Sunday, May 26, 2013

For the next time around..

Hey there folks!

I apologize dearly for the silence the past month or so, as all writers do, occasionally I get burnt out a bit and have to take some time to regroup and refocus.  Alas, the itch has returned and I'm back :)

I knew before I even left for my trip I wanted to write a "review" blog of sorts to go over things I would do differently on my trip..

The main topic I want to discuss is the wardrobe I chose to bring.  I did lots and lots of research before I left by reading blog after blog after blog to get a good feel for what was best to bring.  Unfortunately, most of the backpacking blogs I came across were usually male and thus led no insight into how a female backpacker should pack..

I did come across a great blog called that I followed religiously.  As I was anxiously waiting all those months for my trip to take place, a 24 yr. old girl named Devon Mills was backpacking around the world for 3 months.  I identified with this girl as we seemed to be extremely similar in our perspective on life as well as close in age.  She also had a fantastic blog on her preparation for her trip.  I decided to stick as close as I could to her list, even buying the same backpack.

First, what would I not change?

Certainly not the backpack.  It was awesome.  The way the bag unzipped brought gasps from hostel bunk mates far and wide when I would swiftly open my backpack up like a normal suitcase and be able to access everything immediately.

The packing cubes I purchased from EagleCreek were also pretty awesome.  They certainly helped keep everything organized and in its correct place.  Also made for some fast packing for when you have to leave a hostel in the pitch dark because the hostel owner becomes pissed at you for staying up with your bunkmates all night drinking champagne and playing music loudly and she turns off the power in the entire hostel.  Good times.

All my electronics and toiletries were perfect, I wouldn't change any of what I brought with me in that category.

So, what would I change?

Pretty much every article of clothing I brought.  As I mentioned a few paragraphs before, as I had never taken a trip like this before I was pretty much lost therefore I chose a safe route and basically followed the same list of the girl's blog I had been keeping up with.  Small problem I discovered about a week into the trip..all my clothes were so...boring.  Now let me clarify that I am not so much a "girly girl" and certainly have no problem being gross, dirty, and wearing t-shirts all day errday.  But every now and again one does like to feel like an actual GIRL.  Nice clothing wise, I had brought one skirt and one dress with me and let me tell you..those articles got old real quick.  Looking back, my wardrobe was aptly suited for lots of backpacking, hiking, camping, etc.  But for fun adventures at night, bar scenes, dinner, things like that, I literally had nothing.  Because of this I ended up borrowing lots of items from my traveling buddy Nicole.

So how would I repack..

To make life easier on yourself when you don't have access to washing clothes consistently.  I would pack ONE outfit for sleeping only.

I only wore my flats one time, my pair of sandals I had brought along with my chacos were pretty much the only thing that touched my feet the whole time.  I'll leave the flats behind next time.

2-3 short, light, airy dresses.  Super easy to travel in and fun to wear out.

One pair of hiking shorts

2-3 tops (again, light, airy, lace would be a good choice.  Anything you can wad up very small is perfect.)

1 sweater and 1 scarf (due to location and weather you're heading)

A pair of earrings (just because)

A small bottle of perfume  (never knew I would miss this but when you're clothes aren't exactly the cleanest..perfume will cover a multitude of not so nice smells)

2 camis (black and tan)

I would keep my gladiator sandals and chacos and if possible would try to add some ankle boots.

I would also definitely still keep my leggings and the 3 bras I brought (one regular and two sport)

Again, this all depends on the type of trip you're going to be taking...I plan on backpacking around Thailand and Africa and my original packing list there could be better that time around.  However, I also plan on spending some time in Ireland, Scotland, and Croatia in the near future too and I think I would want some more attractive clothes in those places.

All depends.  But for the trip I took I was a pretty disappointed in my wardrobe choices.

So, now that's out of the way we can discuss what I will do differently on my next trip...

 Country hopping was certainly a whirlwind adventure and I loved it.  I would have to say our trip was very evenly split, one half being crazy, go go go, seeing everything possible, moving around, and the other half...extremely relaxed, did what we pleased, no concept of time whatsoever.  This was all dependent on the location and time frame we allowed ourselves in each place.

London:  I've never seen so many sights in such a short amount of time.  Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Hyde Park, Queen Mary's Gardens, etc. all in about 10 hours.

