Browsing Category: Travel

Walkabout: Ferntree Gully edition

As I looked up at the trail ahead of me, I contemplated turning right around and hopping on the first train back to Melbourne. The steep incline in front of me was daunting to say the least, but I consoled myself by repeating that it was only 1,000 steps, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Well, it was definitely the most intense hike I’ve had in awhile, but once I made my way to the top and found myself on the fern engulfed path on the way down, the expansive views and feeling of accomplishment were worth every pain I felt in my legs initially.

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The 1,000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk is located in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, about an hour by train outside of Melbourne. The 1,000 steps are a memorial to the Australian soldiers who died in Papua New Guinea fighting the Japanese in WWII. The walk up is more of a workout than a leisurely stroll through beautiful scenery, but the trail down is the complete opposite. It is something out of Indiana Jones. The path consists of winding, treacherous, and soaked-through stairs. This is Ferntree Gully. Everything incredibly green, lush, the path taken over by king and baby ferns. It was the perfect way to cool down after the rigorous hike up.

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Being that I took on the hike by myself, of course, I found it a perfect time to reflect and find a metaphor for this journey that I’ve taken as my own this year. I thought back to all of my travels, and how much they have benefited my character, my life, my being, already at the young age of 23. I stumbled across a quote when I arrived safely back from the Australian wilderness that resonated with me greatly:

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” 

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I’ve already talked extensively about what it means to be a solo female traveler, and I think why I find it such an important topic to touch on, is because the majority of women I know back home are legitimately afraid of traveling alone, and with good reason. There are hate crimes constantly in the news, violence against women, rapes and murders of women who find themselves alone, even just being catcalled or aggressively talked to by men can be intimidating. But I think even more than that, it stems from the fear of being alone, and to an extent ending up alone.

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One of my favorite travel bloggers, Adventurous Kate, says it best:

“In early September, I had been secretly struggling in my relationship for about a year. I had come to the realization that staying in this relationship would mean staying in Chester, a place that I found suffocating. But what if this was as good as it got?

Finally, I whispered to myself, “If you end up alone, it’s okay. You’ll have a wonderful life.” I had never admitted that to myself before, and it brought me peace.”

I love that. Although it’s not necessarily anyone’s goal to end up alone, to be so completely comfortable and happy with the way you’re living your life as to make such a bold statement, I respect that to no end. I still remember the wall decor my step-mom gave me when I was still in my early teens stating that “well behaved women rarely make history.” I’ve always adored that quote, and if I do know anything about where my life is going at the moment, I know it’s heading furthest from direction of the mundane, and that’s good enough for me.

Maybe these are just random musings that won’t mean that same to me in a year, but at least right now, I’m happy to be walking amongst the ferns and finding my daily doses of beauty in the every day.

What makes you content in the present?

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Living the life of an American Abroad

Since the Fourth of July landed on a Thursday this year, I figured I would make my Throwback Thursday post about my first experience celebrating American Independence abroad in Italy, and in general what it means to be an American overseas when we don’t have the best reputation to begin with.

Stereotypes are commonplace in our society. They are an easy way for us to put places and people into organized categories. However, it does seem that Americans have more negative stereotypes than most, and to be fair there are definitely Americans I’ve met on my travels who have made me embarrassed about my nationality and do fit into the worst possible stereotypes, but there are so many more who don’t. That can be said for any nationality stereotype, I’m sure.

I think those who feel animosity and irritation towards the States tend to forget at times that all those judgements are generalizations, and each person you meet no matter what nationality is still going to be their own individual entity.

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There’s an ongoing “joke” that everyone hates Americans. It’s something that I nonchalantly grew up hearing in school in the States, something that I’ve always believed, and used to not really question because it was just a fact of the world. Even now, I still catch myself saying I’m Californian as opposed to American, when I’m abroad and someone asks me where I’m from, as if Californian has less of a negative connotation somehow.

