The last few days I've been incredibly lazy as I'm just catching up on sleep (from a crazy, though very rewarding and packed week in Egypt). I've walked into my first mosque (the famous Blue Mosque of Istanbul), which is a lot like a Buddhist temple in that your knees and shoulders need to be covered, and you are not allowed to wear shoes. Like some temples, women and men have separate areas for prayer or meditation. Women must also cover their hair, whether it's a hoodie or a hijab. There's a giant carpet on the floor covering the mosque. I was very impressed with the beautiful domed ceilings and ornate mosaics. I really love the art of Islam, including the calligraphy of Arabic. Naively, I assumed not many Turkish people were muslims and that if they were, they would definitely speak Arabic so they could read the Quran. Apparently the majority of Turks in Turkey are Islamic but they don't necessarily read Arabic, just as not all jews read Hebrew.

For someone who is very western, I am still trying to wrap my head around the whole Muslim concept. I'm so surprised at how incredibly broad the religion is. It's like the practice of Christianity, which has a zillion different sects, spectrums, and schools of thought. Muslims in Turkey wear the hijab and the burka a lot less than in Egypt, though in Egypt I felt like I saw fewer mosques. While Egypt is not secular like Turkey, it didn't come as such a surprise to me at how religious they were like Turkey has! There are so many mosques here and I have only seen two churches (zero synagogues). It's strange, considering how many Turks I meet abroad that don't practice Islam yet all Egyptians I've ever met are active Muslims (i.e. They told me or I asked them about their faith) or Coptic Christian.

Speaking of religion and vices, I have had only one drink the last week and a half!!!! Considering how much I enjoyed in Italy, it's humorous! I feel fine but alcohol is so expensive here and it's not very good. I can't wait to drink Cava in Spain.😈

Today I booked my two week Swedish course intensive in Stockholm and I AM SO EXCITED!!!!!!!!!!! I really loved and treasured my experience learning Italian in Bologna and am looking forward to better understanding the culture in Sweden's capital city. I am planning on going to Uppsala (a university town) for the weekend but we'll see if I go anywhere else. Scandinavia is one of the last places I haven't seen much of in Europe, and I see very few of their people abroad.

After leaving Egypt and getting quite used to how aggressive and annoying the catcalling can be, I braced myself for Istanbul. Luckily, it really hasn't been bad. I haven't gone out at night yet, but at least people haven't (jokingly) offered to marry me for 3 camels. Speaking of marriage, I brought a fake wedding ring with me that I bought at a market in Chiang Mai just in case someone was thinking about harassing me. Unfortunately, I am the world's worst liar and I'd feel like Kristin Wiig pretending to be Khaleesi on Jimmy Kimmel if someone asked me about my fiancé or husband, so I quickly ditched that plan.😂 Luckily, I've been okay as I am pretty damn good at being assertive and having a poker face when I need to. In all seriousness, if someone ever gave me the creeps and was asking where my boyfriend was (something that I was asked a million times to my annoyance in Egypt), I would lie and say back at my hostel. It's better to be safe than sorry. To be fair, I met my fair share of creepy men ALL OVER the world, from Korea to Singapore to the US.

On a semi-related note, it's funny how inherently sexist Islamic culture is. I will preface this paragraph by saying I do not care what other people want to wear, what to believe, and what philosophy they practice so long as it doesn't hurt other people. If you want to wear a burka and only allow your husband to see you, that's your choice. If you want to refuse getting an abortion even though you were raped, that's your choice. However, I am so impatient with anti feminism. One of my guides kindly offered to take me to a shisha bar in Egypt. In Egyptian culture, the man pays for everything. He invited me to shisha and tea, so I obliged and was very grateful for his guidance in showing me how to smoke and eat some of the deserts from Egypt. We were having an interesting discussion on the family structure of Egyptians and he brought up strong women. He said that strong women are "equal to ten men." I bit my tongue and internally giggled at his comment, and he continued to explain that I couldn't bend the spoon on the table as fast as he could. While I know for certain he wasn't trying to be patronizing nor rude, it made me realize that although his mindset is incredibly backwards, American (or rather, Western) ideology is also very backwards and pretends to be feminist. While some may think equality is as simple as realizing that self-worth isn't as benign as being able to deftly bend an eating utensil, it's much bigger than that. It's looking at a woman doctor and realizing she is as capable of doing her job as a man. A male nurse isn't gay or incompetent or a man who couldn't get into medical school. The west still fails to see how equality works, and instead lazily point their finger to Saudi Arabia and patronizingly tell feminists "oh boohoo, you could be there and you think you don't have equality." This cavemen mentality is how progress is prevented.