Santorini:   Completely relaxed in every way.  Read books on the beach, leisurely walked the streets exploring the village, woke up early to watch the sunrise, made many friends, hiked to see the sunset from a castle ruin, drank cheap bottles of wine while waiting for bus rides kind of trip.

Budapest:  With only a day and half spent here it was certainly more rushed feeling than Greece was, but not too bad.  We spent the entire day exploring the city for what it was, not too concerned about hitting up specific landmarks but instead just soaking up the culture.  We shopped (much colder here!), had a fantastic dinner, and frolicked on the famous Budapestian? bridges that night.

Vienna:  Like Budapest, we only had about 2 days here.  I wish we had been able to stay longer in Vienna, it was certainly a city I could totally see myself living in.  We had tons of fun in this city, spent the whole day on rented bikes exploring, visited the famous Schonnburg Palace and had bookoos of fun being silly taking pictures.  The grounds are outrageously beautiful.  Found a fresh, outdoor market and was seriously bummed we hadn't thought to bring baskets to purchase fresh goods to make dinner at our hostel that night.  We opted for some cheap wine instead and had one of the most fun nights of our trip in our hostel room with just us four hanging out.

Venice:  Venice came next, this was when exhaustion started to get the best of us.  We took an overnight train and "slept" 7ish hours in an uncomfortable train car.  Not too fun.  Chris's stomach also had other things in mind besides being cool and he promptly began to vomit consistently for the next 10 hours immediately upon our arrival.  Poor guy.  He slept in the hostel while the rest of us explored.  Venice was beautiful but MUCH too busy for me.  Packed, shoulder to shoulder everywhere you went, lots of tourists and not much "authentic" Italian culture..however the canals were my favorite part and our hostel was luckily off the beaten path a bit and we were able to enjoy a nice, quiet dinner by the water with an adorable Italian accordion player softly playing nearby.  We got a few hours of sleep, hauled everything to the station only to find out we had missed our train at 5am and couldn't leave until the next one arrived at 9am.  (See my previous blog for more details on this story)  Robbie fell ill next, while Chris began to feel better.  Overall, quite the rushed city.

Cortona: Thank the dear Lord above for Cortona!  We all needed a break big time and this was the perfect place to sit back and just enjoy where we were.  We arrived at the villa located in the Tuscan countryside where Nicole and her friends had rented for the week and of course we all fell in love instantly (who wouldn't??).  We spent the next 5ish days drinking wine on the porch, by the pool, around the kitchen table, at lunch, at dinner, and any time in between.  We all recovered from our sickness, read books, took pictures, cooked food, fellowshipped with each other and had amazing Italian dinners.  Probably my 2nd favorite place we visited, just after Santorini.

Rome:  Back to busy busy!  Spent 3 days or so in Rome, making sure we saw most everything Rome has to offer, the Trevi, Forum of Rome, Colosseum, Sistine, Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, etc.  I loved Rome and was blown away by how incredible the sights are.

Florence and Milan:  We spent a couple days in each of these cities as well.  We went and saw what you're supposed to see here and had a good time doing so.  The Michelangelo statute of David in Florence was one of my personal favorite things to see throughout the whole trip.  I loved it.  In Milan we spent a lot of time strolling..also eating some really good food.  Best pizza and calzone in Italy along with the Luini Panzerotti (see previous blog for more on this!)  Seriously this thing was UNREAL.  We spent our last night in Milan staying up all night in our hostel with some seriously crazy Polish people. We got 30 minutes of sleep before heading to the airport.  Exhausting to say the least.

Barcelona: Last stop on our trip, we spent a week here and had a blast.  Made some really good friends while here and spent our time working on our Spanish, laying out on the sandy beaches, and learning salsa.  Turned out to be a great way to end the trip by slowing our pace some to match the lifestyle of the Spaniards.

I would also spend more time researching famous sites to see or even obscure sites to visit in each place I go.  Once I returned stateside and have spent a little more time looking into the places I visited I realized how many things I missed!

For my next big venture (not sure where or when yet) I do believe I'd like to change things up a bit.  While bouncing around place to place is fun in its own way, I really really missed the feel of a "home", not necessarily my actual home here in Nashville but just a "home", a place to return to every night where you feel comfortable and relaxed.  

