The past few weeks have been surreal. As COVID-19 gradually worms its way into every aspect of our day-to-day activities from social gatherings to work environment to eventually our relationships with others, I am constantly reminded of how capricious life is. From January 5th to January 9th, I explored Northern Italy without a care in the world. I sauntered around the streets of Venice, humming theater tunes and swaying from the warmth of wine. In Milan, I leafed through racks of carefully curated fashion pieces and wiped my tears as I got one of the last tickets of the day to see the Last Supper in all of its glory. In less than a month from my departure, the two cities I fell in love with were suddenly thrown into dizzying circumstances that spiraled out of control until eventually the whole country was swept into a storm of uncertainty and fear.
Every day, the news details the worsening conditions in not just one but dozens of countries around the globe. It’s hard to stay positive and productive in these desperate times but I try as hard as I can because to be honest, I think I’d go insane otherwise. That’s why I’m writing this blog post over two months after my trip. I need a reminder that life is a rollercoaster and that you cannot have the highs without the lows.
Oh how I love you, Venice! Time genuinely slipped through my fingers. The streets were narrow and windy, leading me on unknown adventures. The water lapped against the stone, softly but steadily, as if reminding the tourists and locals alike that the ocean was always there to listen. The gondoliers crooned melancholy love songs as couples spilled their yearning for each other into the canals in excess. It was the most romantic city that I’d ever been too and it was only then that I truly started to feel the weight of loneliness warming me like a blanket at night. But with the weight of loneliness also came the liberating feeling that is only achievable through solo travel.
11:20 AM: Arrive in Venice
12:00 PM: Lunch at Da Michele Pizza e Ristò
2:00 PM: Check into Hostel
3:00 PM: Piazza San Marco
6:00 PM: Dinner
8:00 PM: Home
9:00 AM: Leave Hostel
10:00 AM: Rialto Bridge and Exploring
1:00 PM: Osteria Da Alberto
3:00 PM: Exploring/Shopping
6:00 PM: Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
7:00 PM: Gallerie dell’Accademia
This blog post is going to be a bit different than the other ones – a bit more like a photo diary than my usual organized long-read posts. Venice is one of those cities that you kind of just wander around. There were certain sites that I wanted to see like the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square but the rest of the time, you let your feet take the lead.
It might have been the season that I visited, but Venice was not as crowded as I thought it would be. The streets were comfortably busy in the mornings and turned eerily quiet as early as 6PM. I didn’t realize that there aren’t any cars allowed on the streets of Venice but that works in the favor of visitors because everything is super walkable!
One of my favorite meals in Venice was at Osteria Da Alberto. Entering the restaurant, I felt like I was enveloped into a big Italian hug. With my book in hand and a half liter of wine, I spent two hours just people watching and enjoying the best appetizer and main dish combination ever. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, I definitely recommend Folpetti Alla Veneta. The one reservation that I had with trying this dish was the fact that the octopus is purposely not cleaned, meaning they are simply cooked and cut the octopus accordingly then served in a citrus-type sauce. However, I can guarantee you that it is absolutely worth it!
Do you like shelves stuffed to the brim with books? Do you like friendly cats that let you pet them? Do you like jaw-dropping views? Of course you do! Well, Libreria Acqua Alta has not one, not two, but ALL THREE of those. From the outside, it looks like any other independent book store would but as soon as you enter, you can smell the pages right away. (those that still read actual print books know what I’m talking about) To the left, you see a repurposed canoe with shelves built into it and haphazardly placed fiction novels. To the right, you see a bathtub filled with different collection of children’s books – a confusing sight but somehow it works. Then, you see a random black cat jumping between the two! According to the sign posted on the outside of the shop, there are seven cats that have chosen Libreria Acqua Alta to be their home. I have only pet two.
Then, as you move further and further into the shop, carefully avoiding random stacks of books here and a pile of newspapers there, you see a staircase (surprise, surprise), also made out of books. I swallowed my fear and took careful steps up and up until…voilá. The pictures do this city no justice!
My only disappointment when I visited the book store was not with what I saw but with my incapability to understand the stories between the covers. Everything was in Italian (obviously), so I could only run my fingers along the spines and judge the book by the things I could see.
The other day, I was telling my mom about my blog and about how disappointed I was that she wouldn’t be able to fully understand the things I write – not because she is unintelligent but simply because she’s not well-versed with the complex connotations of English phrases and terminology. Of course, it’s far-fetched to say that one should learn every single language in the world. But how amazing would it be to be able to speak and truly understand the ins and outs of a culture through their language?
Everything is so beautiful that it is hard to believe that people live here. I had to pinch myself several times because I thought I was in a dream. One of the first signs of residential life that I stumbled upon was a funeral. I saw people walk out of their front doors and then take no more than twenty steps to the church where their loved one was being honored. At any given moment in time, there are kids playing on jungle gyms, doctors seeing their patients, people falling in love – the list goes on and on. It feels as if the world pauses just because my responsibilities fade into the background for a short amount of time but the reminders that life is a continuum always helps me put my emotions into perspective.
I’ve learned that in most situations, offering to take someone else’s picture makes them more inclined to offer to take your picture but being rejected twice after kindly offering hurt my ego enough, so I settled for taking a selfie at the Rialto Bridge. Also, yes I am wearing three layers of clothing, a scarf, a beanie and gloves. It was bloody baltic, okay?
The next day, I found myself at the Rialto Bridge again and decided to try to take a better picture but a girl about my age offered to help me! What luck!
If you have time, I recommend making the trek over to Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute. It’s a bit far off from St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge but completely accessible if you are willing to put out the time! I ended up spending my afternoon at the nearby Gallerie dell’Accademia, a beautiful building that showcases Venetian artists like Titian and Canaletto! Because I’m a student, the ticket was only 2 Euros! A steal.
St. Mark’s Square is surrounded by jewelry shops, snooty art dealers and over-priced coffee and pastries (all of which are inaccessible to me until I get married…I’M KIDDING). However, the Basilica itself is a must-do. Like I previously mentioned, the crowds were surprisingly not overwhelming so I didn’t have to queue to enter! The benefits of traveling during off seasons are insane. The building is massive so I wasn’t able to take a good exterior shot, but look at this beautiful piece right before the entrance.
Speaking of St. Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal is right around the corner and let me tell you, both days that I was in Venice, I spent some time just sitting with my coffee and people watching here. I can’t imagine a place like this being a bus ride from where I live. I suppose that’s what tourists think when they visit Newport Beach or Disneyland but to me, this is so much better!
One of my dreams is to go to the Island of Murano and to purchase a glass vase. I know what you’re thinking, your dream is to travel all the way to a remote island near Venice to…buy a vase? The answer is yes! As I was strolling along, I stumbled upon a local glass jewelry shop. While I was having a debate with myself about whether I wanted the periwinkle blue or blush pink pair, the jeweler was telling me about the island and how the glass is beautiful beyond my imaginations. He spoke about the history of the Murano glass-blowing process with a tone of reverence that has stayed with me to this day. So I have to go back. There’s no doubt about it. It’s not a question of whether, it’s a when. I’m excited to see which things will change and which things will stay the same. Maybe I’ll be with different company. Maybe I’ll actually grow to hate glass but will end up going to Murano anyway because young me said that I wanted to. Who knows?
Ringing in the next year was always a very low-key affair in my family, with my aunts going to sleep before the historic Ball Drop in New York City and the lack of alcohol severely dampening the mood. Barcelona, with music that just makes your hips sway, flowing glasses of sangria, and world-famous clubs, sounded like the best place to spend New Years Eve. However, things took a turn on this trip so we weren’t able to hit the clubs at midnight, but partying on New Years Eve will now be added to the ever growing list of why I need to come back to this amazing city!
12:00PM – Arrive in Barcelona
2:00PM – Meduza for Lunch
4:00PM – Park Güell
6:30PM – Casa Batlló
9:00PM – Cervesería Catalana for Dinner
9:00 AM – Exploring
1:00 PM – Tapas, 24 for Lunch
3:00 PM – Siesta
5:00 PM – Ciudad Condal
9:00 PM – La Rambla
12:00 AM: Rooftop of Hotel for New Years Eve
10:30 AM – Gothic Quarter
1:00 PM – Mall of Spain & Port Vell for Gelato
5:00 PM – Plaça Reial
6:00 PM – Les Quinze Nits for Dinner
8:30 PM – Flamenco Show
10:30 PM – Paella Stop
7:30 AM – Sagrada Familia
11:00 AM – Parc de Montjuic
1:00 PM – Milk Bar and Bistro for Lunch
4:00 PM – Flight to Poland
Continuing on from the London trip, I spent the the first couple of days in Barcelona by myself and then the next few days with my friend’s family. They say that the best way to experience a culture is through their cuisine and as always, I took full advantage of this! Being a “Party of One”, I was able to hop in and out of restaurants at my leisure, avoiding being on the waitlist for the entire trip. Each tapas bar brought variations of diners, dishes, and vibes. Here’s my take on the ones that I was lucky enough to visit!
