Prague

Legend has it that Princess Libuse, daughter of Czech’s early forefather, had a vision foreseeing the founding of Prague. “I see a large city whose fame will touch the stars.” She commanded workers to break ground on the city immediately. Praha was founded with that lofty goal in mind, and has been growing ever since.

Prague is FILLED with legends and ghost stories- they are as much a part of history as the actual facts. We went on a walking tour around Prague our first day there. Our guide Somarre, was awesome. Best tour of the trip. A freelance writer, politics major, and history buff, she told us stories of Prague’s legendary ghosts, funny anecdotes, and detailed description of the historical and political events that have occurred. We all immediately fell in love with Prague.

The history smacks you in the face when you walk through the city, especially if you know where to look for it. Certain signs on what you think is an average doorway indicate that alchemists once worked there. A plaque on the university that is seemingly for decoration commemorates a young boy who burned himself in protests during the fall of the Communist regime. Everything, it seems, has an alternate meaning or historical significance.

I haven’t really mentioned much of the nightlife, and Praha has a great one, so I’ll give you a few of the highlights. First some fun facts. Beer is cheaper than water here. It’s fantastic. Absinthe, a disgustingly potent alcohol, is hugely popular. Entire bars are devoted to it. The presentation is unique however- the shots are lit on fire, doused, then you down it. Quite disgusting, actually, but fun to order!

The ancient buildings alone can heighten the bar experience. My favorite, Usodu, is disguised as a small, quaint wine tavern. The bartender motions you to the back, down a tiny cramped staircase. Underground, you find a labyrinth of bars, with multiple cavernous rooms, and linked so confusingly together it’s a challenge to find the way back out. So much fun.

Staying in a city for so long (8 days), allows you to get a more in-depth look than the two night, all-inclusive Contiki style tour. It also allows us time to take day trips. One of those trips was to Terezin, a concentration camp.

Today, it appears to be an average small town adjacent to an old army fortress. That army fortress is Terezin. Terezin was a labor and transition camp- it was not an extermination camp and does not have the terrifying Auschwitz gas chambers. However, Terezin was known for some of the cruelest, most inhumane conditions of the concentration camps.

I’ll be honest- it was awful. You’ve heard the atrocities that were committed, and most likely seen some pretty graphic pictures. But to see it in person was horrible. Most of the time, I wanted to cry. I still do even writing this. Yet I am glad we went- I’ll never forget anything I saw there. That is the point to studying history- to commemorate, remember, and to learn from mistakes of intolerance and cruelty.

The history, the legends, nightlife, the beautiful fall weather- I loved Prague. it actually snowed while we were there! As a California girl, my version of cold weather gear is adding a sweatshirt with my flip flops. The changing leaves and falling snow offer just enough novelty so we don’t mind the cold too much.

Our last day in Prague, we made a wish on Charles Bridge. Legend dictates that if you make a wish while touching the statue, it will come true. You only get one wish though, so it has to be a good one! 😉

We’ve arrived in Amsterdam- I can’t believe it’s our last stop! Ill let you all know how it goes, much love!

20121103-232247.jpg

20121103-232311.jpg

20121103-232324.jpg

20121103-232353.jpg

20121103-232407.jpg

20121103-233130.jpg

20121103-233257.jpg

Hostel World

One of the first questions everyone asked me when I decided to take this trip, was “Where are you staying? In a hostel?!” Usually this was followed by “Have you seen Taken? Or Hostel?” For those of you not familiar with the names, they are both horror movies about European travel gone horribly wrong- not exactly reassuring inquiries.

Thankfully, no horror like experiences occurred (save one gross incident, but more on that later). But, to satisfy everyone’s curiosity, here are the basics.

We’re currently residing in our ninth hostel (count so far: 13 cities and 6 countries), so I’d say we’re semi-experts at this point. Most have been pretty good. It’s a simple life- bunk beds, stacked against the walls, shared bathroom, wi-fi, and a locker to store your stuff. That’s about it. Staying true to our cash strapped new grad budgets, we stay in the cheapest rooms available- that means 8-12 bed coed dorms. The biggest whopper is the twenty-six bed room we have in Prague. Feels like freshman year of college all over again. Some hostels are loud and crazy, hotel like establishments complete with a bar downstairs, and some are small mom and pop joints where they cook you breakfast in the morning. It really just depends.

Downsides- obviously lack of privacy, snoring boys, loud roommates, and bedbugs. Yes, I said it. Gotta have that one awful hostel experience right? We caught them at a hostel in Florence. Although we were both badly bitten (on the face, gross!!), after our initial freak-out, we decontaminated and moved on. (And out of that hostel, immediately!) Since then, we’ve been bedbug free, THANK goodness. And, we’re now Google experts on bedbugs, in case you ever have any questions.

