the lions of sofia

the train journey from prague to sofia (bulgaria) took me through bratislava, budapest, and belgrade. i crossed most of the czech republic, a bit of slovakia, all of hungary, and all the long, long way through serbia. fortunately for me, the shop at the train station was open when i had to stop to change trains in belgrade, so i got to buy a bunch of plazma and bananicas.

i started my train journey in the early afternoon of one day and it took until night to get to budapest. i changed to a night train that took me to belgrade in the early hours of the morning. then my final train took me from belgrade to sofia all day long and i finally arrived in the early evening hours. the ride down through serbia was absolutely gorgeous, though. the balkans in general are fantastically lovely countries full of wonderfully friendly people.

my hostel was amazing! i was in a dorm, but every bed was its own bunk with a privacy curtain, an individual light, shelf, and a small lockbox with an outlet to charge bits of tech while leaving it locked up in your bunk. i also got a normal sized locker for my backpack. the hostel was cool, the people in the hostel were cool, and the food/atmosphere in sofia was great. there were fresh juice shops everywhere that stayed open so late. actually, the best part about mainland europe is how, for the most part, everything stays open so very, very late! except for austria. but we’ll get to that later.

i had a lot of fun in sofia going to restaurants, getting my hair cut, going shopping, walking around, hanging out in parks.

as a fun fact: the lion is the symbol of bulgaria, so they’re everywhere! statutes abound. the bulgarian currency, the lev, is even named after lions, as lev is bulgarian for lion. it’s also interesting to note that the city itself, sofia, is not named after the roman martyr saint sophia (as is sometimes thought), but for a church on a hill just above the old town, saint sofia church. the church is named for hagia sophia, or divine wisdom. during roman and medieval times, travellers or pilgrims could see the church, saint sofia, on the hill long before they could see the city itself, so they would say “oh, it’s sofia, we’re nearly there”, so the city itself came to be named after the prominent landmark. the more you know!

it was especially nice to be back in the balkans after having been to serbia at the very beginning of my travels. there were quite a few familiar things, even though i was in an entirely different country.

i really loved sofia and would go back in a heartbeat.

all the bones in the czech republic

i had very high hopes for prague, and it rather fell short on all counts. probably because i’m so in love with budapest and the two are often compared. my second trip to the czech republic (remember my first?) far surpassed my first, though. i expected it to be prettier than budapest while also being more morose than belgrade, and very cheap. aside for transportation and hostels, everything was far more expensive than i anticipated. especially the food.

my train from dresden didn’t take long, and the ride was very pretty. i was sharing a compartment with a young german woman who was off to see her boyfriend in the czech republic and found my adoration of the landscapes to be very amusing. it was all very routine to her.

trying to read czech names on my way to my hostel was a fun adventure, and when i got there, it was really very nice, especially having cost about $5 per night. also, i got to stay in an all-female dorm for no extra charge. i don’t mind co-ed dorms, but when i’m given the choice, i generally pick all-female.

i only had two roommates for a while. two au pairs who worked in munich and were on vacation in prague. one was from italy, and the other was from budapest! so we bonded over our love of the city. we went out for dinner together somewhere across the city and i had the best goulash of my life. czech goulash is absolutely where it’s at. we went out dancing after, and it was okay.

on its own, prague is a nice place. there’s obvious soviet influence interspersed throughout the medieval city. the jewish quarter is nice and has a massive graveyard, and the river is lovely. also, the clock tower in the main town square is amazing.

my favourite part about my trip to prague, though, was going to the sedlec ossuary just outside kunta hora, which is maybe an hour outside of prague by train. lucky for me, my rail pass worked perfectly to take a day trip out to the ossuary. the initial train out to kolin was relatively normal… and then i got the ‘train’ from kolin to sedlec. which was really rather bizarre. it was a single train car packed with people. it was amazing. once off the … train car, it was a short walk through a quaint town the the church yard. it was a very small church, surrounded by a load of graves, and the ossuary was in the basement. it really didn’t look like much from the outside.

from the inside, however, it was kind of paradise. in the basement of this plain, unassuming church, are the bones of 40,000 – 70,000 people. most of them are plague victims and soldiers killed in the hussite wars. the bones are all artfully arranged. there is a giant bone pyramid in each corner of the basement, a bone chandelier, and a family crest made of painstakingly arranged bones. it was heaven, truly.

the only true unfortunate event of my trip to prague was that i lost the SD card for my camera. so no more DSLR pictures. oops. 

introversion and depression in dresden

when you’re constantly travelling, it’s easy to get burnt out if you’re doing constant activities. when you’re an introvert, it’s very easy to get exhausted when constantly surrounded by people. when you have depression, it’s difficult to not be depressed.

all of these things sort of converged on me at once when i arrived in dresden. weeks of constant travel, our exhausting host in hamburg, people everywhere. i was mentally, and probably somewhat physically, exhausted. this added to the fact that dresden was incredibly normal looking for a place that had been absolutely flattened during the war, led to my entire apathy and disinterest about the whole place.