When I was in Italy for American Independence Day, I was a little worried that it would just turn into a trash talking-fest of anti-American sentiment. Instead, there was a huge concert in one of the main piazzas, people were lined up for blocks on end, all in celebration of America. It gave me this gushy feeling of togetherness, like maybe this world isn’t as screwed up as I think it is, and maybe not everyone hates Americans as much as I think they do.

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I can understand the underlying resentments against Americans due to our history, our politics, Bush, our need to get involved in things internationally that we really shouldn’t be sticking our nose into. Our consistent issues with health and obesity, a great amount of plain ignorance, and our general ethnocentric attitude instilled in American society, especially when it comes to reporting world news and understanding what else is going on in the world besides just at home. Oh and of course, our lack of holding valid passports.

With that said, it’s a horrible thing to grow up feeling ashamed of your nationality, feeling that other people want you to be ashamed of calling yourself American. Traveling the world has caused me to face this head on, to take a step back and think of what it really means to be American, and in a way, to try and prove the judgmental naysayers wrong. It’s quite the task when you don’t find that many Americans to begin with on the backpacker trail, and all anyone has to rely on is the negative stereotypes, but I hope I’m proving at least a few of those stereotypes wrong.

Even just the other day I went into a bottle shop in Australia to buy a bottle of wine, and the Australian behind the counter asked me where my accent was from. I told him I was from California, and he replied that I should really tell people I’m from Canada because Australians like Canadians so much better. I get that kind of half joking banter constantly while I travel. Thankfully, I don’t take myself too seriously, so it’s usually just something I accept as I travel, that I just laugh off and make myself numb to, unless it’s said maliciously, in which case there is no way I will let it fly.

It’s an unsettling thing when people attack your nationality, because it’s not something that you should be ashamed of or that you can change. It’s something that you’re stuck with, like your personality, your appearance, and especially for Americans, it’s a part of who you are as a person.  

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When I was in Europe, there were a few cases of anti-American sentiment. One instance in Budapest, an old Hungarian man sneered something about stupid Americans at our group because the Irish girls at the front were talking a bit loud and animatedly. They told him they were Irish, and suddenly his scowl turned into a smile and he said thank god, well Irish is better at least. Me, being the only American in the group, completely quiet and hanging at the back watching all this go down, spoke up and let him know that I was American, thank you very much as I walked past.

What I always remember is that there will always be closed-minded and ignorant people in whatever country you travel, and if they want to categorize millions of people into one negative stereotype than that’s their issue. Although I’m not proud of a lot of aspects of my country’s past, and my nationality is something I’m constantly aware of when traveling abroad, I’m not ashamed to be American.

Now in Australia, it’s my 2nd time celebrating the Fourth overseas, so we’ll see how it pans out. It’s always strange celebrating a national holiday abroad, but as odd as it sounds, experiencing the Fourth of July in Italy changed the way I saw my nationality and how I believe outsiders to view it. It made me proud again to be an American, and to be thankful for my roots, my passion and pride that comes with being a Yank.

Life is a journey, not a destination

Warning: If you’re opposed to mushy and slightly cliché posts, I would avoid reading this one. 

At a recent get together with my bartender coworkers, there was a point in the night where we had all drank a fair amount of craft beer and were dancing ridiculously to Hot Chip, like the kind of dancing you usually save for being alone in your bedroom when no one will ever see what kind of moves you truly possess. That may seem like a weird time to have an epiphany, but I remember taking a second to just look around me and realize how lucky I felt to have met all of these people, and to feel so close and at ease with them, when a few months ago I had no idea who they were.

The words “life is a journey, not a destination” by Ralph Waldo Emerson came to mind.

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As common as that quote may seem, the most important life lesson I’ve learned from traveling is exactly that idea, especially when it comes to the people you meet and the bonds you form while on the road. I should’ve realized this sooner, being a psychology major and all, always in love with the idea of understanding people on a deeper level, yet it has taken me awhile and a few hurtful relationships to realize that attachment does not always have to hold a negative connotation.