I want to pick one specific location to head to and stay.  I want to really immerse myself in the culture and get to know the people (that's when the best stuff happens)  I will still take the time to travel a bit but as I said, I want a home base.  I also want to choose a place not necessarily known for big world sights..a small village in Ireland perhaps or an island off the coast of Thailand..we shall see!

Until next time!


Hola from Barcelona!

Hola mi amigos!

After our harrowing night of getting just 42 minutes of sleep and then whatever sleep we could sneak in while waiting for our flight and on board our flight we finally arrived in Barcelona, Spain!

We stepped off the plane and headed to the train station.  We arrived at our stop and stepped out into the bright, shining, light, with the sunshine warming the tops of our heads.  We had failed to acquire a map as of yet so we were relying on Robbie's downloaded map on his phone to find out where in the hell we actually were and where in the hell our hostel was located in this huge city..Needless to say we were all a little snappy with each other at this point, tired and hungry with me certainly in my "hangry" stage.  Chris grabbed a sandwich and we wearily laid our bags down and sat on a bench.  We looked at each other without much of a word and nodded.  We headed to the street and immediately hailed a cab.  Walking long distances with our bags was just not in the cards for us today.

We gave our Espanol speaking taxi driver the address and crossed fingers he understood where we needed to go.  As we drove the taxi man proceeded to tell us in broken english that one of the biggest futbol games of the season was happening that night in town!  Barcelona vs. the real Madrid!  Tickets were all sold out in the arena but people from all over the city nonetheless would gather in bars and restaurants to watch the game..yessssss.

Alas!  We arrived safely at the St. Jordi Hostel in the "Gracia" area.  Barcelona is made up of seven different areas, Gracia, Barceloneta, Barri Gotic, El Raval, El Born, Eixample, and Montjuic.  Gracia is a more, laid back, village-like feel.  Very much a friendly, kind neighborhood.   We immediately fell in love.

We walked into what was by far one of the best hostels we had stayed in thus far on the trip.  It was AWESOME.   I would describe it as a hipster's dormitory ha.  The owners apparently had a thing for Fixies and thus had Fixies hung on the walls along with printed quotes on the walls everywhere talking about the joys of riding fixies.  In the common room there were about 9 gigantic bean bag chairs and we immediately collapsed onto them.   We couldn't quite check in yet and so decided the bean bags were as good a place as any to sleep for the time being.  Robbie during this time ventured out into the area to quell his grumbling stomach and happened upon a fantastic bakery around the corner that we proceeded to visit every morning thereafter.

The time came to finally check in and we were lead to a two bunk room.  We all climbed into our beds and fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow.  I woke up around 8pm that night, the Barcelona game had just started, I woke both Robbie and Chris up to go find a place to watch the game.  Chris hopped out of bed immediately but I was unable to successfully rouse Rob.  Chris and I headed off into the night to find a suitable bar for viewing.  We chose one, albeit a packed one, and promptly ordered two beers and settled back to enjoy the atmosphere.  It was so great.  If only we could have actually been time I will be checking the calendars and purchasing tickets beforehand to ensure we go if they happen to be playing in town!  People went nuts over the game, it turned out to not be the most exciting of the games but we still loved every minute of it and I found myself excitedly cheering along loudly with the rest of the Spaniards.  So glad we woke up from our slumber to see it.

We tramped happily back to our hostel and to our empty beds and laid back down with a smile for the days to come.

The next day we woke up feeling exuberant, refreshed, and ready to take on a new city once more.  We ambled along down the sidewalks in the quiet little part of town we were residing and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the area.  That night we came across an interesting little restaurant just around the corner from our hostel and had huge plates of gyro meat and hummus.  Delish.  Bellies full we headed back to our hostel and just before heading, noticed a bar located right across from us.  We decided to check out the Barcelonian bar scene and headed in.  The downstairs was completely empty and the bartender noticed our awkward selves and kindly directed us upstairs to where all the people were.  Cool.  We headed up and found ourselves in the midst of tons of young people similar to our ages from all over the world.  One guy in particular from New Zealand approached us and struck up a friendly conversation with all 3 of us, eventually he asked us how we had come to hear about the "meeting", he of course immediately received three confused faces as we explained how we were simply staying across the street and merely decided to check out the bar.  He gave a big hearty, New Zealand-y laugh and explained how this was a Couchsurfing meeting, I, of course squeal in delight as I had been wanting to try couchsurfing for quite some time now and lo and behold had literally stumbled right into a whole horde of them!  The couchsurfing organization plans events for those who are interested in meeting other travelers in the same town by posting where and when to meet up for drinks and food, that night just happened to be taking place at the very bar we chose to walk in.  We then met a lovely Dutch gal named Emma and a guy named Alex who lived in the area.  We all quickly became facebook friends and made plans to meet up the next day.