so instead, i stayed in bed in my hostel. except for food breaks, which were great.

i felt a bit guilty abut being away on a trip in an amazing new place, and just staying in bed. which was really the only negative feelings i had at all about staying in bed watching netflix in the cozy loft i had to myself in the 5-bed hostel room. it was relaxing and needed and made me feel so very much better when i headed off to the czech republic a few days later.

it’s silly to feel badly about something that was, in essence, self-care, which everyone needs to be healthy, just because of when i happened to be doing this self-caring.

also, when you have depression, sometimes the motivation to get up and do things just isn’t there. i applaud the people who can constantly keep pushing themselves, but i am not one of them.

so, i really didn’t see anything in dresden. sorry.

but i can report that if you need a break, take a break!

2016 wrap-up and 2017 goals

2016 has been a fantastic year for me. i’m glad it happened, and i’m looking forward to 2017 with just as much excitement as i had for 2016. so let’s get into the wrap-up!

  • backpacked all over europe for 6 months
  • worked with horses in romania for a month
  • hitchhiked for the first time in ireland
  • wild camped all over ireland and a bit of scotland
  • met a plethora of amazing people and made great friends
  • read some really good books
  • crossed the atlantic to visit my hometown for the first time in … 3? years!
  • got to see my mom for the first time in a year!
  • saved a horse from … something. i’m sure.
  • went to 19 countries
  • took SO MANY TRAINS
  • became far less anxious
  • reached a new level of travel zen, in which things going wrong doesn’t bother me that much because it’s really not the end of the world and it’ll work out somehow!

this year has been so, so amazing. i’ve seen and done so much. which leads us into my 2017 plans and goals.

as for plans, i’m kicking off the new year with a short trip to california with my mom to visit family. the end of january sees me back in england for a few days before jetting off to southeast asia until the end of april. in this time, i hope to go to thailand, laos, vietnam, cambodia, myanmar, singapore, and indonesia (specifically jakarta and borneo). after that, i’ll head back to england for a bit, and then my current summer plans involve seoul, tokyo, and osaka for a month or two, depending on available funds. after that, back to england to spend time with my dog and husband until october when i want to fly down to south africa and over-land backpack from cape town to cairo for 6-7 months.

as for my goals:

  • be more eco friendly! i’ll write a further post about this, but travel has a large carbon footprint and i want to try and keep mine as minimal as i can. we only have one world!
  • travel as minimally as i can. i sent a duffle bag of stuff home from romania, and when i got off the ferry from ireland at the end of the summer, i still had an entire extra bag of stuff i’d acquired. ridiculous!
  • step far, far out of my comfort zone. it widens itself as i travel, so i want to continue pushing my own boundaries.
  • be better at updating this blog, and catch up on all the eurotrip blog posts i haven’t posted/written yet!
  • try a bit of vlogging/video making. i’ve tried it in the past, but i want to stick to it better.

how was your 2016? what are you looking forward to in the new year? what are your goals for 2017?

bonfires, rollercoasters, and midnight mass – hamburg

remember my friend laura? well, in berlin, we found a couchsurfing host in hamburg, and on the saturday afternoon before easter, off we went to hamburg! the north of germany has ancient pagan traditions of making massive bonfires just around easter.

already in berlin, i was dreaming of travelling with a smaller bag, which led me to delve into a conversation with a young woman waiting on the same platform as us about her own backpack. her name is corinne and we all sat together on the train as she was likewise going to hamburg for the holidays. however, she didn’t have plans, and thus we became a trio.

our couchsurfing host picked us up his local train station and thus began our insane 48 hours in hamburg. from the station, we dropped our things off at the house, and then off we went again on the train. it took us out to one of the nice neighbourhoods along the river. the bonfires are on the beach, you see. along our way through the quaint little suburban neighbourhood, we passed adorable buildings, and traditional homes with thatched roofs. it was incredibly picturesque.

it was cold on the riverfront beach, but once we reached the bonfires, it was lovely and toasty. there were fires scattered about the entire riverfront and it was a lovely tradition i’m glad we were able to take part in.

it’s difficult to really illustrate how large the bonfires were. the one we stood around was considered “small”. it was easily double my height (so like, 10 feet tall) and there were police, but there wasn’t any guidelines, so everyone was sat about 15 feet from the fire.

it’s interesting how many places have traditions involving bonfires. this one was quite different from guy fawkes night in england, mostly due to the lack of barriers between the public and the fires. at one point, laura and i jumped over the hot coals at the edge of the blaze! in england, there was a massive crowd standing about and a fence a good 30-40 feet away from the bonfire, so you really couldn’t get close at all.

