and digital offers, it is more and more difficult to travel 100% spontaneously without spending extra time or money (just try to get a last-minute plane ticket these days, in most parts of the world!). I try to make up for this by using CS Hangouts and participating in CS events.

All very true. And not things! What is one piece of advice you would give to a new Couchsurfer?
Host! Hosting can be more fun and more rewarding than surfing. Even after living in Paris for several years, I was discovering new (to me) places and people. I could have a social life without even leaving home for the day. I met people I would see again in other parts of the world. I hosted people who later moved to Paris and are *still* friends of mine, passing from that awkward stage of “friend from Couchsurfing” to just “friend”.

Do you have a favorite quote that has inspired you?

Experience is the enemy of ignorance, and travel is a gateway to understanding the world.

Mark Twain (or at least credited to him)

One last question. France is famous for it’s food. Can you give us a favorite French food or snack?
For dessert, go with the moelleux au chocolat (chocolate cake with a soft, even liquidy, center) or an eclair. If you want to up your pastry game, go to Angelina on rue de Rivoli. It’s probably in your guidebook, but that’s because it’s good! I recommend specifically the Saint Honoré pastry. Why? Because to do a good Saint Honoré, you have to be good at all of the fundamentals of pattisserie (French pastries): the puff pastry for the structure, the pastry cream used as filling, and the caramelized sugar that gives it the shiny glaze and crunch. And the fresh whipped cream, of course! If a patisserie does a good Saint Honoré, it’s likely that their other products are good, too. The location on rue de Rivoli is 120 years old, with all the ornate decorations that that implies.

Pastries at Angelina (By Dr Bob Hall/Flickr)

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