I remember writing my piece a few months back on being alone vs. being lonely as a solo female traveler, and now when I read it, it feels as if I’m in a completely different city. That’s because the places you travel, no matter how beautiful and exciting they may be, are different to everyone depending on whom you meet along the way.

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A few months ago, I was still healing from an emotionally draining, yet profound two year relationship, I wasn’t really planning on making any attachments to Melbourne as a city or really to anything in my year of travel. And I’m not saying that the aftershock from that relationship has magically evaporated away, but I’m in such a different mindset now than I was when I first arrived in Melbourne. Although I still value my alone time greatly, and I will always be extremely independent whether I’m single or in a relationship, I don’t think I use it as a crutch as much as I used to.

I’ve always considered myself to be gregarious, friendly, and open, yet it still takes me awhile to completely be myself around someone new and to not put up a wall in order to hide myself away from judgement. Besides a few exceptions, my new housemate included, it takes time to truly be myself around new friends and groups of people that I meet.

Comparing where I was when I arrived and only had two friends in the city, to where I am today just a few months later, the changes are extraordinary. I’ve somehow built up my own friend base, a support system from scratch in a completely foreign place. I must say, that is one of the most reassuring realizations you can make in life; that you can start over anywhere and be more than okay, you can be genuinely happy.

My coworkers at the bar were the first ones who opened up to me and welcomed me into their inner circle. From my boss giving me my first ever motorcycle ride at 3 in the morning after my first week, to him offering to drop off my birthday card right before midnight so that I could have it before my birthday ended (let alone, my coworkers even getting me a birthday card after only working there for a month!), to playing Halo and drinking beer together on slow nights, to beer line parties, and house dinners, to going to gigs to support each other since a couple of my fellow bartenders are in bands. It literally feels like a family at times.

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And there have been so many others I’ve met on my journey so far. Jeff, a fellow American friend I randomly met in my RSA class, has become one of my best guy friends in the city. He is my partner in crime for tackling most of the tourist attractions around the city, or someone who I can just text randomly to go to a gig with me, or to check out the new exhibit at the Melbourne Museum.

I clicked immediately with my housemate from the day I met her, I knew we would be close friends from the beginning. She’s someone who’s always down to go out dancing, or just have a wine night after a busy weekend, and most importantly is cool to be a dork with me, even singing along with me while watching Moulin Rouge. The test of a true friendship.

These are just a few of the friendships that have had an impact on me since arriving in Australia, but there have been so many other instances of grabbing coffee with a new acquaintance every week, and even a few dates here and there, and I’m sure there will be so many more as I continue to travel around the world. I originally thought this year was going to be my year of being alone, but I find that I don’t have the time to be alone like I used to, and I’m okay with that. I’m finally completely immersed in my life in Melbourne, and I love it.

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I shouldn’t be surprised, it was the same with Europe and the lasting bonds I made through that trip. Two years later, I’m not only still in close contact with one of the girls I met in Europe, but I’m traveling through Southeast Asia with her for two months. Another one I met in Europe, was one of my only friends when I arrived in Melbourne, and still someone I hang out with on a regular basis.

The bonds you make while traveling are like no other, because at no other time will you be as vulnerable when you have nothing to fall back on, no comforts of home to keep you closed off from making new connections.

It’s funny when I think of how differently things could’ve turned out if I hadn’t found the job at the bar, or if I’d chosen a different house to live in, I could be writing a completely different post right now. But I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and although I still have awhile left in Melbourne, I can already tell that moving abroad was one of the most important things I could’ve done for myself.

I used to think negatively of attachments, always drawn to the Buddhist philosophy of living an attachment-free life, and I still believe the reason behind those teachings to an extent, because nothing in life is permanent. Yet now, even though I still hate saying goodbyes, I realize that attachments and the bonds you make along the way are what make life worthwhile and meaningful, at least to me, and why it’s so important sometimes to just allow yourself to live in the present. Hence, why I love traveling so much, because it constantly keeps you in that mindset.