Speaking of differences in cultural philosophies, I was shocked at the behavior I witnessed as a Westerner getting a free walking tour. The concept of free walking tours is simple: if you like the tour you go on (the several hour long tour that takes up the guide's time and energy), you can tip as much or as little as you like. A tip is expected and it is INCREDIBLY rude to not tip. I went on a guided tour with some people from Western Asia and Northeastern Europe and I was so shocked to see they didn't even leave this 45-year old man a few lira. I ended up tipping $8 (he said it was very generous) but when I asked if they were going to leave anything, one lady said "Oh we don't tip." She said it with a flirtatious smile on her face that made it seem like it should be funny, but there's nothing funny about being a freeloading cheapskate that thinks they're entitled to another person's kindness. Moral of the story: culture is CRAZY and something that you think is obvious may not be so obvious. I'm sure there have been times on my trip that I've unintentionally been rude, so I hope the more I travel the better I am able to communicate respectfully with people. There's nothing more irritating to me personally than someone who is deliberately rude or ignorant. Respecting a culture while you're traveling is SO IMPORTANT. That's why it's paramount to understand just because you're following the rules doesn't mean you uphold these ideals to yourself. To clarify, just because I'm wearing a hijab in a mosque or allowing a man to pay for me does not mean I don't believe in free expression of clothing or providing equal compensation for other people. However, it would be incredibly rude to walk into a place of religious worship without respecting their customs or to disrespect my host by not accepting his payment for our tea and shisha. It's all about cultural perspective, not ethnocentrism.

Left: ignorantly didn't know about the etiquette of walking into a mosque so luckily pulled out this scarf (made me feel like my grandma when she dressed up for the winter)

Right: I absolutely adore Islamic art! I'm so excited to go to Morocco!!!

Left: Grand Bazaar. Bought some Lavender soap there and was hassled by a million vendors to buy tea (they made me some and kindly shoved bits of chocolate Turkish Delight in my face)

Right: Nothing funnier than watching an ice cream vendor mess with you (it took him a minute to finally give me the cone)

​Left: Breakfast platter with cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, fried egg, fry bread, olives, and apple and strawberry jams (not picture is Lebanese bread)

Right: Walked into this hilarious traditional Turkish dancing circle...reminds me of the traditional dances of Bulgaria I learned!

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Top: getting some air in the pyramids

Bottom Left: Sphinx in Giza!

Bottom Right: I was so desperate to ride my first camel so my guide switched halfway through for me! Such a stubborn animal. Like a tall llama with a big hump (they give you major side eye).


Top: The government unfairly charges tour guides throughout their trips (they may double fine sometimes!). When other people ask for money it's called baksheesh and it's commonly enforced because people are not making enough money here due to the heavy inflation!

Bottom: Giza is basically a giant sand pile with fun pyramids surrounding a city.

Left: Beautiful panorama of Giza

Center: Catacombs of Alexandria

Right: Citadel of Alexandria behind me and the ocean (Northern part of Egypt)

Salaam. The last few days have been absolutely exhausting but so fun! From staying out late with my Italian friend treating me to Bolognese dinner and Fernet colas at the night market to sleeping in the Istanbul airport before catching my flight to Cairo, I've done a lot and slept in a lot of cars and strange places! Egypt in one word: wow. I had no idea or expectations coming into the country but there are so many thoughts pounding in my head.

Horrible traffic. Oh my GOD. We got in a minor scratch ordeal when coming to Giza because "little boys" (as my driver called them, AKA teenage Egyptians) driving a horse drawn carriage carelessly went too close to the car and scratched the bumper. It's hilarious watching and listening to the drivers quickly say things in Arabic under their breath and make hand signals (nothing profane like in the US) to people in the street and driving. People in Egypt DO NOT respect any traffic laws. At all. I thought Korean drivers were bad, or Croatian, or driving a motorcycle in Vietnam. LOL I wouldn't be caught dead driving anywhere here, whether a tuk tuk, a bike, or a car. Scary! Everyone rudely cuts each other off and honks. For me, the honking isn't stressful (reminds me of SE Asia), but the tail gating is irritating. I always worry about hitting people (and am shocked the highways aren't littered with decapitated feet everywhere) in the street because they cross right when traffic speeds up. It's like Russian Roulette for crossing the highway. People walk in between cars to sell stuff, like newspapers, food, and toys.