As you read, you’ll notice that I only talk about the tapas restaurants that I was able to visit. The biggest disappointment during this trip was not being able to eat good paella. Most paella is portioned for two people so I had to stick to tapas when I was dining alone. Once my friend and her family came, it got so crazy (will be explained later) that we weren’t prepared enough to find a good paella place. The paella place that we did eat at was lackluster and not worth mentioning. (sorry!)
Something to note about Europe is that they generally use google reviews more than they use Yelp (which is much more popular in the States). Some restaurants may have hundreds of reviews on Google but only a couple of reviews on Yelp. This is significant because Cervesería Catalana has 11,000 reviews on Google and is still 4.4 stars AND they have 12,514 reviews on Yelp and they are 4.5 stars. I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of depending on reviews and what people say about a restaurant before I try it. But this place is not just hype. It’s absolutely worth it.
It’s my first night in Barcelona. I’d just visited two masterpieces by one of the greatest artists of all time. (more on this later) I’d been walking in and out of boutique shops for the last hour. In my eyes, the day had gone perfectly so far. My hostel was in the perfect location right off of Rambla de Catalunya, which seemed to always be buzzing with energy. A quick search lead me to Cervesería Catalana, which had a line out the door and a crowd of people inside at 8PM. As soon as I walked inside, I walked right on out because I thought there was no way I would be able to get a table. The host told the couple in front of me that it would be a two hour wait at least. However, I strengthened my resolve and braved the push and shove crowd until, just my luck, I saw a seat at the bar. Squeezing between a couple and a single diner, I couldn’t help but giggle a bit because I got a seat!
As the host handed me a menu and I ordered a glass of white wine (obligatory), I heard a voice next to me. “I highly recommend the Tapas Sampler. I get it everytime I’m here!”. I turn to my right and see a woman, about mid to late 30s, dressed to the T with a simple black dress but adorned with designer accessories. Two thoughts ran through my mind. One, she is speaking perfect, unaccented english. Two, where can I get her Gucci earrings but for only 20% of the retail price?
For the rest of the dinner, we shared stories of our travels over glasses of wine. She had just visited Armenia and Georgia, both of which she highly recommended. As she shared more and more about her life, I saw a glimpse of what I want mine to look like. Unlike many people, she actually enjoyed her corporate 9-5 job in San Francisco. I feel that as a business major, we resign ourselves to the idea of sticking to a desk for the rest of our lives but in her eyes, that desk brought her to an executive position in an accounting company and has given her the opportunity to travel the world. She shared about how her life went a direction she could have never expected at my age but nonetheless she took things as they came and worked with what life gave her. It’s a strange thought to let life take the wheel in certain instances. Of course it’s a balance that you have to find but I’m starting to understand how to be proactive with our goals but still embrace the chaos.
Launching into the food review now, the tapas sampler was a good introduction to Spanish flavors and was a safe choice for the first time. The sampler came with five items: clams, shishito peppers, sardines, croquettes and shrimp. I’m much more adventurous with my food so I was kind of bored with the flavors but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Though I wasn’t blown away by the sampler, I did enjoy my desserts…perhaps a bit too much. Between the two of us, we shared three desserts. A decadent chocolate cake with gold foil on top, an ice cream/cake concoction that balanced the line between too sweet and just sweet enough, and the most amazing churros with chocolate syrup that I’ve had in my life.
We spent over three hours wine-ing and dining, emphasis on the wine-ing. When I pulled out my wallet to pay for my meal and call it a night, she put a hand on my arm. “Don’t worry about it. I got it! You’re young! Another glass of wine for both of us please!” I was overwhelmed with gratitude but also awe. I want to be in that position where I can offer to pay for the meals of poor college students just because. Thank you Jenn for being a bad-ass and paying for my meal and being one of the best dinner partners I’ve ever had!
The next day for lunch, I decided to try Tapas, 24, a bar with equally rave reviews as Cervesería Catalana. The open kitchen and brightly lit space was unexpected for a basement level bar but was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Luckily, I avoided the lunch rush by being a Party of One! Speaking in Spanish, I ordered a sangria and was busy putting my purse on the purse hook when I heard a giggle next to me. Confused, I turned to my right and my eyes went wide with surprise as I saw my friend from last night! Delighted, we gave each other a hug and shared in the pleasant surprise that our Party of One turned into a Party of Two once again.
Here, I ordered shredded chicken croquettes and this amazing creation that I forgot the name of. It sounded simple enough to make: a light baguette like bread stuffed with octopus, lightly drizzled with a spicy and creamy sauce. It absolutely blew my mind though. I did not expect such a burst of flavor. I blame it on the sauce! This is a must order. This was also one of the only restaurants that sold sangria by the glass and not by the jug, so take advantage of that, Party of One-ers!
I think that the owners of Ciudad Condal and Cerversaría Catalana may be the same because the menu was almost exactly the same! This place was also showered by good reviews so I knew that it had to be good as well. I was a bit more adventurous with my order this time around. I’d never been a fan of razor clams but these were seasoned and grilled to perfection.
At this restaurant, I started chatting with the woman next to me who struck me with strong “The Alchemist” vibes. We started talking about our love lives and how she’s one of the few people that actually prefers the long-distance type of relationship. She is six-years strong with her Barcelona residing boyfriend, despite the fact that she lives in Florida for the majority of the year. Then we started talking about our relationships with our parents and how time and distance affects it. It was much more somber and a different type of enlightening than my conversations with Jenn. While I admired Jenn’s obviously hard-working nature and adventurous spirit, I really revered my current dinner date’s composure about life and the state of the relationships that she has with the people around her.
Les Quinze Nits
After a day busy with walking and exploring, our group of four was ready to finally sit down and have a full meal. We found ourselves at Plaça Reial, one of the most picturesque plazas in Barcelona. The string lights drape across the plaza that’s framed by palm trees and colorfully lit by the sunset. The restaurants in the area all have heat-lamp decorated patios with Catalan music drifting quietly from the inside. People sat around the fountain in the middle, some taking in the view while others scroll through their phones. We settled on eating at Les Quinze Nits, one of my favorite meals that I had in Barcelona. We ordered a good amount of food for our growing appetites: hummus platter, confit chicken salad, mussels, Pulpo Gallego (mini octopus), Patatas Bravas (potato wedges) and the largest pitcher of sangria.
I don’t eat red meat so Barcelona’s affinity for seafood based dishes fed exactly into my diet. I had been wanting to try Pulpo Gallego the whole trip and was excited to finally have the opportunity to do so. The mini octopus were juicy and the potatoes that they were simmered in exploded with flavor from the sauces. It’s hard to describe what it tastes like but it was sweet and savory and salty all at the same time but in a good way. If you like octopus, I definitely recommend trying this dish!
Milk Bar and Bistro
Before I left for Poland, we tried to fit in one last good meal. The thing about Europe is that there are so may restaurants tucked into little alleyways that you can almost always find a gem within the rough. Milk Bar and Bistro is one of those gems. One of the best brunch places that I’ve ever been to, the cozy restaurant was packed to the brim for Thursday lunch. I ordered the Chilaquiles that to my pleasant surprise was made with Doritos instead of corn tortillas. The freshly squeezed orange juice and the explosion of flavor from my dish was well worth the wait.
Barcelona just seems to hate us though…
One of the craziest stories, which I waited until I got back home safe and sound to America before I told my parents, was when I got pick-pocketed…but not really. On New Years Eve, while waiting for my friend to arrive, I wandered around the city center then eventually making my way to the Cathedral de Barcelona. My walk there was lined with fast fashion shops, one after the next, so I was pleasantly surprised when the alleyway leading up to the Cathedral opened up to a plaza. A guitarist played a melancholy tune, lost in his own world. Rows of canopies, underneath which antiques from Spanish culture sat on display, were crowded with locals and tourists alike. The Cathedral set a dramatic background, casting a shadow over half of the plaza. These scenes are absolutely foreign to me, having lived in Southern California all of my life, so I stood and watched the people meandering in and out, soaking in the pace of life so different from my own.
