What every writer dreads – writer’s block. It has finally hit. I am having a hard time sitting down to write for this blog now that I am home. When you’re not travelling every day, you are sometimes hard pressed to find inspiration.
So you make your own.
The past few weeks have been endless attempts to find adventure in my own backyard – hanging out with friends and exploring my home.
I’ve done more hikes, some outdoor climbing, built forts, played with my dog, and begun to get my life in order. School is just around the corner. Literally. I start on Wednesday. I’m excited but terrified to start my final semester. It’s going to be an interesting semester. I’m taking 2 history classes – one is on theory and perspective of the past, while the other focuses entirely on the Holocaust. Both are going to be super interesting, especially after my Epic Euro Trip adventures. I’m also taking an anthropology class on religions around the world, and a media and communications class about Canada.
With all these classes and working, I’m going to be quite busy.
Which brings me to some other news: I got a new job! I’m very excited to say that I will be working as a blog editor for the Study Abroad office at my university. It is the best of both worlds – writing and editing a blog about something that is very special to me. I’m looking forward to being in touch with other students who have studied abroad or are right now, and to encounter other institutions that my university is partnered with. Once it’s up and running, I will definitely tweet a link or something.
Over the next little while, I’m not entirely sure what will happen with this blog. I really want to continue it, but with no travelling or adventuring during school, posts may be further and farther in between. I imagine that I will probably be posting about once a month if I am able to.
For now, I’m going to focus on school and my two jobs, trying to keep busy. Hopefully, I will be able to save up enough money for a trip after graduation or another Euro Trip soon. Once the travel bug bites, it tends to stick pretty close.
“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” – Nora Roberts.
It’s funny. When you’re young, you don’t realize how quickly things in your life can change. Opinions, situations, events, even people are all subject to the ultimatum of change.
Coming home, I had thought I knew what to expect. After all my time away, I was definitely excited to be stationary again, see all of my friends and family who I had missed for six and a half months. I was interested in sharing my adventures and stories, and many people wanted to hear them. And so, after all my time away, I am safely at home.
I am so lucky to have experienced and seen so many amazing things. I lived in another country, on another continent. I travelled through 12 countries, multiple cities, and have seen many famous sites. I am even more grateful that I met and experienced all of these things with such amazing people.
I already wrote about everyone that I met in Ireland. I am thankful to now have these amazing people in my life, and hopefully we will stay in touch (sorry, it’s a fear of mine). But I know that I will see them again. And then there was my trip with my brother and Kirstin. Of course we had our ups and downs, but we had such a great time. We have so many hilarious stories and memories from the great places we traveled to and the wonderful people we met!
But to be honest, being home is quite different from what I expected.
Everyone has been very kind, asking me questions about my trips and experiences. It has been fun telling my stories and adventures. I think people don’t realize sometimes though, that it is hard to explain exactly how study abroad can change your life when you haven’t experienced it. Sometimes, it feels like people expect me to be the same person, other times they tell me how much they see that I’ve changed. It’s interesting to see different reactions.
And again, being honest, it is hard to come home to the exact same situation you left when you are no longer the same. How could I be the same person after these amazing experiences?
Since being home, I have tried to stay busy. Staying home gives you far too much time to think.
Upon arriving home, my cousin was going to be married – and I was a bridesmaid in the wedding! It was a very nice wedding, and I had a lot of fun. Riding in a limo with my cousins and their friends, taking a million pictures in the ridiculous heat, dancing to great and terrible songs with friends and family, and just having a pretty fun night! It was nice to see two people I have known for so long, completely happy and ready to spend the rest of their lives together. Congrats Brent and Vee, I wish you tons of happiness in your new life and home!
Last week, I tried to spend some time in the beautiful outdoors of my home province! I met up with Brit for a day of hiking in Cypress Provincial Park. We had a great time hiking, catching up. Even though the view was completely covered by clouds and fog, it was a really fun hike! We got to catch a great view on the way down the mountain as well. We went into Vancouver to have dinner and walk along the inlet. It was such a great day!
With one day in between, I went hiking again! This time, I went hiking closer to my home, in Golden Ears Provincial Park. I went with my friend, Christy, who I have been friends with for basically my entire life. It was great to be able to spend so much time outdoors these past two weeks, as I had definitely missed my mountains in the time I was gone.
We had an amazing time catching up, and hiking through our beautiful rain forests and mountains. And the rain forest was in full swing that day, as it was absolutely pouring rain while we hiked. By the end of the day, we were completely soaked through! Of course, this meant a stop at probably one of our favourite food enterprises, the classic Canadian Tim Hortons! I was glad to go back to my Timmies hot chocolate – typically Canadian, right!?
Two other exciting things that have happened: I spent a day outdoor climbing with Christy in Squamish’s Smoke Bluffs, and I went to the Imagine Dragons concert. The climbing day was perfect, as my first outdoor day of the season. We got in some great climbs, new ones to both of us, and I scraped up my knuckles like a true climber. (The photos are Christy’s.) The concert was absolutely amazing! Definitely one of the top concerts that I have been to (which are few in numbers…). Christy, Zach and I had a great time, rocking out to the songs and yelling along at the top of our lungs. If you’re a fan of the band, definitely see them in concert!