Over the next few days we spent most of our time with Emma, Alex, and Alex's friend named Guillem.  Robbie had also already booked a couple nights for another hostel since before arriving to Spain Chris and I were not entirely sure how long we would be staying and he wanted to guarantee himself a room.  It turned out to be a wonderful thing he moved as we met a wonderful girl named Brigid who was staying at his same hostel.  Brigid was a spunky, quirky girl from Australia who I loved instantly.  She had been traveling every 6 months since she was 18 years old.  She works for a solid 6 months, saves all her money, then travels for the next 6 months, chick had been all over the world and was full of bright, interesting things.

One night Emma and Alex came up with the idea to travel to a nearby town by train and attend a zombie film festival.  We all agreed it would be a fun adventure and decided to meet up first thing the next morning.  The problem with this was that we had no way to contact each other after leaving our wifi.  Chris and I arrived at the station and noticed a couple other people our age hanging out off to the side seemingly waiting for someone as well.  Finally, Alex, Emma, and Brigid arrive and greet both us as well as the other people hanging out off to the side and we realized we were all together then.  Everyone had met through the Couch surfing events and had responded to a post Emma had placed on the site inviting people to join.  We met Guillem, Matt the Australian, and a few others.  We bought our tickets and headed off to the film festival.  The gist of the festival (and the main reason we decided to go) was upon arrival, professional movie makeup artists were on site to do legit zombie make-up on those willing to offer their faces so that you could essentially walk around the town and behave like a Zombie.  Yep, awesome right?  We proceeded to jump in the makeup line to eagerly await our turn then began to realize everyone else in the line had a ticket in hand to receive the Zombie makeover.  Apparently those had been sold prior to the festival and were needed in order to receive the makeup.  Alex charmed his way into getting us some crazy looking blood at the very least put on our faces and we were happy enough.  We began to explore the town and while marveling at the realness of the Zombie-esque people surrounding us, the heavens suddenly opened and a downpour reminiscent of that of the world wide bible flood slammed down upon us.  We quickly ducked into a small cafe along with 10,000 other people, all dressed as zombies of course.  Packed in like sardines we all grabbed a beer to wait out the rain.  After some time it became apparent that the rain was not going anywhere anytime soon and we needed to catch a train out sometime before dark.

We decided collectively to make a break for it and took off into the pouring rain, oddly enough being one of the most fun times of my trip.  We darted in and out amongst cobble stoned alley ways with rivers of water pouring down throughout the stones.  We juked and dived past Fiats, smart cars, and scooters alike till finally arriving at the train station.  The gate was open, we sprinted in and jumped on the train just as it arrived soaked to the bone, hair dripping wet with fake blood running down our happy, smiling faces.  Overall it was a wonderful day filled with fantastic new friends and water.  Lots and lots of water.

Throughout the week Chris and I kept discussing venturing over to the western side of Spain in order to go hike a portion of the El Camino de Santiago which is a famous pilgrimage trail that has been around for centuries running from the bottom of Spain all the way up into France.  Alas the train ticket there and back was too much for us to handle and we were unable to make it.  One day soon we will go back and make the 500 mile trek down the Camino...

One of the best nights of our time in Spain was going to a authentic salsa club.  I was pretty much insistent on experiencing a live salsa club while in Spain.  We heard through the grapevine about a local place and made our way there that night.  The Spanish men seemed to have a ball with us foreigners and we were passed off like candy from partner to partner.  The men in their thick accents whispered the counts to us, uno dos dos tres..alas it was just not meant to be.  I managed the standard dance steps alright but had to slink off the floor once the real Spanish women stepped in to salsa.  It was astounding and beautiful to watch.  I was so excited we had made it and the dancing did not last near long enough to satiate me.  Good good times.