After taking the obligatory pictures of the Cathedral and a few badly angled selfies, I started to make my way closer to the entrance but then realized that the queue was for online tickets only. I moved to the side and sat on a nearby step so that I could purchase it on my phone. After two attempts with different credit cards but no luck, I settled on going back to the hotel and buying the ticket on my laptop for tomorrow. I sat there for a wee bit longer, content with just people watching.
Then, a Spanish couple, probably 40 or 50 years old, approached me, with the woman sitting next to me and the man standing off to the side-ish. She asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied with “just a bit!”. She then asked me about the ticket price, to which I explained to her that they were 7 Euro online but I was not able to purchase them on my phone, but maybe she can. During this time, she kept pointing in the other direction and saying that it says that they sell them in person for 24 Euro, to which I turned my head, without seeing any 24 on the signs in front of the Cathedral.
This was the first sign that something was wrong. Usually, if you ask someone a question, especially in a language that is not your native one, you really need an answer! She seemed incredibly uninterested in what I had to say and kept repeating the same thing over and over again, even though my Spanish was proficient enough to get the point across. It was then that I realized my purse was by my side, yes, but my hand wasn’t draped over it like it usually was. I stood up in an instant and felt inside my purse where my bulging wallet (because there’s way too many 10 pence coins, not because there’s tons of cash) was noticeably absent.
It was then that I noticed the husband’s presence for the first time. He was avoiding eye contact with his hands in his pockets. I looked at her and she had a smirk on her face. This was when I probably should have thought my response through a wee bit longer but I couldn’t hold it in. Without thinking, I throw out “Did you just take my f****** wallet?” I could tell that they were definitely not expecting that response from such a small, unassuming, stupid, American tourist. I may be a small American tourist, but do not ever underestimate me! They aren’t sure how to respond at first, so I helped them along. “Are you f****** kidding me?” I’m speaking loudly enough that the people near us can definitely hear me and I could tell that I’m making the pickpockets nervous by making a scene. If you’re a pickpocket, you want to slip in and out of crowds. Grab and go, grab and go. An Asian-American tourist in Barcelona with a very loud voice and very colorful language is not discrete. They start to apologize profusely and I stick out my hand, patiently (not really) waiting for my wallet to be returned to its rightful owner. Which it was. The husband was still apologizing as I walked away but the wife had that stupid smirk on her face, which I could have easily wiped off but calm-cool-collected is my 2020 mantra. Even now, two weeks later, I can barely comprehend that I was pickpocketed but then I told them to give me my wallet back – and they did!
So when I went back a day or two later with my friends, I was hyperaware of the people around me. The people that pickpocketed me blended in so seamlessly. They appeared to be so kind and genuine but of course, their intentions in starting a conversation with me were not. So, this is my lesson to everyone that is reading this blog right now. It’s not enough to be careful most of the time. You have to be careful all of the time, especially when you are traveling. Use your common sense. Use your intuition. And sadly, be even more vigilant when you are talking to strangers. I’d like to assume to everyone is kind, fine and dandy but it’s not always the case, so be ready when they’re not.
At the same time that this was happening, my friend was suffering from her own predicament. The hustle and bustle of the train station and bloody early flight that she had from Edinburgh to Barcelona took a toll and she forgot her backpack on the train…and realized it as the train was already rolling away. The loss was devastating: her laptop, her sister’s clothes, her prescription glasses, headphones and numerous other valuable things were in her possession one minute and then they weren’t. A loss as drastic as that is hard to recover quickly from, especially when the stress of traveling nonstop for four weeks, spending every minute of the day with your best friend and family, and going back to America is already weighing on you.
When my friend and her family questioned the employees at the train station, they were reluctant to help. When they filed a police report at the station, it became another lost-item report on the ever-growing pile. Barcelona has one of the highest occurrence rates of pickpocketing so the chances of her being reunited with her backpack were slim. It became an unshakable cloud over our heads for the next few days. But since then, we’ve tried to remain positive and proactive in learning from lessons like these.
Antoni Gaudí and his Wonders
To fully experience Barcelona, visiting an Antoni Gaudí site is imperative. Even if you don’t like art or museums or Gaudí, I think that seeing his artwork in person and seeing the reverence on the visitors’ faces is pretty cool. There are over 20 sites and museums so it was hard to choose which ones I wanted to visit since time was limited. However, I knew that Park Güell was absolutely on the list.
The pictures that I took do not do it justice. There is a free portion of the park and a paid restricted portion for 10 Euro a ticket. The free portion gives you a taste of the beautiful views that the park offers but much of the architecture that Gaudi designed and the various museums on site are restricted to only ticket-holders.
Creativity is always tossed around in academics. “He’s so creative!” “What a creative piece of work she made.” But whenever I walk around places like Park Güell, I see what being creative truly means. I could never in my wildest dreams design structures, rooms, and landscapes like Antoni Gaudí did. Sure, maybe I could mildly recreate it but I can’t create it out of nothing. The capacity of my creativeness is finding pictures on Pinterest to add onto my boards. This man stared at a piece of land and said I want this building to look like this and I want to use these materials. How absolutely astonishing! One of my favorite aspects of his art was his usage of mosaics. Using broken, discarded ceramics that people threw away, he repurposed the material to create something so beautiful that people will travel thousands of miles to see it in person. I wonder all the time if famous artists like him or Da Vinci or Rembrandt knew the magnitude of the impact that their art would eventually have on the world.
The other Antoni Gaudí site that I decided to visit was Casa Batlló. After putting the address into Google Maps, I found myself still walking along the main road and then suddenly, I was standing right next to the building. I looked up and I found myself at a loss for words once again. There was a huge crowd in front of the building, all seeing the building through the screens of their phones. I quickly snapped this picture then sat down on one of the benches out front and just studied everything. The unique skull-esque shape of the balconies, the signature mosaic tiling and the beautiful addition of color with the shutters. His art style is truly one of a kind and while I walked through the many floors of the building, this was further proven.
When I walked inside, I had to take a step back to take in the whole room. Then, I had to take a few steps forward to see the designs up close and to feel the texture of the walls under my fingertips. It was so hard to go through the house because it didn’t seem like a museum to me. The spaces were real areas where guests were entertained, people slept and stories were shared. I wanted to sit down in one of the very few chairs there to have a cup of tea and read a book. I wanted to stay and look out the windows and see the busy streets of Passeig de Grácia below me. I wanted to walk up the stairs and see the snow fall behind me. Yes…there was falling snow inside the building. It was magical.
Things on My Mind aka I Can’t Categorize These Blurbs
One of my favorite moments of this trip was on New Years Day. Rachel and I explored Port Vell, where there was a plethora of shops and restaurants for every time of vacationer. There we decided to stop. We grabbed some gelato and just sat there. We talked about life, boys, jobs, travel – anything and everything. Watching the sunset with my feet swinging precariously between me and the water reminded me of home and of how much I miss California. While I was in Europe, I very rarely missed home. I couldn’t afford it. I was always thinking of next stop this, gotta do that, prepare for this – it was always go go go. I was only in Europe for four months so I had to make the most of it. Sitting there with Rachel, my ice cream, and the most peaceful sunset I’d ever seen – I didn’t need to think about the next step because I was right where I needed to be in that moment.
That didn’t stop us from grabbing a few very beautiful pictures during the sunset though.
On New Years Eve, instead of a night out in town, we had a quiet night in. We got a pizza, rushed back to our hotel and watched the fireworks light up the sky from the rooftop. In Spain, the tradition is to eat a single grape with every ring of the clock once it hits midnight. Eating twelve grapes in twelve seconds is harder than it sounds! The hotel even gave us Cava, a spanish sparkling wine similar to champagne. While we were eating our pizza and sipping our wine, other residents at the hotel kept coming over and peeking into the pizza box, thinking that the food was provided along with the cava. We couldn’t help but giggle at how unexpectedly laid back our New Years Eve was. There was no midnight kiss. There was no booming club music. There was no crazy story about having to use my poor Spanish at the club to order a mint mojito. But that’s okay. It was still a New Years Eve to remember.