When I pick up and leave Melbourne for Southeast Asia and continue on my journey, I think it’s going to be just as hard to say goodbye to my new life here as it was in San Diego, but I don’t regret it for a second, I’ve already learned so much from the people I’ve met along the way.

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“Getting lost isn’t something to avoid, but to embrace. The only leaps of faith you’ll ever regret are the ones you don’t take.” – The Lost Girls

Bathing at Brighton Beach

I remember seeing pictures of the Brighton Bathing Boxes before I arrived in Victoria. Being a person drawn to colorful and quirky things, I knew immediately I had to go see them for myself. There are 82 total bathing boxes on Brighton Beach, a tourist and historical attraction, they are still a sight to see. They have kept their original Victorian build from the 19th century, and even with the lack of amenities such as running water or electricity, you can still buy one of these babies for a little over $200,000 – the only catch, you have to already be one of the wealthy local residents of Brighton.

I’ve been meaning to take a train to Brighton for the last two months, but there was always a reason, mainly that it’s winter and either rainy or cold most days and the beach does not sound like the best place to go when you can’t feel your fingers.

Well, I finally made the 20-minute train journey to get to Brighton! The bonus, that it was at no extra cost to me. Brighton Beach Station is the last stop you can get to with a valid transportation (Myki) card before it starts costing extra money to travel around Victoria.

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It was a beautiful blue skies, although cold, weekend, so I thought perfect, I’ll go on Monday on my day off because the weather is finally decent enough for bundling up and walking on the beach. Hey, at least the pictures will look good with some color in the sky. Instead of the bright blues skies I was expecting, I woke up to the densest fog I’ve ever seen in Melbourne – BUT at least it wasn’t raining!

I had a ridiculous weekend, working 13 hours on Saturday only to go out dancing with my new housemate until 3am that night, and then working a 7 hour shift the next morning, and finishing off with an intense Bikram yoga class – I may or may not have almost passed out a couple times in the sauna-like room, due to my exhaustion and slight delirium.

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So, when I woke up on Monday to horrid beach weather, I surprised even myself that I still took the trip to Brighton Beach – although I took my sweet time to finally get my butt out of bed and out the door.

I love train rides, even short 20-minute ones. I popped in my earbuds and took in a different side of Melbourne and the surrounding areas whirring past while listening to Mumford & Sons, my go-to epic journey music. When I walked down to the beach from the station, there were even glimmers of blue skies in between passing clouds. I walked around a bend and suddenly all the little beach boxes were there glistening in the partial sun.

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Believe it or not, it was my first time feeling sand beneath my bare toes since arriving in Australia, and it was definitely the prettiest beach I’ve been to over here, although maybe that’s not saying much since Melbourne isn’t known for its beaches. Combine that feeling with exploring all the colorful bathing boxes, and I would say that I had quite that satisfying day off.

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My tips on staying healthy while traveling

One of the biggest challenges I came across when I first started traveling was how to stay healthy while living abroad. Through setting simple goals for myself and focusing on the three aspects I find most important to a healthy lifestyle (food, exercise, and well-being), I think I’ve finally found the perfect balance that keeps me feeling awesome and happy, no matter where I might be in the world.

Food

Food is something that is personal to most everyone. When you’re traveling and everything around you is different, it probably seems easiest and most comforting to stick to what you know. Unfortunately, this usually means universal fast foods and corporations, such as McDonalds or Starbucks. Food is one of the best ways to connect with the culture you’re visiting, and there are so many great new flavors for your taste buds to try located throughout the world, it would be a shame to pass those up.

Flavors that will be completely new to my palate are the delicacies I will be trying in Southeast Asia, such as duck embryos in Cambodia and snake blood in Vietnam. I’ve always lived with the philosophy of trying everything once – although the grilled tarantulas in Cambodia may be even too far for me, I’m not the biggest fan of spiders.

Working bartender hours, it’s sometimes hard to keep a balance of healthy eating in my life, especially with free beer constantly at my disposal and a free pub meal with every shift. Luckily, I’ve learned how to reign in my self-control since starting work, and I’ve found a balance to my eating habits now that I’m used to the land down under.