once we got back into town from the quaint riverside suburb, we headed to st. michael’s church just in time to catch the end of a bach concert on organs. i’m not religious, but the idea of going to midnight mass for easter was oddly appealing, just from a new experiences standpoint, so it was my idea that the four of us go. i had no idea what the hell was going on, because everything was religious and in german, but the music and scenery were so lovely that it hardly mattered. st. michael’s is a massive old rococo style church. and if there’s any architecture/design i like the most, it’s rococo. it was like being inside of a religious cake. delicious!

after midnight mass (it was short!), we went back to our host’s home and went right to sleep! well, laura and i did, anyway. corinne went to her hostel.

i forwent the hamburg walking tour in the morning in favour of being well rested after being up so late the night before. laura did go on the tour, though.

in the afternoon, our host and i went into the city to meet up with laura and he took us on his own sort of walking tour of hamburg. we walked along the canals, down through a tunnel that goes under the river, and took the public ferry boat down the river to a beachside restaurant.

it was a somewhat overcast day, but it didn’t rain, which was nice.

the beachside restaurant was lovely. i had mulled wine and wrapped myself in a blanket on the beach. it was lovely!

on the whole hamburg and it’s surrounding area is really lovely.

in the evening, we met up with corinne again. first stop after dinner? an absinthe bar! it looked like it could have been a room in the addams family home. each of us tried a different type of traditional absinthe, the traditional way, with a sugar cube lit on fire and then mixed in with water.

after that, we went to a couch bar. which is apparently a ‘thing’ now? it’s just a bar, but everyone sits on couches.

i didn’t love the bar, but i took a pretty cool selfie in the bathroom.

after the couch bar, laura and i wanted to go to the carnival/fair/amusement grounds in the city. all the rides were reminiscent of a normal north-american fairground, but permanent and in far better condition. i’ve never seen such amazing funhouses!

so, at home, the way a fairground works is you buy tickets, tokens, or a wristband. it’s generally one ticket or token per ride, and a wristband to ride on anything. with this in mind, we headed to the first booth we could find, and bought 8 tokens, four each.

unfortunately for us, as we found when we tried to go to one of the funhouses, things work a little differently in europe. we had just unwittingly bought 8 tokens for a single, specific bumper car ride. fuck sake. who wants to ride the bumper cars four times in a row??? not us!

we disregarded this, and found our way to one of the rollercoasters, where we just paid euro for tickets at the gate. it had a mini funhouse to go through while you waited in line!

i’m glad we bothered to go, because it was great! even though we spent very little time there.

once off the rollercoaster, we wandered around looking for the original bumper car ride we’d bought our tokens at. we managed to find it and run off through the park just in time to arrive at the ferris wheel for the very last ride of the night! we were completely alone, and half-way through our ride, they stopped us at the top and turned the all the lights of the ride off.

we had gotten there just under an hour before closing, and everyone knows that amusement parks are best in the dark. the lights were so vibrant, and it smelled like sweetly fried dough, and the pictures really just cannot compare. after getting off of the ferris wheel, we got a snack for laura before looking the other half of our quartet who had declined to come to the fair on the grounds that neither of them enjoy carnival rides.

this is laura and her snack. since this happened, i’ve probably spent about a solid hour laughing about this incident. what is her snack, you ask? well, she didn’t know until she bit into it.

it is, the wildly bizarre, candy covered grapes on a stick. what the fuck even? it was amazing. i laughed so hard and so long over it. her disgusted shock was amazing. but still, why? why would you make that? and who would think that was a good idea? it was so strange.

anyway, after that, our host dragged us (somewhat unwillingly) around the reeperbahn, hamburg’s red light district. we walked past a bunch of brothels and strip clubs, our host and corinne went into one of the sex shops while laura and i awkwardly stayed outside. we went into a few pretty cool far left punk bars, and then when laura and i had had quite enough, we set off on our own to figure out the hamburg night transportation back to the apartment.

we went to sleep, and in the morning got the fuck out of there before breakfast. early trains, and all…

on the whole, it was a crazy two days. i had a lot of fun with laura. our host was… odd? but we did get to see a lot of hamburg from a local perspective, so that was fun. if i were going to go back, i’d go at easter again, and i’d bring more money for all of the carnival rides i wished i’d gone on.

i’ll never leave my laptop home again, but you can!

the above statement isn’t entirely true, but i’ll get to that later.

when i was 15, my parents got me a laptop for christmas. it was an ibook g4, and the loveliest thing i’d ever seen in my life. since then, i’ve pretty much been attached to a macbook of some sort. with the exception of the six months i spent backpacking around europe for the first half of 2016.

this was, by far, the worst packing mistake i made, and really the only one worth mentioning, as the other ‘mistake’ was just the general first-timer tendency to overpack.