I’ve had hot and cold experiences with hostels. Some have been good at most while others were so bad that I shiver just at the thought (see Amsterdam post) However, I can say that Casa Gracia is one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at and perhaps may even be better than some hotels that I’ve stayed at. I didn’t take any photos of the building myself but I can attest to the accuracy of the photos that are posted online. I would have stayed there for a week without complaint! The lobby was pristine, with marble floors and brass accents everywhere. The bar literally glistened because of the sun’s reflection off of the perfectly polished glasses. The rooms had complimentary toiletries and freshly folded towels on every bed, but the part that I loved most about the entire building were the ceilings. High ceilings just make a space so much more elegant and airy, which is hard to do when you have six beds, six suitcases, and six people in a room. If you are traveling to Barcelona on a budget, Casa Gracia is the way to go! They have private rooms too!
You’re probably thinking, “I’ve read so much about food and Antoni Gaudi, but what about Sagrada Familia?” I genuinely cried a bit when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to go inside. I was so disappointed in myself for not prioritizing getting tickets over anything else…It’s been my dream ever since I was 15 to see the inside of this building in person. It was a tough lesson learned when I put it off so that I could go with my friends. My advice in these situations is that if you really really want to do something, eat something, or visit a site as popular as the Sagrada Familia, it’s not worth it to wait for your friends to book together. Just book it as soon as you can. It’s worse to not be able to see it at all than to go alone. I woke up early, at 6:30AM on the last day that I had in Barcelona so that I could see it. It was tough to settle for just walking outside the cathedral because the doors were so close, yet so far.
To say that Barcelona went unexpectedly is an understatement. So many things happened that I still haven’t processed completely. Yet, it’s still on my list of top countries in Europe. The people that I met, the things that I got to see, the food…my goodness the food was spectacular! I wish that my friend didn’t have to go through her predicament, but I know that she’s taking it like a champ and has learned so much from it. I wish that I was able to eat good paella, go clubbing and see the inside of the Sagrada Familia but I just have an inkling that the next time I go to Barcelona will remedy all of the lost potential in this trip. Onto the next one…Poland!
After living in Glasgow, Scotland for four months, the day that I had to pack my bags and move back to America joylessly came. Before leaving Europe, I decided to try to fit in a few trips. By a few, I mean four countries more in three weeks. There were a lot of moving parts, both physically and emotionally, involved in planning for a three week trip and moving all of my things from Glasgow back to California. I had two 23 kg suitcases, one 12kg suitcase, one 10 kg cardboard box, one full standard size backpack and one large tote bag. I had to coordinate transfers from hotels to hostels, back to hotels, with long distances in between. For reference, I am 5’0, 110 pounds soaking wet. I had just left the city and the people that have stolen my entire heart and soul to go back to a place where I feel little to no connection to. It was quite a lot to process and plan with little room for mistake.
Nonetheless, I tried to remain positive and proactive while traveling because I know that it might be a while until I’m back in Europe. First stop: London! My opinion of the city is limited to the stories that I hear from my friends. “Such a big city!” “Oh the Indian food? Dishoom? Spectacular.” “Harrods, oh you’re going to love it.” I’d always considered it a city that I have to go to. It’s London! Everyone has to go there at least once. Harry Potter! Royals! London Eye! What I forgot to take into account was how tired I would be. I’d been gone from home for four months. I just had to pack up my entire life into suitcases that may or may not be stolen or lost. I’d been traveling on and off for the entire duration of my study abroad. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, retrospectively looking back, London was the worst place I could have been at that point in time. The rushed tourists, spread out city and unfamiliarity of London was such a striking contrast to the steady pace of life that I’ve grown to love and miss in Glasgow. Because of this, this trip was much different than I imagined it would be. My first time in London was supposed to be with different people, doing different things, under different circumstances, but hey, that’s life! It’s not always what you plan for it to be but it’s what you make of it, right?
11:00 AM – Arrive in London
2:30 PM – Fame! the Musical
6:00 PM – Thai Food for Dinner
12:00 PM – Kensington Gardens
3:00 PM – Westminster
4:00 PM – Covent Garden
6:30 PM – Zonzo Italian
10:00 AM – Brunch
12:00 PM – Chelsea/Kings Road
2:00 PM – Harrod’s
5:00 PM – Oxford Street
12:00 PM – Comptoir Libanais
1:30 PM – Buckingham Palace
3:00 PM – National Gallery
5:30 PM – Santa Nata
6:00 PM – Cote Brasserie
7:30 PM – Waitress the Musical
10:30 – Biju Boba and Soho
12:00 PM – Dishoom
2:00 PM – Marylebone
5:00 PM – Camden Market
7:30 PM – Nandos
5:00 AM – Duck and Waffle
8:00 AM – Walk around South Thames
10:00 AM – Tower of London
1:00 PM – Padella/Borough Market
3:00 PM – Oddino’s Gelato
4:00 PM – Victoria & Albert
First things first, the stuff. How did you travel with all that stuff, you might ask. Well. Thankfully, the special generosity that I’ve reserved for only Scottish people extends to other British people as well. On the 4.5 hour train from Glasgow to London, I started to become anxious, thinking about how we were going to navigate the crowds at London Euston. We would be arriving at around 11:00 AM on Christmas Eve. With so much stuff with us, I was a wee bit worried to say the least.
As soon as the train stopped in London, we went straight into focus mode. We knew we needed two coins to grab two trolleys to stack a total of 6 suitcases and two backpacks on. First priority, watch all the suitcases. Second priority, transfer the suitcases. Third priority, get to the taxi station so that we can load all the suitcases on and head to King’s Cross where we were staying. Sounds easy enough, but like I said. I’m 5’0, 110 pounds soaking wet. The cumulative weight of just my things is more than double my body weight. However, we caught a stroke of luck. I was unable to see this interaction in person because I was rushing my ass over to the trolley station in an attempt to grab two and navigate them back to the platform, but Becs was able to give me the full rundown.
While I was gone, Becs was attempting to move the suitcases off of the train and onto the platform. Then, a man on a handicap cart pulled up next to the suitcases and gestured to them. “Are you doing alright?” Her initially impression was that he needed her to move the suitcases away from the platform but he was actually extending his help! Two men that worked at the station then started to load our 8 bags onto the cart and meanwhile, I’m still trying to grab the trolleys and already sweating profusely. As I’m wheeling the carts back, I see this scene where Becs is adamantly thanking these men while our suitcases are already locked and loaded and he’s gesturing for us to sit in the backseat. Despite that, we had to have another separate trolley for our three other suitcases because they didn’t all fit on the cart. I reiterate, it was a lot of stuff.
Fast forward, we’re sitting on the back of this cart, with one of the workers pushing the extra trolley, confused as to how we were able to catch this stroke of luck. They were even nice enough to help us to the handicap taxi station where an XL taxi was already waiting for us. The level of care that we received from these amazing workers really helped us remain positive. Leaving Glasgow was one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had, so it helped to see some semblance of Scottish hospitality in the city that I’m going to be spending the next five days in.
JUST LONDON THINGS:
One of my biggest worries about London was the Underground. In California, I’ve never ridden on the bus and the only time I’d taken the train was for a field trip in second grade that I barely remember. Getting around Glasgow’s subway system took me two weeks to get used to. If I had trouble with Glasgow’s subway system, how in the world was I going to be able to familiarize myself with London’s Underground in just three days? Please see below for a brief comparison of the two.
Surprisingly, I got it rather quickly…and I even started to really enjoy taking the tube. I know that I just complained about how London was too fast-paced for me, but the Tube was the one instance where it was almost enjoyable. It was exciting seeing people from so many different walks of life coming on and off at each stop. Some were wearing suits, others were wearing their trackies. Some were busy typing away on their phones while others munched on an apple while reading a book. Some were smiling to themselves, while others had worry wrinkles between their eyebrows as they stared off into space. I wondered where all of these people were going, what they had to think about, who they loved. So many interesting stories that I would have loved to hear, had they been willing to share it. It’s a bit strange to simply tap on someone’s shoulder and ask them to tell you their story though, no? At least, that’s what I’ve been taught.
