I just finished walking all around Buda and Pest with a German friend and am now relaxing and planning my day tomorrow. I saw the Fisherman's Bastion, many churches, learned a bit about Hungarian history, ate some fish soup, pickled beets, and vegetable stew at a Milk bar. Tomorrow I will go caving, go to a thermal bath house, and catch a ballet or an opera.

The food has been too salty, sweet, bland, meaty, and stale. It's almost comical how much I really can't stand Budapest. It's truly night and day from my experiences in Prague, especially with service workers. I cannot believe how rude almost every person I've had to interact with has been. And I'm not talking about any Hungarian person on the street or my hostels or tours, I'm talking about train station personnel, Embassy employees, restaurant servers, police officers, baristas, you name it! Sorry for ruining your life by my presence. I've walked into restaurants, waited at the door an awkward minute staring down servers who weren't busy, then decided maybe I'm supposed to seat myself? I sat an awkward 5 minutes while the restaurant wasn't busy, wasn't even given so much as a greeting or a menu, and walked my ass out of that unfriendly place. I smile politely and kindly ask questions after saying hello and am ignored by baristas. After I inquire if they're open, they angrily look at me perplexed and say "Can you wait 2 minutes?!" as they continue to lazily polish silverware. If I ever did that, my manager would have fired me on the spot. After losing my passport, the embassy and the train station did not give any care in the world. They seemed irritated by my presence and glared at me. When I buy coffee or food, I even ensure I have small enough bills to pay people.


So my question to Hungarian service people is what is your beef with foreigners? Why do you have such a stick up your ass? Do you want respect and money from tourists? Do you want to pick up your economy so you can use the euro? Why is it I can visit Bucharest, Sofia, Warsaw, Berlin, Krakow, and Prague and the servers there are happy to greet me? Is your job that difficult? As a policeman, why can't you be polite to a lady that has lost her passport and not treat me like a dog? How come I can go into a remote area of Vietnam and spend 3 hours with the police, even though they don't know English? Am I supposed to roll out a red carpet to get your attention? I'm not tipping you after you awkwardly hover over my table and glare at me. Nope. You are the rudest people I've ever met and while your city is interesting and there are certainly some friendly people, I've never felt so unwelcome before and will never return to Hungary willingly. When you want to order a ready made sandwich at a restaurant in my town, I would love to show you how true service is done. Maybe it's a cultural misunderstanding? Maybe I'm supposed to look furious and glare at you?


While I'm perplexed by the incredibly rude behavior of the service industry in Budapest, I have to say I was very happy staying in Austria (where I was warned people were curt and more blunt, but found them to be nice, honest people) and Prague, where people were very kind and earnest, even if they didn't speak fantastic English. I've been to places like Korea (outside of Seoul) where I felt downright hated and I've also been to remote islands of Greece by myself and felt out of place and unwelcome, but never have I been flat out ignored or rudely talked down to in a country. In the end, it makes you realize what places deserve your money, your respect, your time, and a strong reputation. For me, Budapest will never be that place. It makes those places like Vietnam, Thailand, the Netherlands, and Germany so special, places that you know you can have a hospitable, earnest conversation with someone without feeling like a nuisance.


​Top Left: Hallstatt (small city outside of Salzburg; you must take a bus, a train, and a ferry to reach this beautiful prehistoric Alpine village)

Middle top: Matthias Church

Right top: Fisherman's Bastion

Middle bottom: Chain bridge separating Buda and Pest (ps did you know Budapest was actually 3 cities? Buda, Pest, and Old Buda)

Right bottom: Creamy kohlrabi soup with pickled beets...so rich and my stomach was exploding

Likes

Comments

I'm currently in Vienna and have been very busy since I was in Utrecht. Today I went to St Stephen's Cathedral and spent my time walking around beautiful Vienna. Vienna is filled with so many expensive buildings because it was the center of the Holy Roman Empire. I've never walked through a city and felt so overwhelmed by all of the lavish buildings. I went on a free walking tour of Vienna to check out the history, and also ate some world famous Sacher torte, which is this apricot jam chocolate cake that is incredibly decadent. It was an instant hit when the baker started making it, and only Hotel Sacher had the recipe...until it got out and another cafe made it.

Lately I've been eating so poorly. I drank a whole bottle of Grüner and ate an enormous cheese Vienna dog last night. Today I had Chinese noodles to go, as I'm trying to be cheap here (food is way more expensive than Prague and Berlin) and I could swear my blood pressure feels high. Ew! However, it's been worth it to really sample the veal schnitzel, beef in cream sauce with potatoes, Becherovka (Christmas flavored liqueur from Czech Republic), pilseners, and so many other delicious goodies. I want to throw up when I see stupid backpackers on the bus eating white bread with mayonnaise. Seriously!? I know I'm being a self-righteous ass by saying this, but if you can't afford to eat even basic nutritious food (like an apple and a granola bar), maybe don't travel. It literally cost me 3-4 euros for skyr, fruit, some rolls, and a granola bar. Hell, I even buy beer for 1 euro. White bread and ketchup is disgusting! I definitely haven't gone out to eat more than once this trip, but I'm sure as hell not living off of Ramen noodles. Especially when there's so much delicious food around and if you're smart, you can totally afford it! Just don't go to the tourist parts of town for food, you WILL get ripped off and 9 times out of 10, there's better food elsewhere!

Speaking of money, I just spent the last 3 hours at the opera. I got tickets for 3 euros because I stood in line for an hour to get standing tickets. It was awesome! I love plays and I reallllly loved the orchestra, but my goodness, I was very impressed with how talented the singers were!!!

While I enjoyed my time in Utrecht and Amsterdam (especially my awesome Couchsurfing host who even bought my dinner in Utrecht!), it pales in comparison to Prague and Berlin. There's just something so enchanting about walking down Charles Bridge, on your way to a chamber quartet concert, in a city with so much rich history. Or going to the pub in Berlin and embracing the culture. SO much better than walking down the cute canals and eating plain Dutch food.