The key I’ve found to staying healthy while traveling or moving abroad, is taking advantage of the local markets, such as the Queen Vic Market in Melbourne. You’re able to find not only organic and fresh foods, but you’re also supporting local business. More often than not, you’ll also find the local specialties to the region you’re visiting at the market, and thus become even more immersed in the culture. Triple win.

And the nice thing about markets is that they’re universal. Every place I’ve traveled, whether the sprawling city of Paris, or the Tuscan countryside, has had a market of some kind.

And remember, don’t forget to splurge on your favorite foods now and then. For me in Melbourne, this includes dumplings and even Pie Face at times. My general rule is to keep everything in moderation, even the food that may not be considered the best for you but makes you happy eating it.

Exercise

Everyone likes exercising (or not exercising) in their own way. Although I love sports such as basketball and volleyball, you will never see me willingly want to go for a run or choose to run on a treadmill at the gym over tackling a difficult hike outdoors and getting my vitamin D for the day. Depending on how long you’re staying in one place really decides what type of exercise will be at your disposal.

No matter if you’re constantly on the go or staying a little longer in one place, public transport is a great way to stay in shape with walking to and from stops. I’m within 2o minutes walking distance to my waitressing job at a cafe, as well as a few minutes away from the nearest tram stop. Add that to my love of just walking around Melbourne to see the new art installations around town, and I must walk at least an hour and a half every day.

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Having a daily routine or “on the road” workout that you stick to is also beneficial. Since coming to Australia, I’ve undertaken the goal of doing at least 300 sit-ups every morning when I wake up, and I stick to it. It’s easy when I dream about laying on the beaches of Thailand in a bikini. And a strong core is something I can always value growing up as a lanky, tall woman with balancing issues.

If you’re able to stay in one spot for awhile, be proactive about finding an activity you like and would want to sign up for. For instance, I love yoga. Recently, I emailed all the local studios in Melbourne and found out which ones do a work-study program. Basically, I volunteer at the studio in order to get free yoga classes, and most importantly, I’m able to keep up my yoga practice while I’m on the road and only have a backpacker’s budget.

If you are more on the different city every day boat, focus on the active and adventurous sightseeing activities. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is hiking. It’s one of the best ways to explore the natural settings around you, and it’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in natural beauty, find peace and stress-free moments in the sometimes stressful life of traveling. I also love taking bike tours when I get to a new city, in my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to see a city. One of my favorite memories from Europe is still the bike tour I went on in Amsterdam, riding through Vondelpark and around the beautiful canals.

Luckily, Australia is huge on nature reserves and gorgeous landscapes, beaches and views. Southeast Asia is going to be even more of an adventure, trekking through jungles in Vietnam, learning how to surf in Bali, and getting my scuba certification in Thailand. There are more than enough activities to keep me fit and active on a daily basis, and I’m sure that can be said for anywhere you travel in the world.

Well-Being

A strong mind and healthy well-being are key to a happy life. Again, for me, yoga has a huge impact on my psychological and physical well-being. Don’t lose your passions and hobbies just because you’re traveling or constantly on the road and they’re not as easily attainable. After a long week, when I do get a day off I like to just chill out at a cafe with a good book and coffee in winter, or lay on the beach during summer. Relaxation and simply taking a little time for yourself is just as important for keeping a healthy lifestyle while abroad.

Don’t lose contact with your loved ones at home, especially if you’re away for an extended amount of time. If you’re lucky enough to have internet connection, unlimited Skype minutes are only a mere $8/month for the country of your choice. Music is another passion that keeps me happy and balanced. I’ve been lucky enough, or maybe it’s just because I live in Melbourne, to have access to a guitar at every place I’ve lived thus far, and I plan on buying a cheap ukulele when I get to Southeast Asia. And thankfully, I can write lyrics wherever I travel.

Even when in foreign lands, remember your passions and the little things that make you tick. Find ways to still include them in your life abroad, or maybe even find new ones that are unique to the place you’re visiting, it makes all the difference in your overall happiness, and acts as a way to ground you even when you’re thousands of miles away from home.