But side note: that is not a reason to discount hostels- in our Googling research we’ve found it’s an epidemic the hospitality industry battles on a daily basis. They are everywhere, from New York subways to 5 star hotels- we just had unfortunate luck.

But enough negative. Bedbugs aside, the hostels were awesome. By far my favorite part of staying at the hostels were the people. In our short stay, we’ve met people from all over the world. Canada. Switzerland. Australia. New Zealand. Malaysia. Japan. China. Argentina. South Africa. Brazil. Staying in such close proximity and connected by a shared appreciation of travel, you meet and connect with people instantaneously. You share travel stories. Grab a beer. Do sightseeing together. Commiserate over European grievances (why do you have to pay to use the bathroom everywhere!?).

Hearing others travel stories, and the amazing places people have been is interesting, inspiring and just an all-around cool environment to be in. You learn so much about other countries, and their cultures. I absolutely love it. It has been one of my favorite parts about this experience.

Below are pics of our dorm rooms and a few of the many friends we’ve met along the way. Current location- in Prague, taking an overnight bus to Amsterdam in a few hours! Ill write another post soon on Prague- so incredible. Can’t believe we’re already heading to our last stop! :/

20121030-203035.jpg

20121030-203110.jpg

20121030-203118.jpg

20121030-203146.jpg

Vienna, Austria

Vienna. My favorite city in my favorite country.

Vienna, or Wein (pronounced with a “V” sound in German), is absolutely beautiful. Over 50% of the city is devoted to parkland. Walking around there you forget you’re in an urban metropolis- not to mention its the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. Definitely puts Los Angeles to shame.

Gothic churches are a main focal point in Vienna. The central one is Stephensplatz, a huge Gothic masterpiece with high ceilinged arches and gargoyles leering down from every corner. Fun fact about gargoyles- they are meant to protect the church. They are different creatures made in the Devils image, since he was afraid of his own image. The only problem was no one knew what the Devil looked like, so no two gargoyles are alike. They tried to cover all their baseslightly eerie but so beautiful.

Im finding that on this extended trip the part of traveling I love most is the little things. Food markets filled with spices and novelties I’ve never even heard of.Cappuccinos and pastries on the sidewalk. Tripping along cobblestone streets with my neck craned upwards so I don’t miss a single bit of architecture. Not that I don’t appreciate the artistic masterpieces I’ve gotten to see, but it’s the little things rather than the famous museums and landmarks that I love.

My digression brings me to my favorite part of Vienna- the coffeehouses. Legend has it that Polish- Hapsburg soldiers found a number of sacks with strange beans. Initially, they thought it was camel feed and tried toburn it. Instead, the sacks were granted to Franciszek Kulcycki, who opened the first coffeehouse.

The coffee houses have become an institution in Vienna. Artists, politicians, and writers used to congregate there. And you don’t just order a coffee- at times it seemed more complicated than Starbucks. We needed Emma’s guidebook to decipher it all. My favorite is an Einsplanner, a large espresso with whipped cream.

Since we’ve been in Vienna for a week, we got to so some cool day trips as well. We went to Durnstein one day, a medieval town in the Wachau Valley now devoted to winemaking. Besides being unbelievably, fairytale picturesque, there are some awesome castle ruins atop the town, where King Richard the Lionheart (Robin Hood anyone?) was imprisoned when he returned home from the Crusades. So. Cool. The pics below are Emily and I atop the castle ruins.

Finally, when Emma got here, (our best friend from college who met up with us for a week) we went to Salzburg for the day. Aka the place where the Sound of Music was filmed. To my excitement and Emily’s dismay (she hates musicals but was a trooper and came along! Sign of a good travel buddy). We saw all the famous sites where Julie Andrews skipped along, including the Pegasus Fountain, “Do Re Mi” steps, the lake, and even the gazebo. Salzburg is also home to a giant fortress, nunnery, and monastery- the town is considered a world heritage site. And Mozart was born there.

And we went to the Viennese opera! Geez almost forgot. Vienna, being Mozart’s city, has become a city built on music. We bought standing room tickets at the opera and were able to go see a performance!