All I can say is VISIT PRAGUE. I've been all over the world and Prague truly is one of my favorite places! I am also digging Vienna, and I like the people here as well. They're humorous and straightforward, but not rude. I don't know what it is, but Viennese are different than the Germans I've met, even the tone of their German seems different. One of the best parts about traveling is comparing the people you meet abroad to others. There's a reason cultures function the way they do and it's interesting when people you've met from a given culture totally morph your perception of that culture. It also makes you appreciate what you like and dislike in your own society.

Top Left: A part of the last remaining bit of the Berlin Wall

Middle: Overlooking Prague from the Powder Tower (notice Prague Castle in the far background)

Top Right: Walking across Charles Bridge

Bottom: St. Stephen's Cathedral is huge! In Stephensplatz

Likes

Comments

I'm freshly arrived in Utrecht and am waiting for my host to get off work so he can pick me up and I have a personal tour guide. While I have loved Holland thus far, it's uber annoying that you have to have a Dutch card to store luggage at the train station. Luckily, I found a hostel and am storing my bags there (for free!). They never asked if I was staying there and there were tons of lockers open, so hey, I don't feel bad. If you're ever lost or need something desperately, hotels and hostels are your best friends. From recommendations to giving you free maps, do it! I'll never buy a 4 euro map at a Rome kiosk again.


I would say the Netherlands is quite pricy (really I can't speak about outside of Amsterdam or Utrecht), but not horrendous. Expect to pay at least 5 euros for a sandwich, unless you want street fries...you can't live off of that though! I know it's not nearly as bad as Scandinavia so don't feel too bad. It certainly isn't Greece or Eastern Europe though! Dutch people are quite friendly and patient. I say patient because I can't tell you how many times I've seen tourists on their phones or oblivious to walking in the bike path and almost dying. There are bike paths everywhere in Amsterdam, and I really admire that! The bikes are old cruiser models; I haven't seen one road bike like in major cities in the US.


I am incredibly tired from walking around the Red Light District with some Brazilian people last night. I'm still half awake. The RLD is so strange; on one hand it makes me wonder if decriminalizing prostitution would be a good idea (you could cooperate with police a lot easier) but still, how many women are uprooted from their homes to come here??? And of course if you're poor and happen to come from Russia or Cambodia, you may be practicing something legal, but it's not like you have the money or free will to not work for somebody, unless you want to be homeless. You can't just buy a 600+ Euro plane ticket home. It left me with a gross feeling; not to say that sex shouldn't be talked about or should be a thing of shame, just that I don't know if the RLD is a fair thing for the women that work there. However, if they are choosing to be there and are happy with it, then that's cool.


I also went to the Anne Frank house which had very tiny, narrow staircases. It was incredible to see how the Franks and their friends staying with them couldn't even move around during the day without fearing for their lives. It's so sad. They lived behind a bookcase secret entrance before they were sent to concentration camps. Luckily Otto Frank survived. While Auschwitz was much more informative than the AF House, and better designed, it was definitely worth the visit. I wanted to go to the Van Gogh museum, but 17 euros was too steep. Next time!


Amsterdam and Utrecht have very cute buildings that are stuck right next to one another. I haven't had much beer yet but I'm excited to go out tonight to try some! I'm not a Heineken person, but I love the few Dutch and Belgian beers I've tried. For food, I've been going to the supermarket. Holy moly I love Dutch candy! My mother would always bring home wine gums on her business trips to Friesland and I of course bought some! They're delicious. They have really good licorice and black licorice candies.


I am about to find some plane tickets out of Amsterdam. While I love spontaneous travel, and am the most stubborn person about making long term plans for my backpacking trips, I could kick myself as flights are getting pricy. Derp. I'm hoping to go to Lisbon, Berlin, or Budapest next. I'm about to walk around this beautiful city and relax.



Likes

Comments

​Holy cow! It's already almost time to start traveling again, this time with a lot more sweaters and fewer pairs of shorts in my backpack. I cut my hair (yay less maintenance), got a new blogging machine (my iPad screen was messed up), got all of my ducks in a row for this year's grad school applications, booked hostel accommodation in Amsterdam, and even signed up for my first Couchsurfing stay ever! With the turn of a new presidential cycle, I'm a bit wary of perceptions of Americans abroad. As if it wasn't already nosy enough prior to the election, I can't imagine the stereotypes I will have once I arrive in different parts of the world. All I can say is apologies universe! :( Not all of us are batshit crazy, xenophobic, sexist, and pathological gaslighting liars. I guess that is a perk of traveling though, seeing what citizens are truly like compared to their crazy and oppressive governments.

I have no idea what Couchsurfing is like, so I'm pretty stoked to try it. I'm not sure what the etiquette is, although I have stayed in many airbnbs in Europe (which is an awesome way to save money, meet locals, and see a destination). 

I am still planning on studying in Stockholm and Bologna for a few weeks. My overall plan is to start in Amsterdam and make my way to Norway and Sweden by April. I will go to Budapest, Prague, Berlin, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Vienna, Ljubljana, Lake Bled and hopefully Gdansk on my "eastern Europe" trip. I'm hoping to do some diving in Sharm el-Sheikh and Croatia, but we'll see where my flights lead me. Lastly, I'm incredibly excited to WWOOF! That means I will be farming in either Norway and/or France! I've signed up for both WWOOFing websites and I'm beyond stoked to see what WWOOFing is like, as many of my friends rave about how fun their experiences were. As much as I love medicine and working in science, I sometimes wish I could work outside more (like my mom who rides horses all day for her business). I'm excited to report back on all of these fun experiences and how they differ from other travel memories.

Cheers to a New Year of meeting interesting people, sharing stories, discovering passions, and learning about humanity!

L

Likes

Comments

And just like that, my amazing journey has come to an abrupt end. I don't want to dwell on what happened, because it could happen to anyone and it's a misfortune I'm frankly fortunate enough not to have encountered until 6 months into my backpacking trip.