The people. Are. So. Sweet. Egyptian people provide amazing hospitality. I have been told "as you like" more times than I can count and always feel indebted to them because they go so above and beyond what they need to do as your driver or the receptionist. The servers are very sweet. I read somewhere not to look men directly in the eyes here (as it might mean you are attracted to the men) but everyone does and it doesn't seem to be a problem. Men are flirty but I think it's more of a cultural thing, rather than a "I want to fuck you" thing. Though, my tour guide did say he left his wife because he has always loved her sister, which was quite weird to admit to someone you barely know. You will be called habibti if you're a woman, which is a term of endearment. However, I've heard men call one another habibi, which is basically the same idea. While riding a camel across the desert, my guide joked that I was a queen (queue rolling eyes) and that I'm going to my pyramid (there was a queen's pyramid). Though it may seem creepy, it's totally in jest and Egyptian men love to joke. The Egyptian women I've met have been so sweet. Women drive cars (lol this isn't Saudi Arabia!!!!), are very smart (I've met a few young ladies that are getting hard degrees in engineering and the sciences), and work hard.

The people love foreigners, including Americans. I got stopped a million times today, much to my discontent, because people wanted to take pictures with a white person...ugh. There was an Australian guy I took a photo for and when he left a group of squealing teenage girls came up to me and asked me if we were married (lol I don't have a ring!) and if we could take selfies. Egypt is VERY westernized. Of the Middle Eastern countries, Egypt is probably the most westernized (if not Turkey). Keep in mind, something I didn't really think about is that Turkey is NOT Arabic. Do not ever call a Turkish person Arabic (it might be the same thing as calling a Brazilian person Chicano, which is Mexican). Another thing that is VERY cool about Egypt is that while the majority of people are Muslims, there are women that don't wear the hijab that are Muslim, and there are a few Coptic Christian churches. There is even a synagogue in downtown Cairo. People seem to be very peaceful with other religions here and mindsets, though of course they're probably going to be biased when it comes to topics like abortion and gay marriage (it's just not in the culture).

I will say, I was disappointed (though not surprised) when someone at my hostel told me about how he wanted to fight gay people and that he just can't understand them. He mentioned some horrible stereotypes about them (of course he mentioned the way they walk) to which I asked him how he didn't know I was gay or how did I not know he was gay? I told him you can't tell people are gay by the way they walk or chew gum, that everyone is different and that not all gay people are automatically attracted to you. It made me really sad to see some gay American guys come into the lounge, as I hope he hadn't treated them poorly. :(. While it's completely unacceptable to treat people poorly by their sexual orientation, it made me realize how Americans must view Muslims. He may hate gays and may be the extremist (maybe not though), but it's like an American talking about how you can just tell Muslims are bad and they're scary and want to kill you (of course disgusting propaganda).

Islam is such a new thing for me! I have no idea about the rules or how each country or each person views their religion, but I found out that it's just like Christianity in that you don't have to follow all the rules to be a Muslim. I naively thought Muslims could not drink alcohol (though they're not supposed to, just as Catholics aren't supposed to get divorced) and was shocked to hear people have sex outside of marriage quite commonly. Just goes to show how little you know about things outside of your culture's customs and religions! Before going to SE Asia, I had no idea what Buddhism was like, aside from my Tibetan Medicine class.

The weather is not too hot here! I'm happy to be here in the off season (though with the revolutions a few years ago, business has slowed down so much and the economy has completely crashed), and I cannot wait to come back to see more of the country, particularly the desert next time. I am only in Cairo a few days, and am about to take the overnight train to Luxor to see the Valley of the Kings, many other temples, and take a hot air balloon ride. I've been to Alexandria (today) to see the Catacombs and will end my trip scuba diving and snorkeling in Sharm el Sheikh.

I am currently very sore from riding the camel and horse yesterday. Camels have such a funny gait (you feel like you're on a tilt-a-whirl without the circle motion) and it's so funny to watch them growl and snort at you as you ask them to sit down. Once you touch their back, they get up really quickly so you must sit down right away! They're fun but VERY stubborn! I'm hoping to ride one in Morocco.

Left: My messy room in Bologna (in city center). So nice to have my own room for a change!!!!