Adventuring to the edge of the world

When I stepped off the plane in Dublin, I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself into? Traveling to Ireland all by my lonesome, not knowing anyone, and staying in a hostel by myself for the first time. These were the thoughts of impending doom swirling around in my head as I made my way closer and closer to the city, imagining my roommates were going to be some sort of coke addict junkies.

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When I arrived at the hostel, the door was locked. Apparently it was a buzz system, so the guy at the front desk had to buzz you in. He buzzed, I pulled. Nothing. He buzzed, I pushed, a little too late. Nothing. Finally, he buzzed a third time and I stumbled into the hostel. The gruff Irishman at the front desk barely looked up or acknowledged me; and I was a sight to see, with my glasses, volleyball sweatshirt, and hair matted down and frizzy from the plane ride.

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He had already marked me off as an annoying American, who clearly had no idea how to travel. I made my way to the desk, struggling with the suitcase, which I realized had become way too heavy in the last couple months of traveling through Europe, and somehow managed to trip over it and almost fall flat on my face. I caught myself, smiled, and told him my reservation. With what dignity I had left, I made my way to my room on the third floor, only to realize that the stairs were my only option after the elevator made it clear it wasn’t coming. I struggled with all the energy I had left to get my massive suitcase up the stairs and into my room. I looked around and sighed, knowing from the belongings splayed out on the bed, I would be living with guys.

Even with my instinctive initial prejudice, I lucked out with Aussie Tony. He was my roommate for the week, and he was an awesome guy to room with. We connected immediately with our love of music, he introduced me to the friends he had made in the hostel so far, and we all went out for an epic night of barhopping and live music our first night in Dublin.

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One of my favorite experiences in Ireland was when Tony invited me to come with him on a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, or the edge of the world as it’s fondly called. And believe it or not, it really does feel like the edge of the world. It was so windy when we jumped off the bus, but the beauty of where we found ourselves overcompensated for any discomfort from the piercing cold wind.

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We wondered around the cliffs, making sure to get to the best view on the other side of the “Do Not Go Beyond This Point” sign. Let’s be real, the best views are always where you’re not supposed to be.

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The edge of the world is definitely something to see and experience for yourself, I don’t think the pictures quite do it justice.

Finding a ruin bar in Budapest

There is so much to love about Budapest – except for it being the place where I experienced the most anti-American sentiment. I knew from researching the city beforehand that it would be one of my favorites in my journey through Europe. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to (Florence is still number one in my book), and I love that it’s an even more hipster alternative than Berlin. There’s a huge student population in the city, as well as very public displays of affection by the locals – the aftermath of living under the iron curtain of communism for so long is overflowing love in the present.

The thermal baths were glorious, except one incident where we accidentally wandered into the men’s changing room and were yelled at by an old Hungarian man. The architecture was lovely, and the history of both the Nazi and Soviet occupations was incredibly interesting and heartbreaking to learn about. Clearly, I loved the enchanting city of Budapest.

One of my favorite experiences in my whole trip through Europe was finding a ruin bar in Budapest. Ruin bars are the new thing for the young twenty-something indie crowd in Budapest. As the name suggests, they’re bars located in random ruins around the city. I gathered a group in the hostel, and asked if they wanted to go exploring with me to find one of these cool ruin bars.

The one we found our last night looked like it was an old communist house, it was awesome. Getting there was exactly how I had imagined, going down a closed off sketch street completely in rubble that smelled like piss, only to find an amazing bar in a dark corner of some random street in Budapest.

There were so many nooks and crannies, different rooms that had the most random and quirky decorations every direction I turned. There were four different bars, two outside, two inside, TV Screens playing random scenes, a DJ that only played off the chart chill indie music, hookah everywhere. At one point in the evening I was sitting in the front of an old car from the 60’s that was cut in half, the lesbian couple was in the back part of the car a few feet away from us.