Work and plans have thankfully kept me busy, and the wonderful technology of today’s century has allowed me to keep in touch with my amazing friends who are now so far away. With one semester left to go in my degree, I know that I will stay quite busy for the upcoming months. After that, who knows! I am constantly asked what I plan to do with my degree and future, but I am still kind of unsure. I have a lot to think about and plan.
Over the next little while, I will stay put in my hometown, working and finishing my degree. Once I’m done, who knows where I’ll be! I definitely hope to have more amazing adventures and travels to be able to write about, hopefully sooner than later. For now, there’s no place like home!
“Actually, the best thing you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures…” – Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Here it is. My final post from my trip, exploring my last adventures in Europe. The story I shall begin with is called “Helltrain,” as named by a few of us who were trapped on this train for many hours.
We boarded a train from Berlin to Amsterdam, excited for the next adventure. We were expecting a six and a half hour journey, our longest train ride yet. We were actually excited, settling in for the long journey. After a couple hours of relaxing, the journey quickly went downhill.
The air conditioning broke in our train car, causing a significant climate change within the very full car. After passing out some free water, we were notified that we should move to another part of the train. So, we crammed into another train car with multiple people – only for that air conditioning to break as well and we were forced to move yet again.
Sitting in a car completely packed with people, we began chatting with some guys sitting and standing near us. Brandon and Levi, who were from Texas. Brandon spoke German and began to translate for us. It was extremely helpful, seen as the people decided that the tourists might not need to understand anything they were saying over the speakers. In short, they told everyone to get off the train. While we were not near our stop. In some random area.
After finding out that we were actually in Rheine, we ventured to find someone who could help us figure out how to get to our final destination of Amsterdam. We hung out with Brandon and Levi, and got new information for which train to get on. We would have to take a train back in the direction we came from in order to catch another train to Amsterdam.
So, taking two more trains with free water, heat, and good conversation, we finally arrived in Amsterdam. What should have taken six and a half hours, turned into a more than ten hour day with a great story. You know, after we survived it and began to create great jokes about it. We left the guys at the station for all of us to find our accommodations.
Our apartment was only a few minutes’ walk from the station, and was also quite close to Dam Square and multiple other places. With a very steep staircase, we got to our room. It was quite nice and comfortable! We loved our location. But to be honest, we were so exhausted that we all had showers and fell asleep early.
The next morning was our first full day in Amsterdam. We got up, had a quick bite to eat, and headed to our first destination: renting bikes! We rented bikes and headed out on our adventure. I was very excited to be doing something so stereotypical and touristy.
I led Zach and Kirstin to Vondelpark, and we rode our bikes around the beautiful park. It took so much less time riding our bikes than when I walked it last time! I was so excited to be in Amsterdam again, as I had loved the city the first time, too.
We continued down to Museumplein, stopping at the iconic ‘iamsterdam’ sign, and looking at the amazing buildings for the museums. We then stopped to wander around the Flower Market before deciding that we were all quite tired from the previous day. So, we went back to the apartment and had a siesta for a bit.
Upon waking up refreshed, we contacted our new friends and decided to meet for dinner. We also invited another new friend, Josue. We had met him in Prague, and had ended up in the same cities since. He brought his brother, Juan, and another friend along. With a big group, we had a great dinner at a kitschy little restaurant and drank some beers. It was fun!
Kirstin and some others wanted to see the Red Light District, so we walked to the other side of the city to see it at night. It is exactly what you would expect – super crowded with drunken people everywhere, red lights and girls, and lots of coffee shops. After wandering through the insane crowds and having a lot of laughs at the ridiculous stag parties, we headed to another area to hang out at a bar. We had some drinks, some laughs, and then laughed even harder when we realized we had forgotten that it was Canada Day. Suffice to say, we did not really celebrate, but it was great fun.
The next day, I got up early and headed to the train station to meet my friend Bert. We hadn’t seen each other in over a month and I was excited! It was crazy to hang out in Amsterdam without our other travel buddies though. 😉
After getting Zach and Kirstin, we went out for brunch to try pannekoeken, Dutch pancakes. I ate one with apples and syrup, and it was delicious! It was a great start to our day. We wandered around Dam Square and saw the Red Light District in the day time. It was kinda gross, just in the way that there was garbage everywhere. We went back to the Flower Market, wandering through and buying souvenirs.
We walked to the other side of the city again – this seems like a common act in Amsterdam – and found a short line for the Anne Frank House. I was ecstatic and made everyone wait in line right away. Usually, the line is longer than 2 hours, but we only had to wait for 45 minutes.