instead of bringing my laptop, i brought an android tablet and a bluetooth keyboard to blog on. i somehow thought that it wasn’t going to be as much of a massive fucking ballache as it actually was. i’m not sure what gave me this impression. loading pictures from my sd card onto my tablet was a nightmare. getting onto my blog editor was a nightmare. typing was a nightmare (i discovered very early on that the bluetooth keyboard just did not work at all). when i could be bothered to thumb type an entire post, it was nearly impossible to insert photos into it. it made blogging an immense chore. and blogging shouldn’t be a chore. it should be fun! i like blogging. i’ve been doing it for 8 years just for the fun of it! but blogging from a tablet? no!

there were two main motivations for leaving my laptop home. the first of which was probably my worst nightmare. having my laptop stolen. this actually happened to my friend angela (whom you’ll meet later when we get to the ireland posts! but go check out her blog!) while she was in phuket. her nightmare included having her laptop stolen by someone she trusted, with literally no way to get it back, no way to easily contact her insurance, and as it turned out, no theft coverage on her insurance plan. nightmare! my computer is so important to me and my being able to share and communicate with my friends all over the globe! i can’t have that happen to me.

after my european trip, i’ve learned that one should always, always, always lock their locker no matter what, and i’m good at that. and angela has taught me to trust people… but protect yourself. a pinch of paranoia is fine. better to be safe than laptopless.

my other fear was of my laptop getting broken or damaged in some way. in anticipation of my upcoming travels (i bought my 3-month ticket to southeast asia a couple weeks ago), i’ve been preparing my laptop! i bought a hard plastic shell for it, which comes with a silicone keyboard cover, which should help with minor spills (should they happen, they haven’t before!), and then a nice cushioned zip case with a water-resistant exterior. i have an old 1tb hard drive to back up my laptop to. the connection port on it isn’t the greatest anymore because of how much i’ve used it, but it should do the trick for occasional backups and emergencies. i have a new 2tb hard drive for all my pictures, travel footage, etc. anything i’ve created that i keep on my laptop, has now gone on that hard drive, and it works well so keeping it current shouldn’t be difficult. (in fact, the only reason angela wasn’t completely fucked over on her lack of laptop was because she consistently backed everything up to her external hard drive) aaaand finally, i have a hard drive that’s just full of my movies and tv shows that i transferred over from being on the ~old~ hard drive.

this is all paired with a really great travel insurance plan from world nomads. i haven’t actually had reason to test our my insurance policy, as i was (mostly) fine on my trip to europe.

(i did need an x-ray while i was in romania, however i was only charged the price of x-ray film and my volunteer position covered the cost as i was injured during work. the total cost worked out to be about $13. amazing. more on this in a different post, though!)

in summary, there was no easy way to blog, easy way to edit or upload my photos as i went, no way to backup my photos (which meant that when i lost my sd card in prague, i lost almost all the photos from the first part of my trip, aside from the ones i’d uploaded to flickr), and no way to edit video footage. i couldn’t share any of my trip as i’d have liked to.

however, this is a me problem. a blogger problem. had i not wanted to keep up a blog during my travels, i would have been absolutely fine with just a phone and tablet, and you could be too!

my tablet was fantastic for browsing the internet, booking hostels, checking train times, and even watching movies and tv shows on long train rides. if you’re travelling europe by train specifically, there are, more often than not, plugs in the train compartments for you to use. there’s also often wifi. (please note, both of these are FAR more likely in western europe than in eastern europe) i could browse facebook, keep up with my friends, have a reasonably sized screen for skyping. my friend haley and i curled up in her bunk in paris and watched the first two captain america movies on my tablet with no trouble at all, and again when she and i went camping in scotland, we brought my tablet and watched stranger things while camped out in the woods. spooky!

if you don’t need to blog or freelance write, if you are content to edit your photos at home and just bring multiple sd cards for your camera, if you don’t shoot videos, you don’t need a laptop. in the case of needing a tool for entertainment and socialization, the tablet was perfectly effective. it’s small, lightweight, takes up little space, and is very handy. i have the 8 inch samsung galaxy tab 4, and because i got it free by opening a bank account, i wasn’t overly worried about it being damaged. however, a good alternative is the 7 inch galaxy tab 4. it’s slightly smaller, but is under $100 and is just as effective. of course, if you already have your own tablet, bring that.

naked girls in berlin

i’ve really been wanting to go to germany since i was 18 and got super into german industrial music. i’d never really formed an idea in my head of what berlin would actually be like, though. some places you picture, some you don’t.

my train arrived in the evening at berlin’s central station, the hauptbanhof. as soon as i got off the train, i realized i was in for an entirely new travel experience. up until now, on my travels, i had stayed in rome, florence, belgrade, budapest, krakow, and warsaw. all of which are large cities… but berlin is massive. previously, i’d been able to easily walk from the central stations to my hostel/accommodations. berlin was a whole new world. not only did i have to first find my way around the absolutely massive hauptbanhof, i also got thrown straight into learning how to use german public transportation. i’m glad of this, as it pushed me to be more comfortable with public transportation in strange places.

berlin has different sections. the central station is in mitte (which is very central and has a lot of tourist things and museums), i was staying in kreuzberg, which is a really, really cool neighbourhood and is a bit quieter.