 

I wouldn’t be able to tell you the name of the bar (they don’t really do labels), but still to this day, it’s the coolest bar I’ve ever been too. Similar to finding the secret bakeries in Florence, finding your own hidden ruin bar is the thing to do when you visit Budapest.

Melbourne tourist attractions, to go or not to go?

Melbourne may not have as many of the world famous sights as other parts of Australia, such as the Opera House in Sydney or the Great Barrier Reef up in Queensland, but there is always something to do in the city and I’ve found it to be a pretty great city to live in (actually voted one of the best cities to live in the world). Let’s be real, I love it here.

I’ve already reviewed most of the free activities to do in Melbourne, but as to not overlook the ones that do cost money, I have a few touristy experiences to share from my first month in the city.

Melbourne Zoo

Compared to the San Diego Zoo, one of the best in the world, the Melbourne zoo may not seem like much, but if you have time on your hands and you’re looking for a place to spend the day, the zoo is not a bad idea, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

Going to the zoo is always a bittersweet experience for me. On one hand, I love animals and going to see so many unusual ones up close, but at the same time it makes me sad, seeing all these living creatures that inhabit such small enclosures.

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I was invited by an American friend whom I met in my RSA course (Responsible Service of Alcohol – a necessary certification for bartenders in Australia) a few weeks back, and I must say we had a great day at the zoo, and it’s worth checking out if you have the money and time, but it’s not necessarily something I would do again. Honestly, I’m much more excited to see some of these animals (i.e. elephants!) up close and personal in the wild when I visit Southeast Asia.

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New animal I saw: African Wild Dog

Favorite animal to watch: Meerkats (hilarious)

Best part of the experience: seeing the great variety of kangaroos

Price: $26.10

Overall tourist attraction rating: 3/5

Note: Thank you to Jeff for graciously offering to pay for my zoo admission and inviting me to partake in the Melbourne zoo experience with him. 

Eureka Skydeck 88 and the Edge Experience 

This was one of those attractions I looked forward to even before I got to Melbourne, because I love gorgeous views (as you can tell from my Postcard from the top of the Empire State Building). I mean, who doesn’t, unless maybe you have acrophobia. Eureka Skydeck is the tallest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere, and even if you are afraid of heights, this experience is not the least bit scary. The elevator took a matter of a few seconds to get to the top, and the majority of the top level is completely enclosed.

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I actually experienced this attraction on a date with an Italian guy I met while grabbing lunch in St. Kilda last week. I had been thinking of going to check this out in the next week, now that I actually have an income, but I was waiting until I got my first paycheck. Instead, Andrea surprised me by taking me to see the best view in Melbourne after a lovely Italian lunch alongside the river.

Just the views from the Skydeck itself made the experience worth it, and we lucked out with the weather, going on one of the most beautiful, 75 degree days in Melbourne.

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The second part of the attraction is the Edge Experience. You’re put into a (slightly claustrophobic) glass cube and at first the glass is clouded, but after being projected 3 meters from the building, the glass clears instantly and you have a 360 view of the city. It was particularly fun laying face down on the glass and contemplating just how far up you are.

Even still, I don’t believe for the added price of the Edge Experience that it was worth it. For one thing, you’re not far enough out from the building to really get the best view of the city, and the glass was a little scratched and beaten up from so many people, making it less clear to see through than the actual windows at the Skydeck. I would say experience the Skydeck at least once, but pass on the Edge Experience.

Best part of the experience: The view of Melbourne on a beautiful day

Price: Skydeck – $18.50

The Edge – $12.00

Overall tourist attraction rating: 3.5/5

Note: Thank you to Andrea for offering to pay for my admission to the Skydeck and the Edge Experience. 

AFL game at the MCG

By far my favorite costly experience to have in Melbourne is going to a footy game. I’ve already written about my love of AFL in Tales from my first footy match, but I had to include it on this list because besides being a way of life for locals, footy is also a huge tourist attraction for those who are visiting Melbourne (where footy was first established).