The experience was extremely interesting and moving. I had always wanted to be able to walk through the Anne Frank House. It was amazing. We walked through the various rooms that they hid in, saw multiple artifacts. I was able to see the pictures that Ms. Frank herself had posted on the wall of her shared room, and the numerous versions of her diary in original handwriting. It was amazing to see that these had survived through so many terrible things. It was an incredible experience.
After the Anne Frank House, we grabbed something to eat before beginning some more wandering. Our last adventure of the day was to go on a canal cruise, similar to the one I had taken the previous time in Amsterdam. It was a lot of fun, to see it when the sun was setting. We also learned a lot about Amsterdam and the canals, and I listened to part of it this time – mostly because it was coming from a speaker instead of an older gentleman with a raspy voice. We grabbed a drink and then decided to turn in for the night, as we were all quite tired.
The next morning, we all headed to the train station. We said goodbye to Bert and boarded our train. It was hard to yet again say goodbye to another one of my great friends from Ireland. It was even harder when it became a repeat of saying goodbye to Carlos, and Bert boarded the train on the track beside us. Thanks, Bert, for making the trek to hang out with us for a day. It was a lot of fun!
We got to Sloterdijk station where we would catch our bus. And another snag in our travels occurred. I began to stress out a bit as I couldn’t access our bus tickets electronically on my phone. The bus had not arrived yet (it ended up being quite late), so I could not speak to the bus driver about it either. A kind older gentleman who was working at the station saw that I was stressed. He offered to let me print the tickets from their computer. Fearing for myself a little, I followed him through a few key-activated doors and down a hallway where he set me up at a computer in their break room. I was incredibly thankful for the kindness of allowing me to print the tickets that I had messed up on.
Our bus ride wasn’t too bad, and we arrived in Brussels. Again on familiar turf, I led Zach and Kirstin to the hostel we would be staying in. Which, funnily enough, turned out to be under construction. I guess that was a great culmination of our entire trip. Many sites had been under construction, so it was a little funny when our final hostel was the construction site. Something, probably a roof shingle, even fell from above. It was some great irony for one of the last cities of our trip.
We checked into our hostel, and set out to explore Brussels for our only partial day in the city. I led them to Grand Place, the main square. It was just as pretty as I remembered. Except it was louder this time, with a handball game occurring in the middle of the square. It was entertaining! It was also fun to see if they could pick out the building that is unsymmetrical. We found Mannekin Pis in the rain, ate frites and waffles, bought chocolates, and wandered the great city to see the cathedral and pretty views. It was a lot of fun to hang out in our last city of our travels.
The next day, we caught a train to the airport and got checked in for our flight. Not very long, a little bumpy on landing, and an hour time change later, we were landed back safely in my beautiful Ireland. Kirstin and I walked to pick up my giant suitcase that had been stored at a hotel in Dublin. The man scared me when he began to use his Irish sarcasm to joke that my suitcase was not there. After collecting it and meeting back up with Zach, we caught a bus into Dublin. Kirstin’s dad had been generous enough to use some Honour points to give us a night at the Hilton for the last stay of our trip. It was incredibly nice and we were extremely thankful to be able to stay in a nice room, with comfortable beds, and somewhere that we could print off all the tickets for our flights (plus free hot cookies upon arrival – yum!).
From the hotel, we set out to spend our last night in the city. We walked to Temple Bar, where we picked up a few more souvenirs and ate some delicious burritos at Pablo Picante. We met up with my friend, Raul, to go to a few pubs to finish the trip right. Raul had been living in Dublin and led us easily through the streets and across the Liffey to a really cool pub – The Church. Yes, you read that right. It is a church that was converted into a pub. There is a bar in the middle, and a pipe organ at the back. It was such a cool place to be!
Our next stop was The Porterhouse. Probably one of my favourite pubs that I have ever been to. There was an awesome live band, yet again, and we got to have one last, Irish craft brew on tap. We had a lot of fun before moving on to our last destination, THE Temple Bar.
Somehow, I had not been to The Temple Bar itself, only in the area multiple times. So, for my final Guinness, on tap in Ireland, I went to the most famous pub in Dublin. I was not disappointed, as I found music, a fun atmosphere, and great company to hang out with. My only dislike of the bar: it was all tourists. I think the only Irish person was the guy working the bar that I ordered my pint from.
I said goodbye to Raul and thanked him for spending the last night of our trip with us. It was great to see him before going home! I wish him luck as he stays in Ireland, working and travelling Europe, and safe travels home! We walked back to the hotel and crashed into our amazingly comfortable beds.
The next morning, we caught a bus to the airport. We had to split up, as we were all taking different flights to get to Heathrow to fly home. So, while Zach and Kirstin got dropped off at one terminal, I went to another. We all made it through security and waited for our flights. Zach was first to leave, followed by me, and Kirstin last. My flight was wonderfully comfortable. However, I do have to admit that as I looked out the window and saw the coast of England, I teared up a little, knowing that my trip and time in Ireland were both over.