after checking into my hostel, meeting one of my roommates (joonas, we’ll revisit him later), and getting settled, i went out and discovered the magic of food in germany. a lot of people say that germany is very expensive, but i found it to be quite affordable as i didn’t spend my money on nights out of any sort. also, i think the food is somehow subsidized in germany which makes it very affordable and good. the first place i went to is a really fantastic american-style diner called jack’s & lewis.  in addition to having good food, their server was a really friendly and helpful young woman from california who let me use a charging cord for my phone and the free wifi. score! also, the owner had a really cute dog named dakota who just hung out at the front of the restaurant.

all seemed well.

which is, of course, when everything goes comedically awry.

i don’t believe i’ve mentioned it yet, but, i have obsessive compulsive disorder as well as general anxiety and depression (both of which are mostly exacerbated by my OCD). my OCD, for the most part, manifests as a severe case of emetophobia. i had a period of several months where i would barely leave my apartment, and would avoid having to take public transportation at all costs, just in case someone was hungover or something and threw up on a bus. i’ve gotten a lot better since then, mostly thanks to attending university, medication (i no longer take this), and taking up LARP as a weekly hobby when i’m home in BC. but, of course, i’m not cured of it and i assume i never will be. anyway. basically this means that i’m afraid of people throwing up near me. what kinds of people tend to throw up at random in public? drunk ones. this isn’t going exactly where you probably think it is, but on we go!

so, my first night in berlin, i went out to eat, and then went back to my hostel, where i cozied into bed and watched ferris bueller on netflix. (netflix is amazing and works in every country i’ve been to so far)

at about 2-3 in the morning, i was still awake and i had the volume in my headphones turned down enough so that i could hear CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP along the hallway. i laughed to myself and the thought “sucks to be in that person’s room” literally crossed my mind. do you see where i’m going with this, dear reader?

the door burst open, slamming against the wall, and two massively fucked up people stumbled in, and i really mean stumbled. one of them fell against my bed. so now, it was late as hell, and i was trapped in a room with at least two people who were roaring drunk. remember my OCD? remember how i’m afraid of drunk people? yeah, great. i decided it would be a great time to make myself deaf to the world, so i glanced out from behind my towel (i use it as a privacy screen along the bottom bunk of bunk beds), and accidentally made eye contact with a random guy. i’ll note here that he was not a guest at the hostel (which is against the rules). he decided eye contact was a great excuse to come squat next to my bed, and move my towel to stick his head into my bunk. yikes, pal. thankfully, he quickly realized he was being a weirdo, and removed himself from my immediate vicinity.

i ducked out again to get my ear plugs out of my daybag. my fool-proof way of not being able to hear anything at all, and thus keeping myself from having anxiety attacks in certain situations, is to put my earplugs in, and then put headphones over top blasting music. the earplugs make my world nice and quiet, and the headphones cancel out any background music.

this would have been fine if tweak and tweaker had kept to themselves. but then this wouldn’t be half as hilarious of a story.

suddenly, my towel was pulled aside and a naked woman climbed into the foot of my bunk sitting on my blankets. she was staring at me and her mouth was moving, but i couldn’t hear anything she was saying. i don’t recall exactly what i said, but the gist of it, is that it went from me politely but firmly telling her to please get the fuck out of my bed, and it quickly amped its way up to me hysterically yelling at her to fuck off and get away from me. she just sort of stared at me blankly. fiiiinally, after what felt like a solid five minutes of shouting at her, but was probably just a minute tops, she got out of my bed.

… only to get back into it, still naked, a few moments later. argh! this time, i went straight to shouting, because omg there’s a crazy person in my personal space, get out get out get out. her mouth just kept moving, though, and i finally re-engaged my hearing. she wanted shower gel. i told her i didn’t have shower gel, i didn’t care that hers was lost, and to seriously get the fuck out of my bed and away from me in general. again, she finally got out of my bed, and bumbled off to the bathroom or something. i have no idea where the random dude went, but i packed up all my important, expensive things and went to the front desk about a hair away from a panic attack.

they were really lovely and made me tea and told me they’d take care of everything, which they did! they escorted me back to the room, brought me new sheets, waited while i packed my backpack, and then moved me to an empty room down the hall. a dorm room all to myself! it really was a continuation of “jordan pays for a dorm room and ends up alone” that had happened in belgrade, budapest, krakow, and warsaw. the perks of travelling in the off/shoulder season, i tell you!

so anyway, that was my ultra-bizarre first night in berlin.

the next day, i went to the east side gallery, which was a short walk from my hostel. the east side gallery is what’s left of the berlin wall. it runs along the riverbank of what used to be east-berlin, and it’s now covered in works of art.

i packed a lot of activities into my first few days in berlin because my original plans were to only stay for 4 days.