One skill that I will never be able to understand though, is how people sleep on the tube. What if you miss your stop? What if you start to snore? What if someone takes a sharpie and draws an ugly goatee on you? I’ve always wanted to try to hold one of those signs that say “Wake me up at Charing Cross Station” though. I wonder if those signs actually work…
At this point, you (the reader) are probably getting so sick of me comparing places to Scotland, but I can’t help it! One of the most noticeable differences between England and Scotland are the accents. I’ve always thought the english accent was so soothing but after hearing the Glaswegian accent for so long, I think the english accent sounds way too exaggerated and posh. (Please don’t take offense to this, english readers! It’s just a personal preference). The Glaswegian accent just has something to it that makes me instantly smile. It’s strange though because throughout the UK, I’ve heard more foreign accents and languages than I have British. One of my proudest moments was when I was able to guess my professor’s country of birth due to his accent (he was German!). There’s a certain pride that comes with being able to distinguish between cultures because of your experiences with those people instead of just because you learned about them in a classroom. See below for my favorite videos in the entire world that just so happens to feature people with very…very…VERY…Scottish (Glaswegian) accents. Enjoy!
London is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world, with nearly 21 million tourists filtering in and out a year. I don’t know why I was surprised to find that every inch of the city was crawling with people at any given time of the day. Perhaps I was extra sensitive because of how I was feeling about leaving Glasgow. Perhaps being alone was actually affecting me more than I thought it was. No matter the reason – London was too much for me. You know those videos of the Japanese subway where people are literally being shoved onto the subway and the door is barely able to close because people are about to burst out of the car? I did not expect to witness this in person in London. The most amazing part about all of this was that people were still indifferent to their surroundings! As if this happened everyday (which it probably does).
Camden Market, a highly recommended attraction by all of my friends, turned out to be my worst nightmare. To me, it was just Hollywood boulevard but under one roof. I’m usually a sucker for handmade jewelry, especially of the dainty sort. I passed every single jewelry booth in the market because each one was so saturated with customers that I felt claustrophobic just looking into the booth. I genuinely think that under different circumstances, I may have enjoyed walking around but I was just not feeling the market at all. I found a bar near the back of the market that was slightly less crowded, so I ordered a mulled wine and sat to listen to the live music. However, I didn’t realize it was right next to a club-like venue where obscenely drunk people then filtered out and decided that they needed to have conversations at an insane decibel-level. My recommendation with Camden market is to come with lots of energy and know what to expect! It’s crowded and noisy and quite overwhelming with all the food and shopping options, so just keep that in mind.
Harrods gave me a similar claustrophobic feeling. I was being pressed forwards, backwards and to the sides constantly. I moved with the crowd with seemingly no control over where I was going. One minute I was staring at Fendi bags, and another minute I smelt cheese and was looking at a salami slicing machine but wait- there’s more! I found myself suddenly surrounded by clothes everywhere and then toys upon toys upon toys and then why there’s an ear piercing shop next to the restaurant – wait there’s a restaurant here? Nope. Not just a restaurant. MANY restaurants. But ooh, there’s chocolate and cookies and coffee and jam and SHOOOEEES! Let’s just say that Harrods was a blur but I managed to snap some pictures of the very attractive looking desserts. There were chocolates. In little gift wrapped boxes. So that you could actually give a “wee gift” to someone. I’m all for it but at the same time…a tad bit…excessive, no?
Because London is such a tourist haven, I feel like the city has tried extra hard to become as photogenic as possible. No wonder there are so many influencers coming out of London. I found myself stopping ever five minutes to take a picture. Everything is just so darn cute. I never thought that I would take a picture in front of a pink wall that matched my pink turtleneck but life gives you exactly what you need – even when you don’t even know you need it. I also found a pink car not far off from the pink wall!
A DINING GUIDE:
This trip was the first time I’d been left in an unfamiliar city alone for more than a day at a time. Before coming to Europe, I contemplating going on trips with only me, myself and I but decided against it because of several factors. One, it was my very first time in Europe so I didn’t want to expose myself unnecessarily. My mom is already a worry wart so her only daughter being alone 5,000+ miles away was her worst nightmare. Unfortunately for her, I have quite the rebellious streak so I did exactly what she told me I could not do. Two, I didn’t think that I could do it. I wasn’t confident enough to be able to navigate, plan and spend time with just myself but interestingly enough, I had the most fun in Europe when I was alone. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I love eating out and trying new things so here is my dining guide. Disclaimer: London is a HUGE city. I barely even chipped the iceberg of the dining options that it has to offer, but I loved the options that I decided to go with!
After my friends left, I was looking for a quick lunch place in Kensington. That’s when I happened to stumble upon Comptoir Libanais. If you read one of my previous posts about Scotland, you would know that I am obsessed with Spanish style tiles. I love the color, the intricacy, the extravagance – everything about it! This was one of the many Lebanese restaurants that I passed previously and when I walked inside, my jaw dropped a wee bit. The walls, the floors and the tables were all covered in beautifully colored tiles, similar to one of my favorite restaurants in Scotland, Cafe Andaluz. On the walls, there were tightly woven baskets for sale and absolutely stunning plates of Lebanese origin. The ambiance of the space added to the meal just as much as the flavors of the dishes did. Though the inside was stunning, I opted to sit outside, where there was a small patio so I could people watch.
I ended up ordering baba ganoush, a Chicken Taouk wrap, and a rose & mint tea that I drank up quicker than you could say rose & mint tea. I find that I’m always doing so many things at once that it was just nice to sit and eat. For example, I’m currently drinking a water bottle, writing this blog post, listening to Lewis Capaldi, and flying on an airplane to Warsaw, Poland. It’s hard to be on all the time, so this was a good reminder that I can be just as happy just listening to the city and enjoying my lunch.
Before my 7:30PM showing of Waitress, I initially wanted to get Dishoom for dinner. However, after being told that a seat for 1 would be a 2 hour wait, I wandered around until I stumbled upon Cote Brasserie, which had a two-course meal option for 17 pounds! What a steal. Starting with a large glass of Pinot Grigio (mandatory) and some perfectly crispy calamari, I was already getting a bit full before the entrée to be quite frank. However, the beautiful combination of grilled chicken breast, a mushroom marsala sauce and perfectly toasted on the outside but creamy on the inside potatoes was unreal. I came into Waitress with a bloated stomach and slightly sleepy from the meal but it was so worth it.
I stumbled upon this tiny Portuguese bakery while I was trying to find dinner. Honestly, I’m not usually a dessert person. Usually, I take one bite and then I’m all sugared out for a week. However, the floor to ceiling marble, view of the baker making the treat fresh, and coffee and pastry deal was too good to pass up. It tasted like crème brulee, which I normally shy away from but with the espresso, I quite enjoyed the creamy sweetness and then the subtle crunch of the crust.
I’m sick and tired of trying to find good boba in Europe. In California and especially in Orange County, I am spoiled with options. Sweeter milk drinks, fresher fruit drinks, chewier boba, smaller boba, whatever you are craving, there is a place for you. However, despite extensive research into the best boba in London, Biju Boba was so utterly disappointing. 1,000 (MAYBE) reviews and 4.3 stars! I thought I had narrowed down my options to the right one but it just was not the same as OC boba. The tea was lackluster, the boba was way too sweet and the cafe itself was not inviting at all.
Duck and Waffle:
Because I’m crazy, I woke up at 4 AM my last day in London to catch the sunrise at Duck and Waffle. I checked out of my hostel at 5 AM, traveled 45 minutes on the tube, and walked ten minutes all after my meltdown at Camden Market the day before. I’m quite proud of myself for still sticking to the initial itinerary. With my book in hand and dark circles prominent, I shakily walked into the glass elevator and watched as the surrounding buildings grew smaller and smaller beneath me. All I could think about as I soared to the 40th floor of the building was that this breakfast and view better be worth potential death. I arrived at 6:00 AM and was lucky enough to grab the last table by the windows.
It was quite early in the morning. I had a tad of anxiety sitting right next to the window to separated me, forty floors of offices and flat pavement. The Duck Eggs Benedict that I ordered disappeared into my stomach way too quickly. So many things to complain about but I found myself also finding so many things to be thankful for. I’m a college student from Suburban Southern California in London on holiday watching the sun rise over the pages of The Salt Path by Raynor Winn at one of the highest rated restaurants in the city. Once again, I was struck with how blessed I am. It doesn’t matter that the London fog made it impossible to see the sun. Instead, my sunrise was the slow change of steel grey clouds to clouds that looked like fire spreading across the sky. Hues of red, orange, and yellow painted the sky for a brief amount of time before the familiar London fog and grey-blue sky came around again. Beautiful.