After a little trouble, Zach and I made it through security in London and set out to find Kirstin. Panicking, as our flight got closer to departure, we headed to the gate to see if she was there. The panic grew as boarding was starting and we couldn’t find her anywhere. Because her phone had broken, we had no way of getting a hold on her. Luckily, the universe was on our side, and she showed up just in time. We boarded the plane and began our journey home… after an hour delay on the runway.
The flight was 9 hours long. Thankfully, there were movies and shows to keep us occupied as we were sitting in different parts of the plane – Zach just behind me, and Kirstin on the opposite side of the plane. The two people I was between were friendly, and we talked for a while, passing the time. I also watched Into the Woods, and tried to watch the final Hobbit movie, but fell asleep merely ten minutes in. In my defense, I was very tired. And oddly enough, the food was pretty good!
We had a great landing, despite the recent forest fires in the area. Thankfully, the airport is close to the coast and the smoke is mostly cleared away there. After quickly finding our bags, it was time to be reunited with our families. There were lots of hugs and hellos, quick anecdotes about the crazy travel day, and I had to get my Tim Hortons Iced Cappuccino before we piled into the car. Despite it technically being far too early in the morning for us in European time, we had to stay awake to adjust our clocks. At home, I unpacked some things and talked to my parents for a bit, before crashing and sleeping for twelve amazing hours.
I have now been home for over a week, and it is definitely weird. I had expected to have culture shock, but perhaps the truth is I am experiencing reverse culture shock. Soon, I will write a post about it.
And there you have it. My entire trip has been put into words for you, in an attempt to document for myself and anyone who might read this. It has definitely been a moving and interesting journey, from living in Ireland to backpacking Europe for the first time. I am incredibly grateful for these amazing experiences and know that they have helped shape who I am now. And I apologize for the multiple references to pubs and alcohols. It’s a different culture towards alcohol in Europe from here.
As for this blog, I plan to continue it in any way that I can. Although my adventures at home may never be as grand as those abroad, I am not going to let that stop me from finding new adventures here. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m excited.
“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.” [Pinterest]
After a bus for a few hours, we arrived in Prague. Budapest and Vienna had both surprised us, and Prague was destined to do the same. We all knew very little about Prague. I had learned a little through a class about dictatorships, reading a biography in class that had an impact on me. (If you’re into history, it is called Under a Cruel Star by Heda Margolius Kovaly. Her story is extremely moving.)
Needless to say, I had no idea what to expect from Prague. It surprised me and quickly topped my list of favourite cities.
The first day, we got in to Prague in the afternoon. We checked into our amazing hostel. It was a 17th century palace that had been converted into a hostel, and is a UNESCO protected site. It was great – the bathroom was huge, and the room was comfortable! Zach wanted to rest, but Kirstin and I decided to explore.
We walked down close to the river and found the Lennon Wall. It was really interesting to see the artwork and graffiti that covers the wall, with most of it relating to the Beatles. There are quotes, song lyrics, drawings and more. It was fun to take pictures in front of! We then stopped at a little market area for some amazing local food. It was a fun area to wander!
After dropping off some food for Zach, we ventured up the large hill to get amazing views of the city. We then tried to find the castle – only to find a lot of construction across the entire front of it. We wandered the grounds, and got to see the outside of the beautiful cathedral. And of course, the views of Prague below were spectacular. We knew that this would be yet another city that we would love.
The next day, we got up to go on a walking tour of the city. We overheard some other people in our hostel discussing how they were all going on the tour as well. We all started talking and went to the tour together. Hector and Sofia were cousins from Mexico, and Denise was studying abroad from Hong Kong.
The walking tour was great – we saw so many different parts of the city! The astronomical clock, the Jewish museum and cemetery, the castle (from afar), statues and buildings. There is so much history within the city. It was made even better by our hilarious Czech guide. We also made another friend on the tour – Jamie from England. We now had a large group of us, and we all decided to hang out after the tour as well.
We all went to the Jewish museum and cemetery. It was extremely interesting. Within one of the buildings, there are all of the names of the Jews who were persecuted in the Holocaust, including their homes, families, and any dates known. Like the multitude of tombstones within the enormous cemetery, it was overwhelming, yet moving. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to walk through and take in all of it.
Being hungry, we ended up at the market that Kirstin and I had eaten at the previous night. We all grabbed various foods, before walking to a park around the corner. We sat in the grass, relaxing and chatting. It was great fun to just hang out with new people, getting to know each other. We decided to keep hanging out.
We found a restaurant to eat at after a lot of indecision. The food was delicious, and the company was great. We had fun hanging out and chatting. After dinner, we decided to venture into a well-known club in Prague – Karlovy Lazne Club. Basically, it is a five-story club with each level being a different kind of music. It was definitely an adventure! We all had a great night, dancing and shouting out old and new songs at the top of our lungs.
