Browsing Category: Europe

Adventuring to the edge of the world

Solo female travel in Ireland, Cliffs of Moher - Europe Travel

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.

My experience visiting Auschwitz

The Holocaust.

I remember reading the Diary of Anne Frank around the same age Anne was in the story, and experiencing an incredible amount of empathy for a girl who was my age, but had the misfortune of being born into the wrong place and time. I’ve seen most movies about the Holocaust, from Schindler’s List to The Pianist, and read more than a fair share of books on the subject, and I’ve realized that it is always going to be one of the many violent events in our history that I will never understand. It’s a subject that affects me with a great amount of sadness whenever I learn more about it, but it is also something that I think everyone should learn more about and pay their respects to.

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One of the more profound experiences I’ve had in my life was visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland.

It was an intense experience walking into all the barracks and streets of a place where so many horrors were witnessed. It was sickening that so many atrocities were allowed to take place, that all the murders, torture and experiments were kept so well hidden for so long. It was a lot to wrap my mind around, that we as humans could commit such things based on someone’s race, appearance and physical deficiencies. It really makes you think. There were a few in my tour group who couldn’t complete the tour, they had broken down into tears after seeing the shoes and human hair piled up in a case.

I feel like going to these types of places with a tour group can sometimes bring out the worst sides of fellow travelers. It no longer becomes a place where a tragic historical event took place, but just another place to take too many pictures of to post on Facebook, and to say that you’ve been there done that.

There were a few in my tour group who were actually taking pictures of the wall of human hair, who were posing and smiling in front of gas chambers. These were the same people who, instead of listening to the history behind the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, were running around and jumping on top of the memorial taking pictures of each other.

To each his own, but to me, that is such a disrespectful way to visit a memorial, to take a moment to cherish the lives of all those who died.

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Even though it was a sad day, I’m glad I was able to pay my respects. Walking out of Birkenau, after just seeing the remnants of what used to one of the largest gas chambers in existence, I coudn’t help but think how lucky I was that I was able to walk out of those gates and back to the bus, when so many people never got the chance to do the same. So many innocent people who never wanted anything more than to be able to see the other side of the gates that enclosed them until their death. The ride into Prague was a quiet one, everyone taking their own time to comprehend the extent of what we had experienced.

Yes, this was definitely one of the most profound  and sobering experiences I’ve had in my life.

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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La Bella Vita

From the time I was very little, I can remember looking up at the sky every time a plane would fly over me on my daily walk to school. I would imagine where the people in it were going, what adventures lay ahead for them. Every time I would see an airplane in the clear blue California sky, I would make a promise to myself that someday it would soon be me on my own adventures. It became a promise that structured my whole life around when I could travel next. It began with a two week backpacking trip through Costa Rica as a graduation present to myself the summer after high school. When choosing a University to attend, the study abroad programs had a significant impact on my decision. My dream was to study abroad in college, the only problem was deciding where exactly I was going to go; I wanted to go everywhere. When it came down to it, I chose go to culinary school in Florence, Italy to learn the ways of Italian cooking, and to ultimately learn about Italian culture as a whole through their love of food.

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Living in Italy, I tasted some of the best food of my life, but there was more to it than that. The food is their culture. The family is centered around meals, bringing people together in a way that I’ve never seen in any other culture. It is completely contrary to the American way of life of constantly eating on the go; many modern families don’t even have the time to eat together anymore. A dinner in Italy is multi-course, including hours upon hours of talking, drinking wine, and eating fresh homemade food. Moreover, it’s not just in the immediate family where food brings people together. Each time I would walk into an eating establishment, I was welcomed in an affectionate manner, almost as if I was being welcomed into their home as a house guest. To be honest, that connection was not far from the truth, as I tried to eat mainly at family owned trattorias.

Florentines pride themselves on their food and the history behind it as much as their culture, because in many ways they are one and the same. My teacher at culinary school was one of the most passionate people about food that I have ever met. After every meal we would cook in our three hour span of class time, we would sit down and discuss the importance of that dish to the region from which it originated, and describe how every region in Italy is respectively proud of their food specialities. We can see why cuisine is so tied to Italian culture through how long it took for Italy to be reunited as one country. As a loose collection of regions, the food and dialect were the aspects that made one region unique from another. In this way, food gives a sense of regional and national pride in a united country that is known for its food.

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One of my favorite moments involving the culture of food in Italy was my first night in Florence, eating in view of the campanile. I had the most exquisite gorgonzola gnocchi. My meal, combined with the chilled pinot grigio and good company, gave me pause to reflect; so this is the epitome of Italian culture, taking pleasure in the simple things of life. The mentality that surrounds you in Italy is that the little pleasures in life are just as important (if not more so) than the practicalities one has to think about on a daily basis. I basked in that Tuscan night, hot but pleasant, taking it all in with my new roommates, who were just as enamored with the city as I was. That night is one of my favorite memories; I had never felt so at home in a new place as I did that evening, I knew everything was going to be alright.

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My Tuscan summer will forever be ingrained in my memory. You can read about these places all you want, but I now realize that you don’t fully know a thing about it until you can actually feel the city, hear the faint sound of the accordion player down the street every morning on my way to my favorite bar for a standing cappuccino, look at the colorful gelaterias on every block, hear the Italian like rapid fire being yelled by a mother scolding her son, or seductively spoken by the amorous couple sitting next to you in the piazza. You can feel the presence of the city everywhere: it’s so alive; it makes me happy to be so young, so malleable and open minded to the experience. I can still smell the pizza around the corner of my little apartment, and see the welcoming smiles of the Italian family as I walk in the door to my favorite restaurant. That is what Italian culture means to me. That is what makes me nostalgic and convinced that one day I will come back to a summer in Tuscany to experience it all over again.

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