Basically, I was in a complete groggy haze when I woke up at 5:45 AM this morning. I didn't know we were in Budapest (I had been sleeping in a pathetic ball with my feet against cold metal in a shoddy box of a train car). I only knew that the conductor had just checked our passports/stamped them. The next thing I knew I was hastily packing all of my crap into my bag, ensuring I still had my phone charger and my camera. Unfortunately, my small leather purse with all of my credit cards, debit cards, Burt's Bees chapstick, 3 Romanian Lev, passport, and some Euro coins was sitting carefully under my ass the entire "sleep" (it was more of a wake up every 30 minutes to the train loudly stopping/trying not to punch the guy who was snoring like a hyena). Unfortunately, as I headed to the Information section of the shoddy train station and instinctively grabbed at my side for my bag, I had a panic attack. I realized I left my bag on the train and it hit me like a ton of bricks. HOLY FUCK. I have never done something so stupid, well except for that one time in Vietnam...I sprinted to the Information center and they clearly did not understand english or simply didn't care because they pointed in an irritated way to the other end of the station. I sprinted there, waited in line, confused, and asked a lady who grumpily told me it was not their company. Okay, that's odd. Nobody can help me and this is an EMERGENCY. Seriously, do you guys want me to stay here? She told me to go track 4 (WTF) and of course, nobody was there. I went to tracks 5/6 and found some conductors there. They were so sweet even though they hardly understood me. They let me sit in their shed, drink hot green tea (ugh I hadn't drank water in hours!), and eat a homemade sandwich. Seriously? Some people are so damn sweet. He also called the Romanian train line and apparently my purse was not there which either means A) he did not ask the right person B) somebody stole my purse C) somebody brought my purse to a lost and found official. UGH. I spent the next several hours holding back tears, getting to my hostel, being comforted by a very sweet 40 year old woman staying at the hostel who gave me a pepper, 2000 Hungarian forint, and multiple hugs. She even offered to buy me a flight home (I had very little in cash for this emergency!) and of course I declined. What a sweetheart. Then I went to the police, who did jackshit. I filed a report for insurance purposes, contacted an English translator myself (because they would not do that) and then they never came out to help me, even after 20 minutes when the lady said she would be back. Unbelievable. So different from my generous experience in Vietnam. Good luck if you need the police in Hungary, they don't give a shit. I notified my credit card and debit card companies that my cards had been lost and to reissue me a card back in the U.S. I went to the American Embassy and got a passport within a day (thank god!) and will get a new one for the same price back home (I only have a temporary one). They even played phone tag for me with the Romanian train line, yet they did not help AT ALL. Fuck it. It's all been a chaotic 24 hours and I decided to buy a student flight back home (got one for $400 when they were selling for $800-3000, for LONG layovers!!!). Although it has been the worst day of my life, I have to grin. I am very excited to come home and I truly feel there is a reason this happened (although I don't believe in a higher power). It taught me to accept what comes your way, even at the worst of times, and adapt. I know I WILL finish this trip some time in the near future, just not now. I need to go home and work on my career, organize my life, be there with my family and friends, and figure it out. I will certainly update this blog once those posts are ready and I can manage to travel again. In the mean time, here's what I wrote before my god awful turn of events this morning.

What do I love about being in a completely foreign culture where people adore pork, share a history of horrific political oppression, have strange sounding names and live outside of dreamlike forests? Well, it's the experience. After adapting myself to 4 months of quiet, shy, modest, Buddhist culture I had to get used to being in a Western society that valued familiar cultural aspects like shopping malls, barbecues, camping, materialism (not that Korea, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur would be lacking in that concept!), heavy drinking, and pop music. After that, I was thrown right back into a slow, similar yet different enough culture that valued the sea, family, and the people (Greece). My flight to post-Communist soil brought me to a completely different place in time and space, Sofia and Bucharest.

While I studied and worshipped the fundamentals of biological science in school, I never got much of an education in politics, economics, or European history. That's why I find Eastern Europe to be so fascinating. While capitalism has an absurd amount of flaws (and that's a long winded conversation for another day), it is absolutely shocking how horrible Soviet communism was to its people (and not the government per se). While my guide in Sofia to the Rila Monastery and Boyana Church did not talk much about life in Communist and post-Communist Bulgaria, she did mention how a small amount of elderly Bulgarians wished it returned. She remarked how many people forget how horrible things were back then, and only wished to alleviate a stagnant economy. For example, people used to wait in line for days at grocery stores (though they were really only places people exchanged government supplied coupons for food rations). Often times, they did not have basic food like vegetables and fruits. Could you imagine how awful that would be? Elbowing and fighting with your neighbor to have a simple loaf of bread or a few tomatoes to feed your family? What a meager life!

While I am not spending as much time in each city as I would like (due to my 90 day Schengen Zone obligation and life obligations I have back home) I am very happy I decided to learn more about life in Eastern Europe, which is definitely not on the typical backpacking route (though it should be!!!!). Visiting Bucharest and Sofia has allowed me to meet many bright, hardworking young people and I truly believe there's hope for improvement in Bulgarian and Romanian society. I was beyond blown away by how corrupt Romania used to be (and certainly still is!), as there were so many issues with government ownership of land, including the demolition of apartment buildings, hospitals, factories, and churches for the slave labored production of the ostentatious Palace of the Parliament. There are a few amazing free Al Jazeera documentaries on the corruption in the Romanian government and Communist rule, so if you are interested please do watch them. While I was very moved by what happened under Communist rule (especially in relation to the torture of intellectuals by force feeding them human feces and forcing them to torture their comrades) and I learned a lot on my tours, I know I only have a fraction of the stories on corruption. Who knows how much hardship and how complicated the story of Communism is in all of the Eastern European countries??? It makes me realize I also know nothing of the Fascist rule in Italy and Spain, aside from what I read of it in For Whom the Bell Tolls by the brilliant Ernest Hemingway. Hopefully I can learn about this opposite political movement when I visit Bologna and Barcelona.

On a more positive side, Romania is a VERY beautiful country. There are many beautiful castles in the countryside, with beautiful forests (sadly, many of the forests are being destroyed for logging on private land due to corruption in their government (of course the Romanian people are not seeing any sort of profit from the destruction of their natural resource)). I would love to come back here again someday. I know I also saw very little of Bulgaria (only Sofia and Rila Monastery). Unfortunately, if I took as much time as I needed to see all of these places, I would never come home. I still do not regret coming here as I know this will be the last large trip of my life, before I am retired.