We had a little bit of a late start the next morning. We all ended up meeting again to explore more of Prague together. Our first stop was the castle, to see the grounds and the amazing views. We took a ton of pictures and marvelled at the amazing cathedral. Kirstin and I led the others to the Lennon Wall, where we took some amazing pictures and goofed off for a while. We then crossed the river for gelato and exploration of the city. We found a cool candy shop, and stopped in multiple souvenir stores. We just had fun exploring.
Another site we found was the metronome on the edge of the river. It is a massive metronome. I’m not sure if there is really a point to it. But, from the top of the hill it stands on, there is also an amazing view of the city. We had so many great views and pictures in one day, so many memories and moments captured. It was such a great day.
After splitting up for a bit, we reconnected to find the “dancing building” that Kirstin had wanted to see. It is an abstract building that is supposed to look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing. I think we saw it? I’m not too great with the abstract – haha! It started to rain on us, so we decided to take the metro a little more than before. We were going to go out for dinner, but decided instead to make dinner at the hostel. It was fun to relax and hang out before saying goodbye to some great new friends.
The following day, we boarded a train to Berlin. I was very excited for Berlin! There are so many sights to see for someone who loves history. But, our very first day we arrived late. After checking into our hostel and having a short siesta, we had to do some laundry – last laundry stop for the final stretch home! We then turned in early that night.
For our first day in Berlin, I was somehow given the task of picking which sights would be our first stops in Berlin. I was so excited. I decided that we should head to the main area of history. So, we took the S-Bahn train to Brandenburg Gate, where we saw the gate and the Reichstag itself. I wish we could have gone into the Reichstag! But it was great to see it from the outside even, as I was able to see something I had studied and heard about for so long. If you do not know, the top of the Reichstag is a glass dome, symbolizing the openness of the past and current government – that there are no secrets, everything is out in the open. It basically represents the opposite of the past regimes of Germany.
Our next stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Personally, pictures had never done this monument justice, and I do not believe they can. The feeling of standing within these variously sized cement blocks is indescribable – to go from blocks that look like benches to being dwarfed by the height of your surroundings, feeling trapped. It is truly amazing and humbling.
We also found the memorial to the murdered homosexuals and gypsies. It is so important to remember that Jews were not the only people persecuted in the Holocaust, there were so many others who were singled out because of one aspect of who they were. We walked to the site of the Fuhrerbunker, and wandered Tiergarten to find the monument to the Russian soldiers. We found a mall and ended up in a square where a small section of the wall remains as a memory.
I then was able to visit the Topography of Terror, an outdoor museum that I had heard of from a history professor. Along a piece of the wall and remains of buildings used by the Gestapo and SS (secret police forces), history, pictures, and propaganda are displayed for people to learn the truth of the events which occurred with the city of Berlin and all of Germany itself. We also saw Checkpoint Charlie, one of the remaining checkpoints for crossing between East and West Berlin. Before turning in, after a long day of exploring, we stopped for “currywurst” and walked to the TV Tower.
For our second day in Berlin, we ended up splitting up. Zach and I headed out of the center of Berlin to a surrounding area while Kirstin stayed in the city. Zach and I wanted to have the full history experience, so we left the main city center to visit the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. It was a moving experience that I am grateful for. We saw the barracks where the people were held, the memorial to those who died, the remains of the buildings, and the pit where many were executed. This camp was also used during the Communist regime, as a ‘special camp’ for prisoners of the SS. It was an incredible experience for someone who has studied these events and places for so long.
For our final day, we walked the entirety of the East Side Gallery – the longest section of the Berlin Wall that remains. The artwork was amazing. I wondered how old some of it was, and I was sad to see that others had put graffiti overtop of it. The history was amazing. We also wandered across a bridge to see the Molecule Man. I’m still not entirely sure what it is or what the point was, but apparently it was on a list of things we should see in Berlin.
We basically just wandered the city after that before doing a little shopping and meeting some friends for drinks. We had made some friends in Prague – two French girls and Josue from the USA. We had a night out at the Hard Rock Cafe, after finding it in so many cities for Zach to collect souvenirs. We had a great night!
The next morning was the start of a long day. I think I will leave that for the next post though, as it will probably be a long story.
Ich ben ein Berliner! 😉
So, with one last flight for a little while, we left the beautiful land of Italy and headed to Budapest, Hungary! We were all super excited to begin our explorations of some of the countries that we didn’t know as much about. And as I mentioned in my last post, I was extremely excited to meet my friend Kitty!
We caught a bus and then a metro into the city from the airport, and I was overwhelmed with excitement when I got off the metro and spotted Kitty! It was great to see her again after a month. She came with us to check into our hostel, we all settled our stuff in, and then we set out to explore with our very own Hungarian guide.
First stop: a tradition of the youth of Budapest – to drink in the park at Daag Square! We grabbed some beers and champagne, and found a spot on the grass. It was crazy to be drinking in public, but it is legal there. It was kind of fun to have that experience, as the only other place I had done that was in Belgium. We walked through the city to the beautiful Danube River, or Duma in Hungarian. It was beautiful, and it was just turning to dusk, so the sun was low on the horizon and the sky looked amazing.