After a bit of a panic attack at Camden Market, I was not excited to go to another market, but fresh pasta at a great price sounded like a great idea, so Borough Market it was. Thankfully, a good night’s rest and my amazing morning at Duck and Waffle made the crowds a bit more easy to handle. It was nice to wander and see locals out and about for lunch. Padella is near the market, but not directly in it so it was much easier to manage. While I was walking around the Thames, I figured that I should see if there was an online waitlist and thankfully I did because once I arrived at the restaurant, they had stopped taking people in from even the online waitlist.
Padella is a simple bistro with simple decorations and a simple menu and I’m not really a simple person. I’m the type of person that likes every vegetable possible on their pizza and likes pasta with a ton of toppings but I decided to give the place a try after the high recommendation from an old friend. (Hello old friend that is reading this right now). Per the recommendation of the waiter, I ordered the Cacio e Pepe. Highly recommend! I didn’t think that it would be possible to enjoy just spaghetti, cheese and black pepper but my eyes rolled into the back of my head at the first bite. I could taste the freshness of the ingredients and I could actually taste each of the three ingredients.
Since moving to Europe, I’ve grown to crave Indian food at least once a week. My go-to in Glasgow was Mother India (a MUST-TRY) but I’ve heard rave reviews about Dishoom so of course I had to try it. First, I just want to talk about the house chai. I cannot explain to you just how much I love their house chai. The best part? Free. Refills. MY GOD. It is obscene how good it is. This is coming from a person that used to detest chai. The US has some things to learn because their chai is absolutely trash but Dishoom? They know how to make chai. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
I ordered the Pau Bhaji, which is a dip made of mashed veggies that you eat with these hot buttered buns that were also obscene. (There’s no other word to describe how good it was, so be prepared to hear it at least two more times in this review) Then I also ordered the Chicken Berry Britannia Biryani. It was my first time having Biryani and again…OBSCENE. Usually, the rice that I eat is only cooked in water and then steamed so there’s not much flavor to it but I was surprised with how flavorful the rice was. At first, I was skeptical with the cranberries being thrown in with the chicken and coriander because I usually do not like mixing sweet and savory while cooking but…(you guessed it.) OBSCENE! I highly recommend the appetizer and main dish that I ordered but I’ve heard so many great things about the whole menu so I’m sure that anything you order will be great.
One of my biggest problems with traveling alone is that there’s no one to share the dishes that I order with. I think that I can eat more than I actually can so I end up ordering way too much. This becomes a problem when I travel because leftovers are usually left uneaten and I end up wasting so much food. Currently accepting applications for travel partners that eat a lot and are down for intellectually stimulating conversation!
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS:
The first day that Becs and I arrived in London, we went to see Fame for only 12 pounds a ticket! If you are looking for ways to spend your time in the city without shopping and avoiding the tourist traps, I definitely recommend browsing TodayTix to see if there are any deals. We watched Fame at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, which was nice because we were able to take some cute pictures at BoxPark Wembley, which was a food hall nearby. Unfortunately, because it was Christmas Eve, most of the restaurants were closed so we ended up picking a thai place near out hotel for dinner. Fame itself was quite enjoyable and for 12 pounds, it was such a steal. The musical is about a group of high school students in different departments of the Performing Arts that go through life together. The musical itself is definitely PG-13+ but it addressed some very real issues like homosexuality, suicide, illiteracy, and racism. A lot of the humor was a bit hard to get into but the actor and actresses were all wonderful.
On my first night in London alone, I knew that I needed to keep busy because it would be the first time that I was truly by myself in four months. Hence, I bought tickets to Waitress! Becs loved Waitress and saw it in London a few months prior so I wanted to see if the musical was worth the hype. It absolutely was. Between the two that I saw, Waitress was definitely more my sense of humor and music type. Because I was alone, I was able to snag a last minute ticket for merely 25 pounds! I was only six rows from the stage and smack dab in the middle. I was worried that seat may be too close and that I would have to look up at the actors but it was just far enough away that I saw everything but close enough that I didn’t have to squint to see all the little details. Lucie Jones who played Jenna Hunterson has got to be one of my favorite actresses. Her voice absolutely blew me away and I found myself tearing up more than I thought I would during her songs. If you have the chance, Waitress is a must-see!
My favorite moments in London were the times that I found neighborhoods where I could wander in and out of shops, pop into cafes for some espresso and just get lost. I’ve wanted to go to Daunt Books for while but didn’t realize that the street it was located on was so cute. There were so many boutiques that I ended up staying in for a wee bit longer because I was wrapped up in conversation with the owners. Daunt Books itself was interesting because the books are organized by the country of origin. The comparison between the books that the store decided to display for each region was very interesting. For example, the Scandinavian shelves were filled with books about “The Importance of Breathing” or “Happiness through Smiles” or “A Guide on Walking More”. In contrast, the French and Italian shelves were filled with books like “The French Coast in Three Days” or “Why Florence is a Better Destination than Rome” or “Learning Italian in 100 days”. Food for thought, I guess…
After my sunrise breakfast at Duck and Waffle, I walked South down the Thames River and across the Millennium Bridge, which may look familiar to Harry Potter fans! (Half-Blood Prince!) and then North, where I was able to then see the Tower Bridge up close, walk by Southwark Cathedral and the Globe Theater. It was so nice and peaceful on a Sunday morning with only me and a few joggers out and about.
While I was walking across the Millenium Bridge, three men, who remind me of the Three Stooges, stopped when they noticed that I was taking pictures of the scenery. One of them asked, in a very British accent, if I would like them to take a picture of me. Excited that for the first time, someone offered, I gratefully handed over my phone. They then proceeded to argue with each other because Mark, one of the three men, was standing in the way of the photo and no matter how he moved, his head was still in the frame. Finally, James, one of the other three men, pulled Mark aside so that the picture could be taken by unnamed Man #3. This is one of those situations where it’s funnier in the moment and it was so funny that I could not stop laughing and they were able to catch this gem of me. It’s not the perfect photo and I could critique my expression and stature in a million different ways but I can’t help but remember how much these men brightened up my day even if our interaction was only a minute or two. Thanks Mark!
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite perks about living in Europe is how alive history is. The Tower of London, which I highly recommend going to, is one of the coolest buildings that one can visit in London. Some may say it’s too tourist-y, that the line to see the crown jewels is not worth it, that the price to get in is too high – but I loved it and think that it’s absolutely worth it! The Tower is located on the Northern bank of the Thames river where you have a clear and beautiful view of the nearby bridge, conveniently named Tower Bridge.
I guess no London post would be complete without talk of the royals. Yes, I visited Buckingham Palace. Yes, I saw the guards with the funny hats. No, I did not see the queen! No, not Kate Middleton or Prince William either. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go into Westminster Abbey but I was able to walk outside of it and am putting it on the to-do list for my next London trip to see if the interior is as magnificent as the exterior! Buckingham Palace was beautiful though and the parks surrounding the area were quite nice to explore.
Near the Palace are the War Rooms that Winston Churchill used during World War II. The line would have taken ages for me to go through so I wasn’t able to enter but my friend told me that exploring that museum was one of her favorites in London so I’ve added that to the to-do list for my next visit as well.
A Collection of Blurbs
I mentioned earlier in the post about how I had an overwhelming amount of things with me. One of my biggest mistakes in coming to Europe was overpacking. It ended up costing me approximately 180 USD to make sure that all of my things came back home safe and sound. I had to pay for 2 overweight bags on my flight home, even though I had sent already shipped a 10kg box back home. It was a headache that I could have easily avoided if I wasn’t so attached to my things. Now that I’m back home, I think about it a lot – why I couldn’t just let go of some of my things. I had already left so many items behind in Glasgow but I still has so. much. left. Walking back into my room, I was overwhelmed by how much I had. My closet was still filled to the brim with clothes. Stacks of books upon books lay all over my shelves and desks, with stiff spines and collecting dust. When did I begin to accept that drowning in things would be okay?
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I really need and what I just want. I’m not going to jump right into minimalism because it’s not sustainable or even feasible because at this point in my life – it would just mean getting rid of too much. But I want to be more conscious of what I’m consuming. Do I really need it? I’ve beeAn asking myself that question constantly over the past month.
One of my favorite past times with my mom was shopping but now, whenever I go out, I feel so overwhelmed with how I justify the craziest things like buying a floral dress that I already have three different variations of or another mustard sweater with the exact same neckline and the exact same material but one has pockets and the other one doesn’t. I don’t need all these things and traveling and moving around Europe, I started to realize that the sweater might just be $12 but it ended up costing me so much more than that.