I am currently on the train (15 hours!) to Budapest. Blegh. While it will be easy to get to Vienna, Salzburg, and Ljubljana afterwards, I need to go both south and north. I am having a hard time deciding if I should head down to Italy (most practical idea) or go North to Prague. Most likely I will be going to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco from there. In order to take my language course in December in Stockholm and prepare to head to Iceland and back home, I need to see Norway, the Netherlands, the countries aforementioned, and the rest of Eastern Europe on my route (i.e. Berlin, Prague, and Gdansk). It is certainly not as easy as planning my route around Asia was! The distances between cities are further apart.

It is crazy how much of my trip I have planned by the seat of my pants. I hope that encourages others reading my blog that you too can just as easily figure out traveling on your own, and you should not be intimidated by it! There have been quite a few frustrating moments in my trip (e.g. I just had to go to 5 different train kiosks, find a money exchange (after the price was misquoted by my hostel), and choose to take the long way to a city because it is 1/3 of the price), but the pros have so outweighed the cons. Despite my "rushed" trip in Eastern Europe, I have had much down time to think, relax, and plan ahead. Why do I need to fly everywhere and spend way more than I should? Why not relax and look out the window and use that extra $100 to enjoy my time in a city?



Pictures from beautiful Bran Castle in Romania (Dracula castle)

​Despite my adversities on this timeout, I will never give up my dream of living in Stockholm for a few weeks to learn Swedish. Apologies Sweden, you're at the top of my travel list :) <3 (not my photo)

Likes

Comments

Kaliméra!

After chomping away at my freshly baked nutella pastry with powdered sugar and sipping some black Greek coffee, I realize I have gained at least 5 pounds in Greece! Sitting on a boat for a week and eating your heart out tends to do that, especially when the food is so good and the house wine is so cheap. Greek wine is a bit watery for my tastes (at least the local wines served in restaurants) but I am not going to argue with someone when they are selling 500 mL of wine for only 4 euros! Last night I got dropped off at my private studio in Syros (no hostels on the smaller islands) and took some time to relax, walk along Galissas Beach, and eat a Greek salad and drink red wine before taking some much needed sleep.

I could not even begin to describe how fantastic a week of sailing in the Cyclades is, especially with such a fantastic group of people. I started from Paros in a tiny fishing village called Piso Livadi, and sailed to Iraklia, Amorgos, Koufonisia, Naxos, and Syros. Our skipper was a gruff, hairy, bearded, tanned, curmudgeon of a Greek man who was hilarious and had an infectious laugh. Our trip organizer and dive master was a funny, very loud (but in an excited way), gregarious Greek woman who always had a good attitude, even when half of our boat got sick with what we thought was Norovirus. There was an Austrian couple on their honeymoon and they were so amazing to be around. The wife was very sweet and incredibly thoughtful and the husband was hilarious with his enormous mermaid-like long, blond hair and nerdy physics glasses and crazy impressions. I really enjoyed their company and getting to know them as a couple, especially in relation to their views on politics, living in Austria and Switzerland, and going to graduate school together to study physics. They had been dating eight years and had even taken a one year break before moving back in together to reassess their relationship. They had moved to Switzerland together and are now planning to move to Crete to start their new lives. I have so much admiration and respect for people/couples like that! What role models :). They were always so positive and liked to joke about the issues we faced on the trip (like how 4 out of 8 people were getting sick with Norovirus, yet us 3 did not have "Da Virus" and how our engine broke down because a plastic bag got lodged in it). Simon joked with me and told me (in front of our skipper) that we should put another plastic bag in the engine! Meeting people like this on my trip has inspired me in so many ways on how I want/should live my life and what sort of people I surround myself with.

I roomed with a sweet, intelligent lady from London and her and I, as well as the Austrian couple hung out a lot throughout the trip. We took long walks across the beaches, got lost wandering around town, and shared way too much Melitzanosalata (aubergine dip), Tzatziki dip, bread, Raki (damn you Simon for buying us so many rounds!), salads, and many other delicious foods.

On the topic of food, I'm going to tell you some of the etiquette and customs I learned about the Greeks. I originally thought Greece was the land of greek yogurt, hummus, donkeys running around everywhere, and people shouting OPA! No. Except, for the first part (Greek yogurt is a breakfast, a dessert, and is used in many dips). Greek people loving sharing. It is rude NOT to share. That is why the table is covered in a paper sheet before the meal (people grab food from dishes in the middle of the table and do not even pass the bowl, which is customary in American dining). I was shocked by how "gruff" Greeks appear in speech. It felt like they were shouting or unfriendly but that is not the case. It is not like how us Minnesotans have to sugar coat greetings (even if we do not like somebody) in a cheery sounding voice. People say "Kaliméra" for good morning and "Kalispéra" for good evening. In Greece, you drink an apéritif (we drank it after dinner though) that is anise-flavored called Raki. You sip it, although I always took it as a shot. For breakfast, you can drink Greek coffee which is prepared in a special type of pot on the stove called a briki. You have to add your sugar before you serve the coffee because you cannot stir the coffee once it is in your cup, as the grounds sit on the bottom of the cup. It is not exceptional coffee (the one I am drinking right now has a potato after taste) but it is cheap and Greeks spend all day sipping it. On the islands, sage tea is quite common and it is delicious and relaxing on the stomach. I drank it overlooking the harbor in cafes and felt so calm. Cheese is a big deal here. Many locals make a sour cheese that is so good on bread or salads. Feta is obviously very popular and they put huge chunks of it on Greek salad (my favorite!). Greek salad has green peppers, olives, tomatoes, onions, feta, olive oil, and oregano (very common spice here) on it. There is no leaf like lettuce or spinach, but it is still excellent and healthy!