the next day, i went on a walking tour and took a lot of pictures. unfortunately, i lost my sim card in prague, so my phone pictures will have to suffice. i’m glad i took many on my phone.

the walking tour took me all over mitte and made me some new friends! on the walking tour i met rhiya (she’s from london, just graduated from oxford, and has been travelling allll over and had some really great stories to tell), and juan (he is from costa rica, but lives in germany now for work). once the tour had finished, the three of us stuck together and made our way to alexanderplatz and found a thai restaurant for dinner.

this is the holocaust memorial in berlin. it’s really profound and difficult to illustrate with just one picture. it’s very large and when you go inside, it’s like the sounds of the city fade out and you’re alone in a somber, concrete world. it’s quite vast, so even though there will be many people in the memorial with you, you won’t necessarily see them.

and the brandenburg gate on the gloomy day i did the walking tour. it’s really rather stunning up close.

here i straddle the line between east and west berlin where the wall used to stand just near checkpoint charlie.

here are juan, myself, and rhiya in alexanderplatz just near the tv tower.

and this is the funny note we left under the glass-top table of the thai restaurant.

i got a new roommate. he accidentally introduced himself as ireland instead of adrian. so we just called eachother ireland and canada for the rest of my time in berlin. he’d moved there from ireland to start a new life.

another person i met was laura! laura will feature heavily in my next post, but for now, this is laura and i. she’s from nyc, went to yale, and speaks way better german than i do.

we went to the 24hr kabab shop next to the hostel at a ridiculous time of night and i was introduced to halloumi cheese (which is the best thing ever) and ayran, which is a salty yogurt drink (which is also the best thing ever and something i drank a lot of while in europe from this point on).

the reason i stayed longer in berlin than originally planned, was because of laura! i didn’t have any easter plans, and because i’d neglected to plan ahead, pretty much everywhere in western europe was full or ridiculously expensive for the holiday. laura and i decided to travel briefly together to hamburg for easter as they have interesting traditions there in the north. more on this later, though. suffice it to say, i was in berlin for an extra three days!

which brings us back to joonas! joonas is from finland, but goes to school in scotland, and when i met him, he was studying abroad from studying abroad in barcelona. but was obviously vacationing in berlin. he was one of my original roommates from the first room i occupied. y’know. the one with the crazy naked lady. joonas and i reconnected and decided to hang out and see more of the sights. this time, it was a nicer day than it had been when i went on the walking tour. we visited the holocaust memorial and the specific gay holocaust memorial in the park across from it. lovely park, weird memorial. it’s a sort of black monolith with a video screen and inside it’s just a video of two men kissing.

here’s the park, and here’s one of my favourite pictures of the entire trip, joonas and i in front of the brandenburg gate.

while we were there, there was a very colourful public wedding nearby, so we had fun watching that!

in addition to hanging out with my friends and sightseeing, i also splurged a bit in berlin and went to the berlin dungeon. some people probably dismiss the dungeon attractions as hoaxy tourist traps, but they’re probably some of my favourite generic amusements.

if you don’t know, the dungeons are a chain of attractions with locations in amsterdam, berlin, blackpool, hamburg, london, san francisco, edinburgh, and york. it’s a sort of mashup of a haunted house, a wax museum, a history lesson, a live show, and several themepark rides. if you like history and/or jump scares, i highly recommend any one of the dungeons. i’ve only been to london and berlin so far, but i hope to expand this. it was more expensive than any other activity i did, but it was worth it.

berlin has a really special artgrime atmosphere that i loved. i would easily go back and stay for a few months in a shitty apartment, just to get to be there for a while.

leaving on the saturday with laura was definitely bittersweet.

 

warsaw gave me hell

of all the parts of my 6 month backpacking trip, i had the absolute least fun, by far, in warsaw. this is judged against being bedridden and feverish, and  50-hour train journeys. i place none of this blame on the city or people of warsaw. however, i do place the blame somewhere, we’ll get to this in a moment.

my decision to go to warsaw was purely out of laziness. my original plan was to go to berlin from krakow, but there isn’t a direct train between the two cities. there is a direct train from warsaw to berlin, however, and my rail pass allowed me to take pretty much any train i wanted, whenever i wanted, so the matter of getting from krakow to warsaw was very simple. i decided to stay three nights.

in terms of the city itself, warsaw was… it’s difficult to find the word. i could say unimpressive, i suppose? there were some aspects of it that were clearly former-communist, but those aspects were the only thing that stood out about the city. it looked like any big city anywhere. i could have been in cincinnati. this was sort of a let-down. krakow was so lovely and … polish, for lack of a better word. then i got to warsaw and it looked like anywhere, everywhere.

warsaw

anyway, the city itself isn’t the dreadful part. that was my hostel.

i arrived at my hostel in the evening. firstly, it was in an office building. and the rooms, were offices with bunk beds in them. this was weird, but not too terrible?

what was terrible, however, was the intense bed bug infestation.