We walked across Chain Bridge – the English translation of a Hungarian name that I cannot spell or pronounce – and headed up a very large hill to the palace grounds above. From there, we had an amazing view of the Danube and the city of Budapest beyond. I was overwhelmed and fell in love with the city immediately. It quickly continued to climb the charts as one of my favourite cities that we visited!
Continuing along, Kitty led us to a beautiful church on the hill, and the famous Fisherman’s Tower that also overlooked the city. We went onto the walls connecting to the tower, and got to see the city come to life at night. It was stunning. Budapest lit up at night would rival Paris in my books, as the bridges along the Danube are lit up and look amazing!
After walking back down the hill, Kitty had to catch a train home – but not before she dropped us off at an amazing restaurant! We got to have a great, traditional Hungarian meal for our first night in Budapest. The food was delicious and we all got to try something different. I ate a bean soup, some salad and a pork dish before having a coffee.
The next day, June 20th, we took Kitty’s advice and checked out some places in Budapest that had to do with Hungarian history. I was quite interested, as I honestly did not know a lot about Budapest’s history. Our education started the previous night, with Kitty showing us around and explaining some of the history of the kings and important people. It continued when we visited the House of Terror. The museum explained Hungarian history in reference to the Communist influence. Terrible events happened within Budapest, specifically within the building of the museum. It was humbling to read through the various tragedies that had taken place, learning how greatly Hungary had been affected by the atrocities as well.
Our next step was to visit Heroes Square, where countless statues had been erected to commemorate various kings and leaders in Hungary. We honestly didn’t know who any of them were, and so we decided to have a little fun by posing like some of the statues. Later, Kitty told us who they were and why they were important to the Hungarian people. It was very interesting! We wandered a park, and even found a castle.
We went back to our hostel to relax for a little bit before catching a train out to one of the islands of Budapest. In short, Kitty’s dad owns a restaurant, and we were invited to go there for dinner. It was amazing! We got to experience true Hungarian culture through traditional music, folk dancing, and a traditional 3-course meal. And we got to experience it all with Kitty and her boyfriend, Attila. It was a lot of fun, and we all had a great time. The food was amazing and the show was brilliant! Thank you to the Ronyais for the amazing experience – we are very grateful and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, learning more about your culture!
The following day, we decided to first explore a market that was very close to our hostel. We had been to markets in a few other cities, but this one was very different. It was indoors, two floors, and was massive. We couldn’t believe how much was inside this building, and we took our time looking through and buying a few souvenirs. The food was delicious as well, whether dessert or savory.
We walked along the Danube, as it was a beautiful day. The views across the river were stunning, and we were slightly jealous of the many people on boats. We decided to walk down to the Parliament buildings, and stumbled on the memorial for Jews along the river. On the edge of the river, there are various sculpted shoes which are a reminder and memorial to the Jews who were shot into the Danube during the Holocaust. It was humbling to see, specifically the little baby shoes. There is something unsettling about abandoned shoes sometimes, especially in this scenario.
We made it to the Parliament buildings and took pictures of them in the daylight. They were quite beautiful. We hopped on a random tram to take us into the city, and got off at a random stop. We found a street food which Kitty had stressed that we must try – called Kurtoskalacs. There are many accents that are supposed to be on that word, and I would never attempt to try to say it, but the food itself was delicious! Basically, it is a spiral breaded dessert covered in cinnamon or other things.
That night we were meeting up with Kitty and Attila one last time, to go out for another Hungarian dinner. Unfortunately, the place that we had wanted to go to was full, so we found another place called the Trofea Grill. It is a genius place – you pay the equivalent of 20 euros (except in the Hungarian currency of Forent) and you can eat and drink as much as you like! We got to have traditional Hungarian foods again, plus we could pick and choose other things as well. We had a lot of fun, all getting to talk and know each other better. It was a great night – and I was super sad to say goodbye to Kitty at the end. Thank you so much for everything! You were an amazing tour guide, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you and Attila. Again, thank you!
Our last day in Budapest turned a little odd. Zach really wasn’t feeling well, so he decided to stay in for the day. We had planned to go to an exit game, what we call an escape room at home. They are extremely popular in Hungary (correct me if I’m wrong, but I think they originated there?). But, with him not feeling well, we didn’t want to chance it. Kirstin met some people in the hostel that she wanted to hang out with, while I wanted to explore a little on my own.
I went to Margaret Island, looking at the park and walking along the Danube from a different angle. It was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed the walk! I met up with Kirstin after, and we decided to walk around the city for a while. We went to the basilica and the Jewish synagogue. The basilica was beautiful both inside and out, but we didn’t want to pay to go inside the synagogue. It has been very interesting to me, travelling through Europe, that to enter some churches you must pay.
We went back to the hostel and made an odd dinner for ourselves. Somehow we were able to cook a breakfast-for-dinner with merely a pot and microwave. So, we had eggs, beans, and toast. And palinka – an alcohol made only in Hungary. It was definitely not a good combination, but it was our last night and we were not going to leave Hungary without trying it.