We’re in Prague now, freezing our California toes off but loving every minute! Ill update you all on Prague soon. Much love! ❤

20121025-202720.jpg

20121025-202736.jpg

20121025-202813.jpg

20121025-202825.jpg

20121025-202839.jpg

Italia

I’ve been delinquent in my blogging, I know! It has been such a whirlwind lately, I’ve been lagging. No more, promise!
We arrived in Vienna yesterday, finally finishing our gorgeous tour of Italy. Florence. Cinque Terra. Venice. Rome. We are exhausted but sooo happy! The food has been amazing- we’ve tried every kind of seafood imaginable. Shrimp, cod, mackerel, shark, squid, squid ink, (didn’t even know that was possible), octopus, and mussels. YUM.
Rather than do all our stops in blog posts, ill recap Italy here: ( in the order we traveled)

Florence.Three words for you. Florence. Leather. Market. Soooo much fun. You can smell the leather before you even turn the corner- Florence is know for their leather goods. Packed along the tiny cobblestone streets are stalls crammed with leather jackets, handbags, wallets, luggage and a million other things. Lets just say we did some damage. All three of us had to buy an extra bag for souvenirs (oops!). But our bartering skills are now excellent, and we got some pretty good deals.
A highlight was watching the sunset from the top of Piazza Michelangelo, a huge plaza that looks our over Florence. Stunning.

Cinque Terra. MY FAVORITE. Did I emphasize that enough? Cinque Terra (pronounced chin-que terra), is actually considered a national park, and has 5 tiny fishing villages stacked in the ocean bluffs. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, straight out of a storybook. And such a workout too. Because everything is built upwards into the cliffs, it’s a hike anytime you want to go somewhere. The “walk” to our apartment left me huffing and puffing.
Every village is tiny, you could walk in in about 15 min. The best part is, you can hike in between the towns, through gorgeous terraced vineyards along the ocean.
As far as food is concerned, pesto sauce and focaccia bread were both invented in the region, so along with our daily fresh seafood, gelato, and wine consumption, we were blissfully happy. Of all the places, this is one I would go back to again in a heartbeat.

Venice. The city built on islands. One hundred seventeen islands to be exact. Venice is one of those cities that everyone has seen pictures of (or the imitation if you’ve been to the Venetian in Vegas). The canals, the gondolas, houses teetering so close to the water you wonder where the ground is- they are iconic sites. Seeing it in person was surreal- it seemed like a Disneyland ride. My favorite was taking a cruise down the Grand Canal at night. Of course, we got lost everywhere we went, but that’s half the fun of traveling, isn’t it? 🙂

Rome. We only spent a short amount of time here. Overall, it was my least favorite city to stay in (gross hostel) but favorite attractions and history I’ve gotten to see. The ruins are just so darn cool. The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Palatine Hill; it’s one thing to see a painting or artifacts in a museum, but it’s another thing entirely to actually see the structures still standing. To see where Caesar ruled, where the gladiators fought, was awesome. Fun fact- the marble that built the Trevi Fountain was actually taken from the Colosseum!

We arrived in Vienna yesterday. We’re slowing down for a couple days, and spending the week here. Ill keep you all updated!

20121016-190007.jpg

20121016-190058.jpg

20121016-190156.jpg

20121016-190213.jpg

20121016-190231.jpg

20121016-190316.jpg

20121016-190337.jpg

20121016-190352.jpg

Surprise! We’re in Barcelona!

We’ve officially been traveling for a week! It has been so much fun, and by now were almost metro pros.
Oh and we’re in Barcelona, Spain! Surprise! We had 4 nights until we met Emily’s mom in Florence, so after brainstorming over a glass of wine, we booked a flight and here we are!
It is so beautiful- the architecture is incredible- where Paris is very elegant, Barcelona is whimsical and much more colorful- I absolutely love it. (See pics below)
After arriving last night in the pouring rain, it was finally sunny. We wandered down Las Ramblas, a famous street filled with shops and restaurants, and stopped for lunch down by the port. We got seafood paella (a rice dish with shrimp, scallops, and mussels), and a pitcher of sangria. It. Was. Amazing.
The pace of life here is so different. For example, we went out last night around 8 to grab a bite after we arrived. We walked by several restaurants only to find that nothing was open until 9 pm! Everything is much more leisurely, and open later. At 7 people are enjoying a drink. Dinner starts around 9ish, some bars don’t open till midnight, and some nightclubs don’t even open until 2am! Have to admit I kind of like the slow pace…and I could get used to daily siestas. 😉
Anyways it’s now 8 over here so I’m off to get ready for dinner! I’ve put some pictures below from our trip, including some from France. One from the light show at the Eiffel Tower in Paris (magical), one at the Musee D’orsay, and me and Em in Barcelona! And Las Ramblas.

20120928-211201.jpg

20120928-211326.jpg

20120930-195823.jpg

20120930-200002.jpg

I’m Here!!!!