this was my third experience with bed bugs. my first time was in a hostel in san diego. i had no idea what was happening, just that i was suddenly getting itchy bites all over and new ones popped up every night. i told one of the hostel workers about this, and immediately, i was switched to a new room, all of my belongings were washed and dried care of the hostel, and no one was put in that room for a week while they took care of the problem. the second time was at home in nanaimo. i’d just moved into a new apartment, and it had a left-over bed bug problem. this was, again, dealt with promptly.

the infestation in warsaw was the actual worst bed bug infestation i’d ever seen. in daylight, baby bed bugs were crawling over the blankets, fully grown bed bugs were crawling up the walls. it was undeniable and AWFUL. i immediately got out of bed, woke up my roommate (it was like 3am), told her to get all of her clothes out and ready to wash, i got all of my stuff out and ready to wash, and then i went and talked to the staff. they didn’t exactly understand what i was saying at first, but once i showed them on google, they were horrified.

again, for me personally, bed bugs at a hostel are not a complete deal breaker, depending on how they are dealt with. like, if a hostel has bed bugs, i’d rather not stay there, but if i’m staying somewhere that happens to get bed bugs and upon being notified, they deal with it straight away, that’s fine. i won’t leave them a bad review.

this hostel, on the other hand, was clearly more interested in money than in the comfort of their guests. they ran our clothes through the washer and dryer (which came with its own problems), and shuffled my roommate and i into a different (and very crowded) room right next to the other one. according to the staff i dealt with, their manager wouldn’t let them clear out the infested room(s) and just told them to put me somewhere i’d shut up, and keep going with business as usual. awful! i fell asleep as the sun was rising having just squished a bedbug with my comforter. i was too tired to care at that point.

when i woke up a few hours later, it was to a few itchy bites near my shoulder, and my roommate asking if my shoes were very small. this was, understandably confusing. are my shoes very small? what?

well, dear reader, this is the hazard of letting the hostel workers deal with your possibly infested things. they had put my (very expensive) nike free runs through the washer and dryer.

img_0374

while those LOOK like adorable free runs made for a five year old, they are not. my fucking shoes shrunk. awesome. because this hostel stay couldn’t have gotten worse before (oh, but the tribulations are not over!).

the hostel refused to deal with the bed bug problem, refused to reimburse me for my ruined shoes, and were, over all, a terrible business. i do not blame the staff at all for this as i know they were just doing what their manager told them so as not to get fired. the only way the manager said i’d get reimbursed for my shoes was if the money had come directly out of the hostel worker’s wage. and honestly, to replace those shoes would have been about a week’s worth of work for him, and i didn’t really blame him in particular. if the manager had actually dealt with the bed bug problem (since from the severity of the infestation, it’d been a problem for a while), my shoes would have been fine.

i spent that day with my first roommate first going to the mall to replace my shoes, and then going to the jewish museum.

nike free run flyknit

ta-dah, my lovely new free runs. i actually prefer these to the ones i originally had, they have much better arch support.

the jewish museum was massive, full of really amazing exhibits about jewish history and culture in poland, and we spent all afternoon and evening there. it was so big, that honestly, there was a bit too much to take in and i got overloaded with all of it, but i still really enjoyed it. as a non-practicing jew, it was all very interesting to see. it was clear that a lot of effort and care went into the museum, and i’d recommend taking a full day to look at it all for anyone interested and going to warsaw.

also, there was a cool holocaust memorial outside the museum.

holocaust memorial warsaw

when i got back to the hostel, the put me in a room far from the infested rooms, and while i didn’t get bit there, i was still not pleased. another thing i was displeased to find, was that my emergency credit card was missing. great! i called to cancel my card, and the next day, insisted upon leaving and being reimbursed. the staff were actually lovely, but oh my god. i was reimbursed, they booked a different hostel for me, and paid the difference.

my new hostel was great, but at that point, i had no more energy to even try to enjoy warsaw and i really just wanted to leave. the next day, i left for berlin. thank fuck.

warsaw

my new backpack: carry on only and overpacking

when i left for my six month trip around europe last spring, i brought with me a 50L osprey backpack. i thought i was packing light for a trip of that length and scale. three seasons, seventeen countries, one end of europe to the other.

having finished the european leg of my journeying, i’ve come to the conclusion that, a. my bag was the perfect size, and at least half of the stuff i brought with me was perfect, and b.  i packed WAY too much stuff.

i don’t regret this, as it made me very, very strong from carrying my bag through every city, hoisting it onto overheads on trains, running to catch trains with it, and carrying it up countless flights of stairs in hostels. but packing and unpacking it was a hassle and a lot of it was just stuff i simply didn’t need.

moose, i named my backpack moose, was the perfect bag for my trip. perfect for getting around mainland europe, and then when i ended up spending my last two months in ireland backpacking around and camping, i couldn’t have imagined a more perfect packpack. that’s where moose really shines, as a camping bag. i recently went on a camping trip to scotland and used moose and it was perfect.