One of our biggest struggles in planning out the first three days in London was the fact that it was the holidays. Christmas is probably the worst time that you can travel because almost everything is closed. Museums, malls, stores, restaurants – they all have limited hours or they aren’t even open. We knew that this was going to be true but did not realize the extent that it would affect our travels. Many of our plans were cut short because things were closed or the things that were open were too crowded. It was disappointing at first because we exhausted all of our options on things to do and then eventually just settled on staying at the hotel but it worked out in the end.
One last thing that I want to talk about involves my night out in Soho. I had just finished watching Waitress and was exploring the city with my boba in hand, minding my own business. Despite that, men felt the need to voice their opinion about my body, what I was wearing, and how I “shouldn’t be out alone looking pretty like that”. No one has the right to call me honey if they don’t even know my name. No one should be able to make unsolicited, violating comments about anyone’s body. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling alone, wearing pretty clothes, or “just asking for someone to make those comments”.
In my mind, me ignoring it and not giving them a reaction is taking the power away from the comment. They want me to bite back, they want a reason to continue the comments, they want entertainment. So I don’t fight back – I don’t really react at all. But then, when will it stop? Who will stop them? What will stop them? When will it be safe, physically and emotionally, for a woman to travel alone in a city without having someone comment on her x,y and z? It really bothered me that these men were making comments to any female who looked like they were vulnerable. No, it’s not a compliment to be called pretty – at least not in the way that they are saying it. No, we’re not asking for it either by being a female out in town alone at night. It should be safe no matter the gender, but unfortunately, it’s not and that’s not okay.
Because of these interactions, I decided against going to bars by myself in the next few weeks that I would be traveling. I didn’t want to put myself at unnecessary risk. It’s quite disappointing because I’d heard so many good things about bars like The Alchemist or Cahoots but I was scared of possibly having an unnecessary confrontation with someone. Oddly enough, I’d never been confronted with this problem in Glasgow before, even when I was dressed to impress at the club. Maybe I’m blowing things out of proportion, but I’m sure that I’m, unfortunately, not alone in what I’m feeling.
I hate to end this blog post on a bad note, so here are some UBER cute pictures!
This is my longest post to date (nearly 6,000 words) and if you’ve read this far…wow, thank you for the support and I hope that you’ve found some entertainment with my rambling! The next phase of this three-week trip is Barcelona, which will hopefully be up sometime next week!
Of all the trips that I’ve done so far this term, Rome was probably the most overwhelming. I did the most planning with this trip but I felt the most unprepared this time around, oddly enough. There is just so much to the city. There are 900 churches, more restaurants with adorable patios than I could have ever imagined, and every corner that I turned, there was an alleyway to be explored. Absolutely insane. I only had about 48 hours in Rome and honestly, I feel like I barely dented the surface of what the city has to offer. All the more reason to go back!
9:30 AM: Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel
1:30 PM: Zia Rilla for Lunch
3:00 PM: St. Peter’s Basilica
4:30 PM: Pantheon
6:00 PM: Mamù for Dinner
8:00 PM: Gelato
9:00 AM: Roman Forum and Colosseum
1:00 PM: Trattoria Da Lucia for Lunch
3:30 PM: Chiesa de Santa Maria della Vittoria
4:30 PM: Trevi Fountain
5:00 PM: Shopping and Exploring
9:30 PM: Tonnarello Rome
4/900 Churches Down…896 to go…
My trip started with four hours in Vatican City. Victoria and I chose to do the audio tour and honestly, if you choose to do one as well, prepare yourself. It is a LOT. The whole time that I was walking through the museums, I felt the intense need to just sit down and absorb. There were Egyptian mummies, Etruscan artifacts, Roman statues, and then the casual School of Athens right next to other frescoes by Raphael and oh yeah Michaelangelo’s Last Judgement and don’t forget Pieta either. Each piece of art has a unique story that’s told through this audio tour, so it felt like a classroom at times but an interesting one!
The best part of the audio tour was that it was self-lead, meaning that I could take as much time as I want on the tapestries and breeze past the things that I am less interested in. Tapestry is amongst my favorite forms of art. The intricacy of the whole process and the sheer size of the artwork never fails to boggle my mind and pique my curiosity. For example, I stared at this tapestry for a solid 10 minutes as I tried to figure out how they were able to make the fabric actually shine. Lucky for me, there was an entire hall of Raffaello’s tapestries, 10 total to be exact. I was in heaven!
Another wonderful part of the Vatican museums is that everywhere you look, there’s art. It might be through the structure of the buildings, the frescoes (that are everywhere) or the exhibits themselves. In the 513 years since the museums were first established in 1506, popes tirelessly worked to acquire valuable pieces of religious art, to commission artists into creating unique Christian works and to compile all of these into a space where people from all over the world to marvel at. Catholic or not, I have an immense amount of respect for those that made the trip possible and worthwhile.
It was in this city that I wished the most for a DSLR. I have a barely functioning iPhone 7, so it was quite difficult to maximize the photo opportunities in the museums. My creative outlet has always been through writing, but I’m growing to love photography as well. It’s really easy to be inspired when you’re surrounded by such good photographers (like my roommate). My favorite part of taking pictures has to be the editing though. It’s incredible what a few changes in structure or tint can do.
In high school, I took an Art History course that served as the catalyst for my interest in the subject. Since then, my memory has done me dirty and I’ve forgotten most of it, so I was surprised when I saw Raphael’s School of Athens casually when I turned a corner. I remember spending an entire 50 minute class period talking about each and every philosopher, mathematician and scientist featured in the work. I wish I remembered. I joke about how I think there’s something wrong with my hippocampus all the time but it was in the Vatican that I was most frustrated with my incapability to recall certain details.
I walked through the museums with my friend Victoria and when we got the Sistine Chapel, I felt even more shame when she asked about the art. I realized that all my work in my Art History class really did go down the drain as soon as I graduated high school. Whereas before I could do an accurate analysis of The Last Judgement, from the flayed skin of Michelangelo to the distinction between the elect and the damned, I could barely point out the wingless angels when I sat in front of the fresco in its flesh.
When we entered the Chapel, we were asked to observe absolute silence and to not take pictures. It made me happy that at least most people observed the latter. Occasionally though, the volume in the room would slowly rise and the security guards had to request over a speaker for silence again. Victoria and I sat and just soaked it in. There’s a certain air in a building with so much history that cannot be explained. Even if you aren’t religious, I think it’s difficult to not feel emotional being in a chapel of such beauty.
After spending almost 20 minutes sitting in the Chapel and hours walking through the 54 exhibits in the Vatican museum, we were thankful to finally be able to rest our eyes and minds for a bit. Thankfully, Vatican City is not only beautiful inside the museums but also outside. The square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica served as the perfect photo opportunity. On Saturday, the weather was all blue skies with a slight breeze. 60 degrees may be winter in California but compared to Scottish winter so far, it’s summer! I seized the opportunity to wear a summer dress. (I covered my shoulders with a sweater when I was inside the buildings though, don’t worry).
At one of the churches that we ducked into while we were exploring on Sunday, we took a bit of time to rest our feet and listen to the Mass that the priest was giving. We chose a pew closer to the back as to not disturb the people actually attending the Mass but then I saw a dog. Yes, a dog. In a pink sweater. The owners, who were sitting in the pew in front of us, were diligently listening, unaware that I was now ferociously petting their dog. Mass pushed to the back of my mind, I focused on making sure that the dog knew I love it more than anything in the world. Deciding that if I pet it anymore that I would never leave, I stopped. Then, the dog decided to sneeze and strain against her leash, i= an effort to get back to my ferocious petting. Say no more, cute dog! This back and forth went on for another couple of minutes before her owner scooped her up in her arms and away from my love. I felt the parting like a stab in the gut.
Pizza? Pasta? Wine? Gelato? All Four?
My first meal in Rome was at Zia Rilla, a hole in the wall restaurant that we walked past multiple times before we found. My first impression of restaurants, especially if we are in a country that does not primarily speak English, is whether or not I can understand the conversation around me. When we walked in, I heard nothing but Italian, smelled nothing but butter, and saw a brimming rack of wine. Just how I like it! I don’t think that you can ever have bad pasta, but I think when you have really really good pasta, it’s life-changing. This was really really good pasta.