We spent the last few days in Barcelona seeing some of the famous places the city had to offer, went to the beach, got lost looking for Park Guell to see some of Gaudi's famous architecture, stumbled upon a Spanish boy band filming a music video and was thrown right into the midst of that, saw the coolest street band ever called Microguagua, walked by and explored Gaudi's home, the Caso Batllo, strolled the Las Ramblas, ate more chocolate covered croissants than you can ever imagine, cooked homemade Spanish dishes with fresh food straight from the outdoor markets, and made the coolest friends ever.  Overall Barcelona was a magnificent city filled with the kindest people in the world.

Chris and I also finally settled on a date to come home, found ridiculously good deals and booked it.  Mostly because we were both completely out of money...ha.  The last day in Spain came upon us and boy was it ever stressful...To arrive at the airport we had a 2-3 mile hike to the train station with our packs and upon entering the station we noticed a man at the entrance handing out flyers to everyone, we ignored the man as the flyers were completely written in Spanish and we knew we were on a time crunch.  We bought our tickets and took off to the escalators to head down to the trains.  I absentmindedly tucked my ticket away into my wallet while Chris tossed his into the nearby trashcan as we passed by.  We ran downstairs nearly running over armed officials yelling in Spanish for us to show our tickets...I of course pulled mine out of my wallet then realized with dread my brother did not have his..They yelled for his passport as he tried to explain himself and what had happened to his ticket.  They scanned his passport with some strange device then wrote down all kinds of things in a small notepad, I could already tell it most likely wasn't going to be a dandy situation.  We were then informed Chris was to pay a $100 fine for not having a train ticket...WHAT!?  We both flip out, (keep in mind, we are completely broke and need to catch a plane in less than two hours with still a 45 minute train/bus ride to go)  We frantically try and explain to the officials we don't have time to go to the office down the block to pay the fine and that we are literally leaving the country in less than two hours, they bring a translator over as we beg them to give us a break and watch in dismay as our train comes and goes.  They suggest we pay the fee online but unfortunately it would turn into $150 paying online..of course.  With no other options left we throw our hands up, write down the information to pay the fine online and fly to the train with seconds to spare.  We arrive at the bus station, find the correct one and settle in for the 30 minute ride to the airport.  Chris is PISSED keep in mind and I'm stressed to the max thinking we may not possibly make it in time for our flight.

We arrive at the airport, get our boarding passes and take off towards the gate which is of course a million miles away.  We reach the gate just in time to get on the flight bound for London and finally settle into our seats, I finally breath, Chris falls asleep instantly and we're off.

We arrive in London around 10pm with our flight heading out to Nashville the next morning at 5:30am..we knew it would be pointless to try and get a room for the night as London was 30 minutes away by train and we needed to be back in the airport in just a few short hours.  So, we settled into the nice, lovely, cold, hard, concrete floor with our two blankets to try and sleep (unsuccessfully)  for at least a few hours.  I set our alarm to wake up an hour before our flight to ensure enough time to get through security and find our gate.

The alarm goes off, I wake Chris up and get all our things packed up, we head towards the security gates and realize nothing is open for another 2 hours...highly confused we wander all around the airport.  At this point I am becoming extremely agitated and stressed about the situation, just ask Chris, he would love to elaborate for you on this experience...until finally we come across a bus driver.  We approach him, explain our situation and ask what we need to do.  He mentions our gate will be at another location and although his bus was technically done running for the night, he would gladly take us there, saint of a man I tell ya!

We arrive at the other part of the airport, I basically pull Chris along to sprint towards security thinking all along in my head, "holy smokes we have 20 minutes to get through security and make it to the gate"..we arrive, I eagerly scan the monitors searching for our flight but to no this point I start to really freak and fly over to the information desk to demand of the poor English woman why in the world our flight was not listed if it was leaving in 15 minutes.  She calmly informed me that it was in fact only 5:30am and not iPhone had apparently decided to play a nasty joke on me and not change the timezones.  I slowly closed my eyes and hung my head in shame at my scrambled behavior the past 30 minutes, especially towards my brother.  I went and purchased us both coffees and our favorite chocolate croissants as a peace offering for my behavior.  He looked up at me after I had apologized profusely and offered my gifts and said, "yeah I knew what time it was all along, I just thought you wanted to be early? ".  Steam began to blow out my ears for a half second before I decided to calm back after the MOST stressful 18ish hours of the entire trip, we finally board our plane and head stateside, sad to leave our wonderful European adventures behind..

until next time, Hasta Luego mi amigos!