however, my upcoming trips call for something a bit different. in a little over a week, i’m heading to the states to visit my mom and hometown for a few months for the first time in… years probably, and then around the end of january, i’ll be flying off to southeast asia for three months. there is no way in hell i’m lugging a 50L backpack around southeast asia. as such, i’ve gotten a new backpack to take on my adventures.

goose is a 36L osprey kyte. i’ve decided to go minimalist and try carry on only. it was never a goal until i lugged a 50L backpack and 25L daypack around europe. in addition, i got a new daypack, also from osprey. it’s an ultralight stuffable backpack that just folds up into its own pocket that i can stuff into goose. this way, i won’t be tempted to bring more than 36L maximum of stuff. the daypack is mostly for separating off a few things to bring on trips while i leave my main backpack locked in a hostel.

i’ve also greatly downsized my cosmetics bag. on my trip around europe i brought an unwieldy, oversize box-like bag, and stuffed it to the brim. sure, i used everything in it at least once, but i didn’t need it all. therein lies the difference. i’ve already gotten a far smaller fold-up cosmetic bag and i can’t wait to see how little i can manage to bring with me. it should present a challenge, but I’m certain i’ll be fine.

push-button showers and paczki in poland

paczki and tea

i’ve decided to try a different way of blogging. one that is more anecdotal and less a dry chunk of text describing my every moment and activity in each place i visited. so away we go… i believe i left off in budapest.

i decided to save money and daylight by taking the night train (this will become a noticeable theme) out of budapest. the best thing about night trains is that you can often get a compartment to yourself, and, if you’re lucky, the compartment will have adjustable seats that can be turned into a bed. then again, if you’ve got the compartment to yourself, it hardly matters as it’s fairly easy to just stretch out across all 3 seats. no one bothers you.

the only event of note was that at around 3 or 4 am, i was notified by the conductor that i would have to change trains. not only was this not on my reservation slip, it was also not indicated on the eurail app. so it came as a complete, and rather unwelcome, surprise. but anyway, twelve minutes later, i was standing on a train platform ~somewhere~ in the middle of the night. i found my way into the train station and decided that in addition to having no idea where i was, i didn’t even know what country i was in! the station was old and dingy and fairly empty. the doors scraped against the floor when you tried to open them, and the only place that showed any sign of life was the bar that was still crowded and in full swing at around 4 in the morning. i went in to use the bathrooms, and while i was at it, inquired as to what country i was even in.

the czech republic! of all places. i’m still not sure what city i was in exactly, but i had an odd hour sitting in that train station in the middle of the night.

anyway, i eventually got back on a train to krakow and was speeding along into poland. the train to krakow goes through what used to be called auschwitz. i had considered going there to see what’s left of the camps, but looking out the train at about 7am across the bleak polish countryside, i decided i rather didn’t want to.

the polish countryside looks like a place that has experience misery. it’s beautiful, of course, in its own way, but it really does look bleak and miserable.

when i arrived in krakow, finally, it was snowing! for some reason the weather in the UK and the places i’d been so far in europe had lulled me into a sort of false sense of winter. in which i was aware that it was march, but for some reason thought i’d be fine in just a hoodie. one of the first things i did in krakow was to pick up a fleece.

my hostel, (the orange hostel, if you must know) was mostly lovely. the only unfortunate things about it were the seemingly never-ending steps i had to climb to reach it (later on in my trip, i would have laughed at this complaint, but this was still early days and my bag was heavy and i just wasn’t as buff as i am now) and… the push-button showers.

push-button showers are like the more sadistic version of push-button sinks. they turn on for about 20 seconds, and then they go off again and the water somehow cools down in the half a second time it takes you to press the button again. this was my first encounter with push-button showers, but it would not be my last. and it certainly was not the worst shower i experienced in my travels (just wait for athens!).

krakow is lovely and picturesque and exactly what i always thought poland would look like (this in contrast to warsaw, but that’s another tale for another time).

krakow, poland

i did a self-guided walking wander through the old town, which was lovely, if very rainy that day.

my favourite part of krakow was the food. my first night, i treated myself and went to a really fancy restaurant and had a four course dinner and it came out to less than i usually spend at tim hortons. and they had wi-fi!

after that, i decided i needed sustenance for later and spent about $6 at a bakery, which involved getting a ridiculous amount of pastry-type things. they were all delicious, by the way.

i discovered something about paczki! i’ve been saying it the wrong way for my entire life.

where i grew up, fat tuesday is occasionally referred to as “paczki day”. that is pronounced ‘pawnch-key’ in the native polish. paczki are nice fat round donuty things full of some sort of jelly. the traditional ones are orange with rose jelly. at home, i usually get strawberry or lemon filling. on my first morning in poland, i went on a grand odyssey to find fresh paczki. managed it! they were delicious and i got two for about fifty cents. amazing!

krakow's main square

homesick + wanderlust