In Greece, especially in the islands, you will find cats EVERYWHERE. And it's not like they have mange or are anorexic. Now this is my kind of place (except they should spay their pets!). They are very sweet and meow like little beggars at you and run around the table except when the dogs come and chase them :K. Greece has some of the best beaches I've ever seen! While they have pebble beaches and lack the beautiful sand of SE Asian beaches, like Boracay's or Koh Phi Phi's, they have magnificent views of the mountains on the islands, tiny islands around the harbor, gorgeous sailing boats, and fishermen sailing into the sunset with their dogs. I have yet to see an ugly sunset in Greece, even in the off season when the weather is a bit colder. If you wanted to take up painting or photography, this is the place as it is impossible to get an ugly view. There is an absurd amount of islands here. People live a much more laid back lifestyle in the islands as compared to Athens, but are very set in their ways. There are many cultural and custom differences between islands! For example, people on Kalymnos refuse to let their loved ones or valued guests pay for anything, as they are extremely hospitable. They also like to launch bombs (easter eggs?) on Easter, which is beyond me. Go look it up! Diving here is fantastic. I went on five dives throughout the week. I saw a wreck dive (WWII Nazi hydroplane crash), a few spots with amphorae from Phoenician times, two wall dives (reached 27 m below), and a cave dive. Every time I go scuba diving, I get so much better as I have to deal with new conditions, like sinus issues (struggling to equilibrate my sinuses during the descent), communicating underwater, equipment issues, conserving air, dealing with cramps, dealing with choppy surface water, learning to not kick up silt but also hovering with good buoyancy, etc.

Soon I will be off on a ferry to Athens. My flight time keeps changing every 5 seconds (thanks Ryanair!) and I fly out to Bulgaria on Wednesday. I cannot wait to explore Eastern Europe!!!!!




​From Top to Bottom: 

Sailing into Amorgos

Old man and the sea in Amorgos

Our jolly crew 

The lounge on our boat

Likes

Comments

Quick Update: I am currently in Athens on Day 3 and am planning on eating as much Greek food as possible (street food is very cheap here, like 2 euros for a Greek bagel, 2 euros for a gyro) and drinking Greek wine (also cheap at 4.5 euros a glass). The Greek accent reminds me a lot of the Italian accent. Greek people are literally some of the most beautiful people I've ever seen (a huge amount of them look like models) and many are very kind. I spent the day at the Benaki Museum, which is filled with many beautifully arranged collections of art, clothing, instruments, and jewelry from Ancient Greek times. There's a reason Greek art has such a high reputation. It amazes me how intricate and ornate the designs on the pottery and gilded metals are. So cool!!! I took a prehistoric archaeology of Europe course in college and I'm sad that we didn't cover Greece (it was far too large for a semester with the rest of prehistoric Europe). I also walked to the Parthenon, the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was my favorite temple! It's amazing to stare up at such huge columns and weathered marble sculptures, and marvel at how ingenious these people were. Athens reminds me a lot of Rome as every corner you look, there's something historic about it. It definitely deserves a visit from a European backpacker, as it's affordable, interesting, and charming in its own way.

As I travel, I get worn out from all of the stress of long flights, dramatic hostel guests, and what feels like the doomsday of the US presidential election. I feel like retreating into a tiny box and not leaving. The more you travel, the less the idea of seeing a zoo, a beach, or a temple seem novel. I do have a long bucket list and I don't regret traveling for so long (I am happy I started in Asia where I could appreciate the cultural differences between America and Asia more than Europe), but I have come to the decision to not spend several days in a city. I want to simply see the major sites, try the major foods, then pack up and leave. I'm thrilled to be sailing for a week in the Cyclades, as it will be a nice change of pace and I can get out of a hostel, but I know when I come back and leave for Sofia, I'll be on quite the quick backpacking expedition.

Here are some of the chaotic thoughts I had while strolling around the Benaki Museum, sitting on a cramped 10 hour flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, and contemplating my life and the point of living. This is what happens when you are removed from your normalcy for the last 5 months.


Life isn't about safety
If you want safety stay in your mother's womb, better yet, don't be born!
Sure I could get married out of college, have kids, watch reality television, never question anything everyone tells me, buy new clothes at the mall every weekend, drink my $5 Pumpkin Spice frappe everyday and always do what society tells me. I could follow the religion of my family and community, only visit resorts in Mexico and celebrate my awful football team I have no desire to follow in order to be a good citizen. I could never question my beliefs, my values or what anyone tells me. I could be a racist jackass and push people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds to the ground to empower my own insecure and hateful mind. But what kind of life is that?
I want to motorcycle through mountains in a first world country on a beat up 110 CC engine.
I want to be an independent woman not afraid of solo traveling at night (within reason of course) and be an example so others feel encouraged.

I want to be the friend that looks after others and feels comfortable in giving everyone a chance, while also not feeling embarrassed to assert her boundaries in order to uphold my dignity and personal wellbeing.

I want to travel to places everyone says to not go to when they do not know the actual danger, or what actually happened in these countries. I want to travel smartly around Egypt, Myanmar, the Philippines.
I want to go to places I don't speak the language and learn about their culture.
I want to meet Russian strangers at airports and talk about their lives and what our "enemy" cultures have in common. We're all just people too.
I want to try food that repulses me and find out I love it!

Travel makes you realize how little you know. And how silly it is to never change your beliefs and subscribe to the lifestyle that society tells you is "right." No. There are so many people in this world and so many philosophies that simply following what others in your culture tell you to do is mundane and makes you ignorant.

​From top to bottom: 

-Cappuccino, spinach and feta and cinnamon sugar phyllo dough pastries

-Temple of Venus 

-The Parthenon (no picture of the whole thing because it is under repair)

-overlooking the beautiful city of Athens from the temple grounds 

-Temple of Olympian Zeus (my favorite!!)

Likes

Comments

I'm writing this blog post from the lazy confines of my comfy hostel/hotel lounge. My hotel has a nice Taiwanese breakfast buffet every morning. I've noticed the food is quite greasy and oily, but not in a repugnant way. Like the eggs are definitely softer and the garlic lettuce dish I've eaten everyday for breakfast is also oily and wet.