Right: My tiny kitchen! Oh how I miss cooking!!!! Of course that's my prosecco! I made Linguine with Bolognese sauce (fun fact: the sauce is not from Bologna!), and freshly grated Parmesan EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. NOMMMMMMM

Left: Historic Bologna tours in city center

Right: Unfinished church. The city wanted the biggest church in Italy yet before they could finish, the Pope canceled their plans because he insisted that the biggest church should be in Rome.

Left: overlooking Bologna from San Luca

Top Right: a violin luthier I passed everyday on my way to school

Bottom Right: Bologna used to be a canal city, like a miniature Venice! Here is one such canal.

As for Italy. I'm in love! I love Italian people, am in love with the Italian men I've met (😍😍) as they're extremely polite, go out of their way to treat you, and although they have a bit of machismo attitude (of course they always insist on paying for everything and helping you everywhere, so different from Germans or Austrians!), they're so fun and smart! I loveeeee Bologna and I loved the school I went to. I would love to move there someday (as well as Vienna!) so we'll see how my Italian progresses. I was surprised to see how easy Italian was, as it is SO similar to French. Italians themselves are very good at Spanish, Portuguese, and French. In Bologna, they're very good at English. The city is so laid back and friendly to foreigners, though it's not a big tourist city like Roma or Firenze. It's affordable and beautiful, though a bit small. I've definitely fattened up from all of the pasta, gelato, birra, vino, and fernet colas I've had!

Ciao e Buona Sera!

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Left: Overlooking the old part of Dubrovnik

Right: Bombing from Serbian forces during the War at Fort Imperial


Left: Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana

Right: Looking out across Lake Bled

Looking out over Rialto Bridge in Venice. A dreary day on the Grand Canal. Believe it or not, there were still lines of tourists wanting a ride on the overpriced gondola in the rain!

​I'm just about to go grab dinner near my hostel before I meet up with some Venetian locals for drinks! As much as I whine and make fun of Venice for being the most touristy city I've ever been to, I can't help but admire how much locals admire it and how fun it is to walk around at night after getting 3 euro glasses of wine at the bar. It is a completely different city at night, and nobody was even out on Friday night!!!! It was just Carneval, so maybe locals are pooped out? I don't know.

I am getting ready to plan my trip to Egypt in a few weeks and am also preparing myself to start my Italian course in Bologna on Monday!! I'm very excited as the instructors are very friendly and enthusiastic. I have to laugh at Italians though. After being in more "passive" countries like Austria and Germany and even Eastern Europe (although I'm not sure I would call them passive, just not aggressive) I find it hilarious how blunt people are here. They are not afraid to tell you to fuck off if they feel it's necessary. For example, I just walked into the restroom to brush my teeth and the cleaning lady was so pissy sounding and asked rudely if I could wait 2 minutes?! I am sure she didn't mean to sound rude, but it came off very sharp, especially to someone spending $20 a night to stay in a hostel dorm... o_O. Also, while I had a great tour of Venice today, I couldn't help but laugh internally at how assertive our guide was up front. She angrily told us not to videotape her (the same was said by my guide in Prague, but he was more jovial about it) as it was very rude. While I totally agree with her and respect that, the Italian fierceness totally caught me by surprise (it's been a few years since I've been here). Oh Italians. They are also quite sweet people. I've hung out with a few the last couple of days and I can't believe how thoughtful and friendly they are :). One of the best parts about traveling is discovering what makes cultures unique. While you can't stereotype everyone, here are some of my general observations:

-Germans are so fun and quirky and intelligent and practical (I would probably say the same about the Dutch people I've met)

-The French tend to be either aloof and insensitive, or have a great sense of aestheticism (they know all about good food, wines, fun things to do, etc.)

-The Viennese people are also very fun and outgoing! I love Vienna and the people I've met there!!!!!

-Croatians are loving and welcoming. They have dealt with a lot of tragedy in the recent past (ehem Serbian war in 1991) but are so friendly and hospitable nonetheless. They're also fun and know how to party!

-I can't say much about Slovenians (only there 2 days) but I found them to be very passionate about their country and proud (but not arrogant per se)

There's more places I've been but I couldn't really describe to you the average Czech person or Hungarian person I've met as well as the other groups.

I've been sleeping a lot (due to very early morning buses), but the more I've traveled, the less I like to be out all day long.