The next day, we rushed to the bus to get to Vienna, scared that we were about to miss it. It was extremely hard to find where we were meant to catch it. After finally finding the area, we were told that our bus had broken down before it got to us, and we wouldn’t be leaving until 3pm. So, left with an extra 4 hours in Budapest, we shed our heavy backpacks and headed back into the city.
We ended up wandering a mall for a while, and then going back to the market because we had enjoyed it so much. We bought some last minute souvenirs for ourselves and friends before catching our bus. The bus was honestly the nicest one I have ever been on in my life – there were tv screens in the seats which let you watch movies, and free tea and coffee were offered…! The time passed quickly with me finishing two movies. Honestly, that night we didn’t really do anything.
We got up the next morning ready to explore Vienna. We headed out and ended up at some church simply because we had seen a dome rising above the other buildings. We were pointed to the concert hall and Opera buildings. Vienna is a center in Europe for classical music, so it was very interesting seeing all the buildings and areas that incorporated it.
We got lost a few times in Vienna, even though we had maps. Streets were just difficult to find or were not on our map and it got frustrating at times – but never as bad as Venice! Cafes of Vienna are famous and a large part of the culture. Certain cafes even have history. We eventually found Café Central, reported to have been visited by Lenin and Trotsky. We couldn’t even get in the door because it was so crowded and packed with tourists.
Kirstin wanted to go to a museum, so we split up. Zach and I went exploring through the city, shopping and looking at various things. We also found Café Hawelka, a place my friend had recommended. It was rumoured to have been visited by Hitler himself. We didn’t actually venture inside, as we didn’t have time, but it was interesting to see. That night we all met up and had dinner close to our hostel, in the Nasch Markt. It wasn’t typical Viennese food, but it was delicious!
Our last day in Vienna, June 24th, was probably my favourite day. We met up with a friend of Zach’s, Johanna, and her roommate, Claudia. They both live just outside of Vienna and were nice enough to come into the city to show us around! The first place we went to was the Haus of Meeres – it was an aquarium! It was so cool, with it being 11 stories! I had never been in an aquarium like that before. We saw so many different kinds of fish, monkeys and birds, and had a great time. It was nice to do something that was just fun! And we got a great view of Vienna from the top of the building.
We stopped for lunch in Nasch Markt, and Zach and I got to try bratwurst. The girls said it wasn’t the best, but we enjoyed it, not really knowing different! We bought a few things in the market, and then hopped on the metro to head out of the city.
Just outside of the city is the amazing Schloss Shoenbrunn, a beautiful palace. We arrived and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the grounds and building. The inside was just as grand. We wandered around inside using an audio guide to tell us the history. It was a lot at once and honestly I don’t remember most of it. There were very rich and important people who lived there, and the rooms had names that told you exactly how they looked: the mirror room, the red room, etc.
Back in the heart of Vienna, we went shopping! My shoes had broken in the back, and I was in a lot of pain wearing them. So, long story short, I ended up buying a new pair of shoes. We spent some time trying to find a souvenir shop, and then couldn’t find somewhere to eat. We ended up finding a good place for traditional food, getting to try schnitzel and a drink called hugo. It was all delicious!
We said goodbye to Johanna and Claudia, and headed back to our hostel, as we had an early train the next morning. Thank you so much girls for coming to meet us and showing us around the city. We had such a great time and are very thankful for the experience!
Thank you to everyone who has met us on our travels! You made our experiences so much better.
Next stop: Prague! But this post is long now, so I’ll save some stories for later.
Bye for now
After saying goodbye to a great friend and an amazing city, we moved on to our next adventure in another country: Italy!
Our first stop after a flight was the city of Pisa. We knew that there wasn’t a ton to do in Pisa, other than take tourist photos with the tower. Basically, it was just going to be a stopover for us to get to Cinque Terre the next day. However, Pisa turned out to be pretty fun – if only for an evening.
After we checked into our hostel, we headed out into the streets of Pisa. Wandering was pretty cool actually – we found street vendors with very unique items for sale, and we even ran into a street procession with a band and everything. It was a ton of fun! And of course, we got gelato for our first evening in Italy.
We headed straight for the Piazza dei Miercoli to see the church and the torre, or ‘leaning tower.’ Many people had told us not to take the ‘typical leaning poses,’ so we went for other poses instead… and making subtle fun of some other people taking the photos as well. We had a lot of laughs and fun. Then we went for pizza at a local restaurant after – and it was probably one of the best pizzas I have ever had before. It was massive and delicious.
The next morning, we hopped on a train to La Spezia, where we transferred to another train to get to the town we would stay in Cinque Terre, Corniglia. The weather looked gross, as we knew a storm was blowing in. We had actually seen rain and lightning on our train ride to La Spezia. But we crossed our fingers for better weather.