Taiwan has some of the best night markets I've ever seen! There are shit tons of them all throughout Taipei, with places to sit and enjoy your cheap meals. If you asked me how to describe Southeast Asia, I would describe it in these words: hot, humid, tropical, night markets, crappy beer, Buddhist, noodles, rice paddies, fish, tea, mopeds. I'm probably missing a lot of words but those are pretty ubiquitous throughout the places I've been. The people in Taiwan are SO DIFFERENT from Chinese people, it baffles my mind that some people consider Taiwan a part of China. Taiwan has its own successful economy (it's part of the Asian Tigers including Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, meaning they had rapidly evolving economies in the 60s and can stand alone), its own culture distinct from mainland China, its own relationships with foreign nations, and so many other things. The people are very nice, helpful, quiet (I've only met extremely loud Chinese people since traveling in Asia), and well accomplished. I'm consistently impressed with the amount of Asians I see traveling abroad (many travel to the Philippines to learn English because it's cheaper), particularly South Koreans! If I have children, I'm forcing them to study abroad for a bit so they can learn a language of their choosing. It's ingenious and I so wish I had done that!

I visited Longshan Temple in Taipei and was blown away by the beauty of the scenery; there's dragon fountains spewing water into a tranquil koi pond with beautiful bushes and flowers surrounding the perimeter, ornately carved bronze dragons, beautiful rooms filled with offerings, relaxing oriental music playing, and intoxicating incense flowing around the grounds.

Aside from visiting temples and eating my face off, I've been drinking tons of bubble tea. I love the tea here as it is incredibly fresh (it's as fresh as Japanese tea, which is a huge compliment).There is an endless number of varieties of bubble tea here, and of course I don't know all the options because some are in a weird Mandarin to English translation. I usually am boring and get milk tea or Taiwanese tea with pearls because it's frickin delicious.

Yesterday I went to the hot springs and was amazed by the amount of older Taiwanese people there. Of course I saw a few Koreans, Japanese (it used to be a place for the Japanese (during the occupation) to relax and indulge in their onsens), and Europeans (? Some white people) as well. You can move in between four different pools of varying temperature (the hotter pool flows into the lower temperature pool) and it's only 40 TWD to get in for foreigners! That's a little more than 1 USD. The pools were a bit gross because I saw dead skin and hair flowing around, but not everyone showers before getting in :(.

I honestly have no idea what I'm doing on my last day in Taipei, but most likely something involving my favorite hobby, eating. I'm flying to Hong Kong tomorrow and will be spending two nights there. I'm very sad about leaving Asia, as I've spent the last FIVE MONTHS of my life in Australasia. The better part of it surely was in Asia! I know I'll be back here someday, though I don't know if I'd live here. Maybe Japan, maybe Singapore, maybe Seoul. I don't know. I'd love to spend more time in Vietnam and Thailand, and I have yet to see much of Malaysia or ANY of Indonesia. What a cool continent :). In leaving Asia, I have noticed my anxiety spike up: it's the idea of my travels ending and I hate that feeling! I don't want to ever think my journey ends as I love traveling and am seriously considering on settling in the US for a year or through grad school to get more education and then perhaps finding a reason to leave to travel more. It's not that I don't want to live in the US someday, it's simply that I love traveling. I aspire to see as much as I can of the world, be it a new culture, new people, travel through a new language, a new style of transportation (I.e. Trikes, Jeepneys, songthaews, etc.) and simply living in Minneapolis the rest of my existence is not the way to do it. Nor is staying in Asia the rest of my travels, but I'm stoked to see where life takes me on that note. :).

Taiwanese night markets;

From top to bottom:

-Mango shaved ice

-Making an oyster omelette

-Steamed pork buns

-Candied, skewered strawberries

-Strawberry milk tea with pearls

-Taiwanese lemonade (looks very gelatinous because it is but it's very tasty)

-Beef noodle soup

-Steamed pork bun

This is just a fraction of the foods you can get...

​As I was eating a doughnut in one of my favorite doughnut shops from the US (this is the first international store for Voodoo Doughnut, and I just happened to come across it here in Taipei!!!!!!! :O), I was laughing because I realized there are so many funny things about the US that you only notice after spending extensive (and I mean more than a few months) time abroad. I'll start this list:

1. Our coffee sizes are GINORMOUS. I used to get coffee with my coworkers and get a 20 oz without thinking (of course after drinking a coffee for breakfast from home) because I wanted the biggest bang for my buck. When I was in the Philippines, I went to Starbucks. This was the first Starbucks I've seen abroad that offers 20 oz!!! I looked disgusted as I stared and marveled at the enormous cardboard caffeine vessel in front of me. I wonder if I'll start drinking those again when I'm home?!
2. Drinking ice cold water or water with ice is bizarre. While I do think it's really refreshing, NOBODY does that here. Or even in Australia or New Zealand, I don't remember that being an option (although it surely has a higher chance of being an option). Of course there, you can order a soft drink with plenty of ice, but lukewarm or warm water is so much more common. 
3. I find it strange how much my diet has changed. At home, I live off of spinach, wine (I seriously haven't had any quality wine the last five months, which is soon to change thanks to Greece and Italy), craft beer, pasta, and pizza. I honestly haven't seen a leaf of spinach my entire trip, which is really sad. Spinach deserves worship due to how healthy and versatile it is.
4. The stupid amount of pharmaceutical ads we have in the US on TV. This is coming from a lady that loves pharmacology and strongly believes in the necessity of Western Medicine (though I do believe Eastern Medicine is important and must not be ignored, especially for those cultures that use it in America). It's disgusting. The only persons that should be discussing medicine with you is your doctor/CNP/PA or your pharmacist. PERIOD. You won't find that advertisement anywhere outside of the US, as far as I know. We're so backwards!!! 
5. Our wastefulness. While I'm happy to say that I shop at a store that penalizes you for not using reusable bags (Aldi) and Minnesotans are better about it than what I've seen abroad, I feel that Americans purchase way more food, clothes, and material goods than any other culture in the world. It's disgusting and wasteful.
6. It's crazy how many Americans drive cars. Obviously our country is more spread out but nonetheless, it is frustrating. I love my car but not everyone has the option of buying one, so they're pretty screwed transportation wise because of our transport infrastructure.
7. Our love of Christianity. The only country that loved Christianity more than we did was the Philippines, which was shocking coming from places like New Zealand and Australia. 
8. We don't eat fish as much as Asian countries, for obvious reasons. 
9. We're really loud, though not as loud as Chinese people in public places >D
10. We support marijuana much more than other countries in Asia! In a lot of places, if not all, you'll go to prison and sometimes it means death, say the Philippines!
11. We support gays much better than Asia
12. We are SO globally recognized. We're very lucky for that and have a huge responsibility in upholding foreign diplomacy and acting as a respectful world power. We can't let that get to our head, which has happened so often in the past.
13. We are an incredibly diverse country. However, we don't support these diversities enough!
14. We eat way more frozen and processed foods than any other country I've seen. Ew. 
15. Our bread is so fresh and healthy. I miss that. Going to American stores in the bakery aisle, you'll find a million options for whole grain bread whereas in Australasia, it's usually just white bread. 