Since my last post, I've been to Dubrovnik (in Croatia) and ran into the cast and crew of Robin Hood, though I didn't see Jamie Foxx :(. I loved Dubrovnik, although all of the things to do are pretty much not available at this time of year. Croatia is so much more affordable and "undiscovered" (meaning it's less popular than Italy, Greece, or more traditional countries to travel to) than any destination I've been to in Europe. I loved getting lost in the city walls and weaving my way in and out of the markets. I felt like Arya Stark in Game of Thrones :).

I love Ljubljana, although it is far too small for me!!! Lake Bled reminded me a lot of the alpine villages in Austria. Slovenia is a very cute little stop through the middle of Europe.


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For every rant about a city, there's gotta be at least some positive news right? Well, coming into Croatia I had no idea what to expect. I knew the beaches were beautiful (even though it's cold and it's the off season) and I figured people would be somewhere in between Greece aloofness and Italian friendliness. I cannot tell you how happy I am I decided to come here!

I've had very few bad experiences with Croatians and am shocked by how friendly they are. They're not in your face so sweet and smiley like a lot of the Italian people I met in Florence, Rome, and Cinque Terre, but they are downright kind people that are willing to help you. I was shocked when several people opened the door for me, waited for me to pass and apologized, and the amount of "thank yous" I get from shop owners. I know that sounds awful but believe me, you're not going to get that in a lot of Eastern Europe, at least where I've been.

One old man at a cafe even bought my espresso at the bus station! I was worried it would be creepy but he just smiled and said "Ciao." The Croatians I have met are so interesting, conversational, amazing at English, and bright. The men are so handsome here! :) And I had to go to the doctor for an infection (you need a doctor's prescription to get antibiotics) and he didn't even fill out paperwork so I would have to pay!!! The antibiotics were only $7 (about 42 kuna).

I'm also very surprised how well people speak English here! It's much better than Italy or Greece. Again, I had very few expectations for Croatia and I am so pleasantly surprised and happy to be here!

The food is so affordable. Everyday I get a pastry (usually a doughnut with chocolade filling) and an espresso, which comes out to $2. I also love their sandwiches which are only $2! They like deli meats here. I've had Ćevapi which is a popular Balkan dish consisting of minced meat "sausage" (there's no casing on the beef), paprika sauce, a Balkan flat bread, and chopped onions. There's a lot of variations but it's very good, even for someone who doesn't usually eat meat.

The alcohol here is interesting. I love Pelinkovac (pronounced "puh-link-o-vitz"), which is a wormwood liquor. It's amazing with coke! They also love Medica (a honey brandy) and other Rakias like cherry or blueberry brandy.

One thing I find funny about this country is that smoking rooms are everywhere, or rather, you can smoke in cafes and bars. It sometimes annoying when you're in a cramped room and somebody has particularly bad smelling tobacco, but I've gotten used to it. My hostel in Zadar even had a smoking room, which I've never seen! Most hostels in Europe (and Asia for that matter) don't want you smoking in or near the building, so this was surprising to see.

On the left is the view of the harbor in Split from the Bell Tower

On the right is the courtyard surrounding Diocletian's Palace. The old town of Split is basically a castle labyrinth. It's so cool!

Today I went walking around this massive park called Marjan in Split. Split is quite tiny (the old town is literally a fortress with business built into it) and there's not much else to see in 2 days, so I've been enjoying going out with people to the small pubs and cafes. It's a beautiful city on the Adriatic Sea. Zagreb was my favorite city, in the North. Zadar was too slow and not worth going to in the winter. There were many closed businesses. Don't come here in February, unless you're going to Zagreb. I am still happy I'm here, but this country would be so much better in all its glory if I was touring it in the summer. Tomorrow afternoon I leave for Dubrovnik, where King's Landing in Game of Thrones is. My friend told me that I will cross through Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to get to the very thin coastline of Dubrovnik.

After I'm in Dubrovnik, I'll be flying to Zagreb again (it's such a long, expensive bus ride back!) and then taking a bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia the next day.

All in all, I'm very pleased to be here and am so excited to continue this awesome journey. I'm going to miss the fun loving, sweet people of Croatia, but I know I will be back someday.

There are stray cats everywhere here!

Hiking through beautiful Marjan park

Pictures of the church on the hill and a panorama of the harbor. There are sailboats in the distance (kids learning how to sail).

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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

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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

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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.



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​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

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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)

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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

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