Which didn’t happen. We got to Corniglia and had to wait to check in. We went to a little restaurant for a great lunch and coffee (yes, I have taken to drinking espresso for some reason. This was the first of a few through Eastern Europe), and the woman told us to move inside because the sky looked so dark. Well, that’s what we got from the broken English and hand gestures as we all tried to communicate. But it was a good thing that we did move – as soon as we got inside, it started to absolutely pour buckets down. Needless to say, we took our time eating lunch.
That afternoon, it cleared up, so we decided that we would take the shorter hike along the hills to one of the other towns. So, we took a train one town over, to Manarola, and we hiked to Riomaggiore. Matt, a guy staying in the same room as Zach, had done the hikes earlier that day. But, being that he had just met us and we all got along well, he decided to come to do the hike with us! We all had a great time, even with the hike being almost an eighty degree angle for the whole hour and a half. And the towns and views were so amazing!!! Of course, we got some gelato again, because Italy. We went back to shower and hang out for a bit, before we all went out for dinner together in Corniglia. It was a great day and start to our time in Cinque Terre.
The next day was the serious hiking day! We were going to do the coastal hikes from our town, Corniglia, to Vernazza and then Monterosso. It was going to take basically the whole day, a good chunk of hours. And it was definitely hot out. Matt accompanied us on the first leg, to Vernazza, and then we went our separate ways. It was tough going at a few points – there are a lot of stairs, ups and downs, and the heat is impeccable – but the views were amazing and the towns were worth it alone. Vernazza was so pretty, with the harbor and the boats. I think I enjoyed Vernazza and Manarola the most. We hung out in Monterosso before heading back to Corniglia.
After taking the wrong train (we somehow ended up on an express that went straight to La Spezia), and showering, we met up with Matt to head out for a night of dinner. We met a few other girls staying in our room, and invited them along. Annie was from the US, while Megan was from Australia. They were really nice, and again, everyone got along great! We took the train to Monterosso, had a great dinner (after we finally found a place to eat), and then ate gelato by the beach. It was an amazing evening with some great people.
We had another panicky night when we found out that the next morning, there was going to be a rail strike in the area. No one could tell us if it would merely be a regional strike or a country-wide one. We wouldn’t find out until morning. So, we had to attempt to get out of Cinque Terre at least before the strike began at 9. Flash forward to a 5:30am morning, catching a train, and then paying a lot to be able to take 2 trains to Venice.
Once in Venice, we were utterly exhausted. We found our bus to the area we would be staying – a campground outside of the city where we were staying in a cabin. We got on the bus, got to the cabin, were slightly disappointed, ate pizza, and then just hung out in the cabin before crashing. It was an odd day. We didn’t even want to attempt to explore the city yet.
The next day, June 17, was our day to explore the entirety of Venice. And it was our only day. So, we planned to make the best of it! We planned to head out early – but ended up running late and almost missing our bus. This somehow turned into a regular thing for buses, which became sort of annoying…
None of us really knew any of the places that we were supposed to visit in Venice, and maps cost money, so we just set out exploring on foot and following signs. We made our way to Piazza San Marco, the one place Kirstin had knew of. It was cool, but there was scaffolding and tons of pigeons! It was also very crowded, which made it difficult to maneuver and slightly claustrophobic. BUT – it was pretty and super Italian. We wandered along and went to the Grand Canal, a place that we definitely had heard of. The water was gorgeous and there were boats everywhere!
We walked a lot, found some gelato, got into some arguments about what we wanted to do, and decided that it would be best to split up. Kirstin wanted to go and explore more of Venice. Zach and I really wanted to ride a boat. We didn’t want to pay the insane amount of money to ride a gondola, so we decided to catch a vaporetto, a ferry-type boat, to the other island of Murano.
Murano is the glass-blowing island, so there were multiple shops with beautiful glass-blown artwork. The island itself, or at least the area we ended up in, was quiet and quaint. It was a nice break from the crowded and busy streets of Venice. There was room to breathe and relax, with walking space. So we tried to spend a little extra time there. We stopped at a little café to grab a drink. I tried an Aperol Spritzer – basically sparkling water mixed with an alcohol called Aperol. We believe that you can only get it in Europe. It was pretty good! We caught the boat back to Venice, and ended up getting very lost trying to find Kirstin again. I definitely suggest getting a map on your phone or buying one if you can. Venice is quite confusing.
We got some dinner at a little restaurant along one of the main streets. The waiters were hilarious, offering pizza to random people walking by or asking them to pay someone’s bill. We had some good laughs with them. We wandered a little more to see the canal at night, and grabbed some dessert. I had a great chocolate mousse! We caught the bus back to our accommodations.
The next day would be a travel day to yet another city and country – Budapest, Hungary. I was very excited to see my friend, Kitty. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time. But that’s for the next post.
Bye for now
P.S. – sorry I am a little behind on the blog posts. I actually just wrote and uploaded this post from Prague, basically a week after I had left Italy. However, I am trying to keep everyone updated through my other social media when I have wifi, with pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.