Obviously this is not a fair assessment (can we really help it that we don't eat fish when most of us don't live on the ocean?) but this is what has gone through my mind as some huge differences between Australasia and the US. 

Likes

Comments

I originally wrote a note on my phone about how frustrated I was with so many things in Cebu (not with Filipinos themselves, rather the circumstances their country is in). In a nutshell, I couldn't believe the poor quality of food available to Filipinos on Cebu (I find it better in Manila and definitely Boracay, well because it's for privileged tourists). In Oslob, I could not find any healthy food. I woke up to grab a cup of noodles with pebble sized cat food (was actually beef, but I doubt its authenticity). I also ate a very processed ice cream bar because well, there was no other food available!! You can go to greasy, shitty burger joints like fast food places, or eat garbage hot dogs. Since my stomach wasn't tough, I didn't want to get street food because it looked like it was sitting out all day (not wanting to repeat my bad luck with the Myanmar samosas in Pyin Oo Lwin and hurling). Filipino food has loads of meat in it. The agricultural sector is not nearly as developed as other third world countries. I did not find any fresh vegetables at the market in Oslob! I'm also frustrated with how filthy Cebu is. I've been all over Vietnam, parts of Myanmar, parts of Thailand, and two major cities in Cambodia, and the cleanliness rivals Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which is a horrible compliment. Considering the Philippines used to be a SE Asian power in the 50s and 60s and now it's being surpassed by countries like Vietnam and Thailand, it's shocking! I'm not going to pretend I understand Filipino sociology or politics, but damn, there must be some major corruption if there are so many homeless people. People here are very kind and I feel so surprised they are living in the conditions they are. On that note, Manila is also pretty dirty and in bad condition. The LRT (train line) is a joke and needs to do so much better! It took me 1.5 hours to get from the airport to 8 km away in Intramuros. So bad!!! Compare this to another third world country's capital city, Bangkok, who has an outstanding sky train (albeit God awful traffic). Manila traffic is awful!!! Again, I really feel for the Filipinos that have to work in that :(. Hopefully the economy picks up because the Philippines is an awesome place to go and a must for SE Asian backpackers!

On that note, let's talk about Boracay! I bought a spontaneous flight there from Cebu because Coron was twice the price and 5x the time to get to! Boracay is not too expensive and has the best beach I've ever seen. Island hopping is so fun! I went to Crystal Cove, White Beach (the main beach), Puka Beach, and many other beaches. I did a scuba dive there (I had an awesome time and saw clownfish, many beautiful corals, damselfish, tangs, starfish, and many other cool species). I also went paddle boarding, which is very hard to stand up on! I met some cool ladies in my hostel that I went out with and we really enjoyed the Boracay nightlife, which is quite lively and fun. Overall, I couldn't recommend Boracay enough and would definitely say it's a great place for a honeymoon or fun vacation. Loved it there!

Currently, I'm waiting for my flight to Taipei (I've been in Manila the last 12 hours and I'm so drained). I get in at 12 am and am probably going to sleep at the airport. I'm so stoked to visit and drink bubble tea like my life depends on it! :D I'm too lazy to write much more so I'll share some awesome photos from one of the best trips on my erm, trip.

Pictures from top to bottom: Boracay boat men are badass and like to hold boats together with their feet.

Soursop in Oslob (my favorite SE Asian fruit). I spit out the seeds like sunflowers.

Boracay island hopping.

Looking out of Bay Watch on Crystal Cove in Boracay.

Paddle boarding like a non-pro. I can barely stand on a surf board so paddling and moving the board without falling is pretty challenging.

White Beach, Boracay.