20120926-193119.jpg

We made it to Paris!! After only a few snafus figuring out the train and hostel (we bought an extra tix cuz we thought we lost one), we finally arrived. (An adorable French mom stopped us an showed us the way to the hostel).
Paris. Is. Beautiful. Everything anyone has told you, it’s true. Pictures don’t even begin to do it justice. We went to the Louvre today. Favorite sites were the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus statue. Even the rooms that house the art are insanely gorgeous.
Our diet so far has been mainly baguettes, macaroons, and croissants. 🙂 basically heaven.
Transportation was pretty easy- only on one crossroad did we choose to take the “eenie, meeny, miny, mo” approach- it turned out okay!
Haha anyways love and miss you all! We’re staying here through Sat, then it is on to Nice!

The Books That Got Me Here

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”  –Henry David Thoreau

I’m a bookworm, first and foremost. I keep this love to myself mostly. My friends (bless their hearts) have no interest in any of the classic literature that I so dearly love. James Joyce. Jane Austen. Shakespeare. J.K. Rowling (see how I threw you a curveball there?). You could say my nerd level is pretty high.

I truly committed to making this trip happen the summer after I graduated from college. I always wanted to travel, but just wasn’t sure how to make it work. I worked at Nordstrom, then took a temp job (disastrous), and finally in an unexpected blessing, got a job as a Social Media Producer at an amazing company who graciously is giving me a six week leave to go travel (incredible, right? More on that later).

As I was going through all this,there were three books that got me through it, each in different times. They were both inspiring and practical in their advice, kicking my butt into action when I doubted that I would be able to pull this trip off.

Delaying the Real World, Colleen Kinder
In my opinion, the best title ever. 😉 The author is a Yale graduate who has spent the last few years living in Cuba, traveling through Latin America, and volunteering with the elderly. The book is filled with tips, ideas, resources and programs you can use to create your own post-graduate adventure. I read this my junior year of college; it implanted the travel bug in me.

The Lost Girls, Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett & Amanda Pressner
Three best friends take a year off in their thirties, leaving boyfriends, careers and family to traverse the entire globe. The best part? It’s a true story. This one inspired me, and strengthened my resolve and desire to travel. I passed the book onto Emily, who is reading it now.

Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring, Tom Masters
The fun part! I received this as a Christmas gift from my parents (who also bought me my backpack), and has been instrumental as I plan my trip. It breaks down Europe by country and then city and has everything imaginable from hostels to eateries and train information. Truly essential, it is the one book I will take with me on my trip.

These are the books that got me from an idea to a concrete trip, straight from an English nerd to you. Hope they help! Thanks for tuning in.

Delaying the Real World -Colleen Kinder  Lonely Planet Europe On a Shoestring    The Lost Girls

Happy Travels,
Erin

Why I’m Traveling.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac

I graduated from college this year. With that came a barrage of overwhelming decisions that I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with. My experience is nothing new or revolutionary the “coming-of-age” saga is one of the more overdone sentiments. However, this experience that is universal to every individual is a uniquely defining one.

Some friends are going onto medical school, getting their M.B.A., and applying to law school. I have a slightly less acute focus. I studied English and Communication; an area I love but left my career path less defined that say, the Pre-Med major. I love to write more than anything. The power of words, when developed poignantly, is a beautifully intelligent thing. Whatever I end up doing, writing will be a part of my career. Beyond that, I have no clue where my life is heading.

A few months of anxiety later, I have chosen to embrace that sentiment and enjoy it. My English teacher in high school once told me that this was an amazing time because I have “the most freedom with the least responsibility.” No mortgage, no kids, no husband to consider in my plans. I have the freedom to do exactly what I want. What a great outlook.

I love how Jack Kerouac phrases the above quote; “we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” There will always be someplace to go, something that needs to be crossed off the to-do list. Our suitcases will always be battered, there will always be obstacles to deal with. The important thing is that you establish the terms by which you tackle life. I am choosing to travel.

Here’s the lowdown. Six weeks. Six countries. My partner in crime is Emily, or Crazy Spoon as I affectionately call her sometimes, a dear friend from college. She is incredibly down to earth and an absolute sweetheart; the ideal travel partner to embark on an adventure with. We have bought our tickets and picked the countries. Now, we’re onto hostels and actually planning our routes. We’ll update you right to the day we leave, and throughout our trip.

Can’t wait to share this experience with you! Thanks for reading. Whatever your journey is, happy travels to all.

Em & I

Me and my partner in crime. 🙂

Cheers, Erin