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I went with an Aussie friend, and the whole experience has been one of my favorites in the last month. From drinking beer at a local pub dressed in our team colors before the game, to actually watching my first AFL game at the MCG while enjoying hot chips and hot dogs. If you’re traveling to Melbourne, pick a team and jump on the footy bandwagon. It’s an experience you won’t regret paying for.

Best part of the experience: Having a local Australian explain the rules of AFL and share his love for the game with me.

Overall tourist attraction rating: 4/5

Cost: $26.00-$36.00

Note: Thank you to Will for getting my AFL ticket free of charge for me, buying multiple rounds of delicious Aussie beer, and taking the time to explain all there is to know about footy. 

Clearly, I lucked out in experiencing these costly attractions for free (thanks to generous friends), but I still think that some of the best tourist attractions in Melbourne are the ones that come with a free price tag.

However, now that I’m working not one, not two, but possibly three part-time jobs, I’m hoping to soon be able to afford the attraction in Melbourne that I’m looking forward to most, and on my bucket list for the year, hot air ballooning over the city at sunrise.

Escaping from a salt mine in Krakow

As a way to incorporate my past travels that took place before I started this blog, I’ve decided to start Throwback Thursdays, where I’ll post about past adventures that I’ve had in other parts of the world.

I backpacked through Europe a couple years ago, and one of the most unique (and unsettling) experiences I had was exploring the salt mines in Krakow, Poland. Here is my take on the Medieval city.

Krakow, the land of cobblestones, horse drawn carriages and post offices in old school buggies. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about Krakow before visiting, but I found myself enamored by the relatively small and historical city. My most notable story by far was exploring the salt mines, the oldest in the world and in operation for 700 years.

It was pretty amazing, discovering another city far beneath the earth. It’s seven levels altogether, the first level was about 400 steps down, we only made it to the 3rd level and that took 3 hours. It is a massive testament to the strength of human intellect and what we are capable of. I would not recommend going down there if you’re at all claustrophobic, however.

Once you get to the first level with a tour guide, it’s impossible to simply get out whenever you want. Part way through the tour, half of our group broke into a run to try and get to the elevators (a big no-no in the salt mine – and being that I was in the group that didn’t know about the plan to escape the salt mine, we were constantly left with the blame for the rest of the tour).

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Once our three hour tour was finished, it took another 45 minutes of waiting in lines for the two elevators that take you up to the top level in a swift 45 seconds. The elevator was another experience in itself, they squeeze eight people in a small lift with hardly any room to breathe, the only thing protecting you from falling far below are shaky wooden planks that you can see in between when you’re going up.

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I don’t think Poland is as big on safety requirements as the States. The lines themselves were a clear sign of that; hundreds of people were lined up in a small tunnel for almost an hour with no way to escape if there was an emergency. Thank god I survived to tell the tale. After spending much longer underneath the ground than we had originally planned, we went off to enjoy the rest of what Krakow had to offer for the day.

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It may not have a hundred famous sights as many of the other cities I’ve visited in Europe, but it has a charm about it that remindes me a lot of Florence, Italy (my favorite place in the world), especially the main square with street art and performers everywhere. Taking a taxi home that night, looking out at the city of Krakow, our driver started randomly blasting Backstreet Boys with the windows rolled down…yeah, Krakow is pretty sweet.

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And my favorite place in Melbourne is…

The Carlton Gardens.

My place of peace in the city. I’ve noticed myself drawn here almost every day since I first discovered these gardens a little over a week ago when I first arrived. Back in San Diego, my favorite spot was the Black’s Cliffs, with views of the calming ocean tides below and the freeing paragliders above.

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After spending over a week exploring the nooks and crannies of Melbourne, I can say without a doubt that my favorite place is the Carlton Gardens. I come here to find my happy place, to read, to write, to sit and be inspired by the simple things in life. I like the fact that I’m surrounded by a lush greenery and peace amidst the skyscrapers and busy pace of the city outside my little bubble in the gardens.

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My oasis is the Carlton Gardens.