Likes

Comments

13/09


Ahhh the thrill of visiting a new country, especially a third world country. A new set of faces, a strange language, finding commonalities between people of the same culture...I'm so excited to leave my familiar first world comforts behind for something that challenges my patience and feels completely undiscovered. I'm currently flying from Auckland to Cairns (for a short stopover until I board the exact same flight) and then I'll be arriving in Manila very early in the morning. Luckily, I board my flight to Cebu not more than a few hours after, so it will have been a long day for me! I woke up for the airport shuttle at 5:30 AM this morning (I've always been a morning person so it wasn't that bad). I am so happy with Philippine Airlines. I didn't even pay for a checked bag (because I wasn't sure what their policy on my 10 kg backpacking bag would be) and they checked it. They were also highly professional, punctual, and fed me dinner and red wine for free! I didn't even pay for it at checkout, which is exceptional considering I didn't even get fucking water on my 7 hour flight from Osaka to Cairns from Jetstar...though every airline shines in comparison to that garbage. If this is a foreshadowing to my experiences in the Philippines, I'm so beyond excited :D!
I'm not sure how long I'll be in Cebu, but I will be going to Bohol for a day at least. I considered Palawan and Coron, but I might just head for Luzon instead. I fly out of Manila for Taiwan on the 21st. If you're ever traveling to the Philippines or New Zealand, do know that they both require proof of exit! I feel like almost every country I've flown into in Asia has requested it but not enforced the rule (by the check in staff) but they are not kidding around here! Deciding to go to Taiwan was as easy as deciding to buy a neck pillow for a 14 hour flight...it's just that cool! I've heard fantastic things about the markets, the nightlife, the nature, and the people. I also can't wait to pay homage to the country that invented my job in college, i.e. making bubble tea. And I've met some awesome Taiwanese people :).
One of the joys of traveling and backpacking is seeing what random occurrences cross your path. In a library at my hostel in Paihia, I traded my barely read (because it was boring and pretentious as hell) copy of Life of Pi for Deception Point by Dan Brown (which was so good!!!!). I then traded my copy of Deception Point for the first Game of Thrones novel (can you believe I found that in a hostel library?!). Of course it's completely dilapidated and annotated with a foreign language on weird words like "harp," "maggots," and "shattered," but that just adds to the fun and history of the book.
Unfortunately, I'm in for a 5 hour flight to Cairns, but if there's one thing I learned about myself, it's that I'm really awesome at turning my brain off and not thinking about sitting in the airport for almost 12 hours and also sitting on a plane. I absolutely loathe airports, with their overpriced bullshit paraphernalia (though I understand why you might shop at a souvenir shop if you haven't actually visited the country and won't have the opportunity to) and obnoxious people shouting over you, spitting into trash cans, putting leashes on their children (seriously if I had kids, I would never treat them like a dog), and having only 30 minutes of free WIFI for a 12 hour layover. That's another thing I love about good ol' 'Merica, she loves her free and fast WIFI (we Americans have attention spans of 5 seconds and can't bear to not check Facebook or Reddit every waking moment).
As I was reading the Filipino newspaper offered on my flight, I noticed some staunch differences between American journalism and foreign journalism. First of all, Americans have no problem naming people that are arrested or thought to be involved in a crime, including the victims. I noticed this in Australia, as a person who stabbed a convenience store worker wasn't even named or pictured. In the Filipino article mentioning drug crime, the individuals arrested were left unnamed so as not to "bring shame to the families." Another interesting difference is that American media is so filtered (but isn't all media to some degree?). What I mean by that is we're afraid to offend anyone. How did I come up with that idea? Well, I read a few articles in the newspaper about how Americans are not fighting Middle Eastern terrorism appropriately (interesting for another uninvolved nation to comment on our struggle...) and open and honest criticism of how Duterte (Filipino president) is handling the war on drugs. I would not be shocked to see such criticism on Obama from a Fox News outlet, but when the name of the newspaper sounds pretty neutral (Malaya Business Insight), it's surprising to see such commentary. I was also surprised to see justifications on why Duterte wasn't in a way, "sucking up" to Obama and the U.S. when the Philippines had done so in the '60s and '70s. I don't think American journalism would ever say such things about other presidents so overtly, unless it were a radical journal.


14/09

Landed in Cebu and sleeping on my bed (I'm in a coma thanks to Gravol, jet lag, travel exhaustion, and feeling a bit nauseous from dinner at a sketchy BBQ, so do excuse any grammatical mistakes).
General observations on the Philippines:
-I'm surprised by how third world the country is, despite how many Filipinos I see traveling abroad. Call me naive, but it's on the same scale of poverty as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia (well, maybe not Cambodia), and Myanmar, and I don't see any citizens of those countries with money traveling abroad. I'm no sociologist, but that's pretty surprising!!! I was sort of expecting something in between Thailand and Korea, i.e. a little dirty, with bad water, but not as impoverished.
-People are so friendly. This is annoying when it comes to me getting excited "hellos" as I'm walking down the street and a passing jeepney full of guys has to cat call me. O_O I'm just not used to it after being away from Southeast Asia for 2 months.
-Jeepneys are buses here. They're like the Thai Songthaew, but bigger like a bus. I'm intimidated by them but I'm determined to use one! They are covered in artistic murals and drawings.
-Food is gross (sorry Philippines). It's just lackluster in comparison to Viet or Thai food. They do have a lot of dried foods on Cebu I want to try though! Like dried mango, danggit (dried and salted rabbitfish), and dried squid.
-I found a scuba dive for $25!!!! OMG. WHY this is so awesome!
-There's a million cool beaches and islands to visit. SO suck it Australia, I'm done paying over $100 to visit a crowded, overrated beach (ehem Whitsundays). Gotta love SE Asia :)
-I'm so hot Wahhhh. The heat shocked me a bit as I walked 2 km to the post office and felt like passing out. Gotta toughen up!!
-Island hopping via plane and ferry is ubiquitous, but usually pretty cheap. I want to go to Coron though and I would probably pay about $180, which ain't cool considering how cheap my flights to Taiwan and Hong Kong are. Boohoo.
-I miss you cheese, yogurt and fresh bread. RIP Western supermarkets
-Some German lady in Australia warned me the Philippines was expensive. LOL. I just bought lunch for $1. Nope.
-English is everywhere and so far Filipinos are fantastic English speakers. Lucky!
-There are so many malls, yet I haven't been yet.
-Surprisingly haven't seen many Muslims or hijabs in Cebu or in the Manila airport.
-The Spanish influence here is so strong! Tagalog sounds pretty Spanish to me and people definitely look so different from other Asians (I love seeing this in each culture I visit). They have tanned skin, can be very tall or short (I feel like women are often shorter) and the kids are so darn cute! The Filipinos I have met are very bubbly, friendly, and helpful. They are a lively culture. I also feel that "small talk" with Southeast Asians is a lot more meaningful than it is with westerners because their perspective is a lot more interesting and in general, a lot less whinier or mundane (I'll speak for myself on that one ;)).
-There is a crazy war on drugs going on (thanks to President Duterte) that is very reminiscent of the American war on drugs. Though I won't say I feel like Cebu is a crack infested place. It might be behind closed doors, but it's no different from seeing people opening tiny ziploc bags of Oxy or coming into cafes to yell at drug dealers like I experienced in Sydney and other parts of touristy areas in Australia. Gotta love this fear people have of drugs and third world countries yet drug abuse and the issues that plague it are all over America, Australia, Europe, and New Zealand. Can't necessarily say the same about first world Asia, to my knowledge.
-Also, something that hasn't been in my life for awhile: BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP! Honk BEEP honk! (:

Likes

Comments