At this point in the trip, I was still ordering just a glass of wine instead of a bottle. Because of that, the only options available were a red wine or a white wine variety that I’d never heard of before, gewurztraminer. (I know. Try saying that three times in a row) Because I was eating seafood, I decided to go with the white wine and to my surprise, it was the best glass of wine that I’d ever had. I’m not sure if this is a good thing but I’m learning more and more about which alcohol my taste buds and my body enjoy. Tequila and Vodka? Never. Pinot Griogio and Gewurztraminer? 10/10 a good time.
We decided to alternate between pasta and pizza for each meal but honestly, we should have stuck with just pasta. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not one for fancy pizza. I like my pizza on a paper plate from Costco. It doesn’t mean that the pizza in Italy wasn’t good! It just means that maybe the pasta would have been better. This may look like a standard margherita pizza but apparently, this mozzarella is Buffalo Mozzarella, from the Italian region of Campania, which is supposed to make it better. I wish I could say that I could taste the difference but cheese just makes me happy no matter what.
Our second meal at Mamú was at an adorable patio with twinkling lights. What started off as a wonderful idea to sit outside took a turn for the worst. It started to lightly sprinkle, but since we were under a covered patio, we didn’t fully comprehend why people were suddenly starting to walk faster or why someone was now suddenly standing on the corner of the street in a poncho selling umbrellas. Then. It started. The torrential rain that threatened to topple over street signs, created puddles that you could drown in and turned romantic dates into well…unromantic dates. We tried to wait it out but the rain just kept coming down. Even in Scotland, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it rain so hard. (is that statement going to bite me in the butt later?) Thankfully though, we caught a break and the rain let up just a bit so that we could grab some gelato and then head home.
Trattoria Da Lucia had to be my favorite meal in Rome. We turned down alleyway after alleyway until we stumbled upon this gem. Similar to Zia Rilla, we heard nothing but Italian around us. The ceiling was adorned with swinging cloves of garlic and rows of kettles and pans. Pictures of family members and formers owners hung on the walls, making me feel like I was walking into someone’s home more than a restaurant. My favorite part was that there was wine everywhere. On the table, on top of the shelves, in the cabinet by the doorway – so much wine! We ordered a bottle for the table for only 15 euro. Oh how I love Italy. The pasta was amazing as always. Because the options were limited, I ended up ordering one with red meat (oxtail to be exact) and it was absolutely divine.
The last night in Rome, Becs and I decided to go to Tonnarello, which has more than 10,000 reviews on Google! Even at 9:30PM, there was a line out the door! In the alleyways on the way to the restaurant, there were several tables outside with piles of handmade jewelry and enthusiastic vendors, happy to make a sale or simply to have a good conversation. Groups of friends, old and young, stood in clusters around the restaurant, taking their time and enjoying the night air in Rome. I don’t know if I’m just seeing the tourist side of things but if this is how Italians truly live, I think I need to move to Italy permanently. Living in California, I constantly feel time’s presence in my life. I never have enough time, I need more time, time time time time but in Italy, time is an afterthought. It was always about living in the moment and what a breath of fresh air that thought is.
On one hand, I wish that I was more adventurous with the flavors of gelato that I tried but on the other hand, I like what I like! So that means there was a lot of caramel, coffee and matcha flavored gelato action. See below for a picture of the oh-so-photogenic gelato that was served at the shop right near our airbnb! I’m not a big dessert person, so I didn’t try any cannolis or anything but I think I made up for it with how much gelato I consumed.
So what else is in Rome?
What really ate at me in Rome was that I only had 48 hours. There was so much on our agenda that we wanted to do but as I was walking around Rome, I had the sudden urge to just throw all of those plans away and wander. When I was talking to a friend in Glasgow a few weeks ago, she mentioned that even though she’s lived in the city for three years, she’d never been to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which is arguably Glasgow’s biggest attraction. I asked her if she felt like she was missing out by not going and what she responded with really struck me. Experiencing a city isn’t just checking off the attractions when you google “things to do in ____”. I’ll be the first to admit it, but it’s the first thing I do when I plan an itinerary. It’s always exciting to see the pictures on postcards in person but I can’t help but think about whether or not I’m really experiencing a city if my experience is the same as every other tourist. Food for thought, I guess.
Between churches and pasta, we made time for a few other stops! One of them was the Trevi Fountain. I knew it was big but I didn’t think it was that big! I’ve probably seen more grandiose fountains in Las Vegas, but I felt so much more inspired when I saw this work of art by Nicola Salvi. In one of my favorite classes in uni so far, Rhetoric in Writing, I learned about the concept of exigence. It’s a mixture between purpose, inciting event and symbolism but at the same time, something completely different. I found so much exigence in Rome that it overwhelmed me. These artists actually had something to say. Their message is so valuable that people from all over the world travel to listen and learn about it. I wonder what my message to the world would be.
What boggles my mind is that all of these important buildings that are hundreds of years old are just in the middle of the city. For example, I was walking past pizza restaurants and shoe stores one minute and then a turn of a corner later, the Pantheon is standing in front of me. What’s also strange is that you can just come and go from this building freely! When we got there, we just sauntered right in. A fun fact about the Pantheon is that it is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. How the weight is supported when there’s a HOLE in the ceiling goes over my head. Another fun fact is that during the Summer Solstice, the sun shines through the Oculus at an angle where the light points directly at the entrance of the building. How cool!
On Sunday, we woke up bright and early and headed to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Again, the weight of history is so incredibly heavy. 70 AD. I find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that something built around that time is still standing today. Albeit damaged, but standing! In much of the museums that we go to, there’s usually a limit to how close you can get to the art or exhibit. At the Colosseum, I could run my hand along the stone walls. I climbed the same stairs that spectators would have climbed. It may not be a singular experience but what a special experience nonetheless.
When we got past security and were at the first viewing platform, I heard the first Vietnamese speaker since I’ve left home. A surge of emotion had me do a double take. The familiar cadence of the words was something that I didn’t know that I needed. I wish that I would have had the courage to join in and speak with the tour group because I forget how much I love speaking in my native language. Facetiming with my mom and family keeps me in practice but I want to speak it even more. I want to make conversation at the supermarkets, order food at restaurants, and banter with my friends. So much of my connection to my culture is through language, something I hope that I never lose.
Looking at these pictures, you might have done a double take. Wait. Is that girl wearing…heels? Yes. I had no choice but to wear 4 inch heels. (I originally thought they were 3 inches but measured them when I got home and they’re 10cm, which is 4 inches…) So why in the world did you have to wear heels around the cobbled streets of Rome you might ask? I was planning to wear my mules for the weekend, but due to the torrential rain on Saturday night, my mules were soaking wet and it was not appealing to wade through puddles with flat fabric shoes on Sunday. So I figured that my leather heels would be a better option, and they were! Proud to say that I survived 11 miles in 4 inch heels around Rome. My feet were a bit sore by the end of the night but it felt much better than wet fabric flats would have felt. The rain also put a damper lovely outfit I had planned (floor length flowy skirt doesn’t really suit the rain now does it?), but at least the rain didn’t stop our adventures!
One of my biggest disappointments about Rome was the shopping. I went on this trip with only half a suitcase filled and the intention of filling the other half. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not that I didn’t fill the other half. Everyone talks about how Italy is one of the best shopping destinations in the world but I truly found it hard to find something to buy!
Wandering around the city, I popped into more leather shops than I’d like to admit, hoping to find the one purse that I would be able to justify splurging on. With each store, I found that all the leather was dubbed to be “genuine Italian leather”. Maybe it was genuine! However, after the first three stores had the exactly same purses on display, I grew tired on my search. Is it too much to ask to find a cute boutique shop in the middle of tourist-y Rome with a uniquely designed genuine leather at the right price point? A bit? Okay then. I did, however, find a wonderful mixture between a coat and a cardigan that is perfect for California winters! I’m sure that other cities like Florence or Milan are probably better for the type of shopping that I’m looking for though.
Traveling around Europe has made the ability to figure out public transportation a necessary skill. One of the things that frustrates me the most about public transportation is that you aren’t ever in control of it. The schedule may say that the bus will be there at 12:15PM, and you might be there on time, but traffic or delays can make the bus late and then you’re left there on the side of the street waiting for 16 extra minutes when you’re tired and hungry and your feet are soaking wet from the rain. (can verify: it sucks). There’s been so many times when I’ve sat in a taxi or a bus where I’ve wished to just be in the driver’s seat again. I wish I had my car with my comfortable seat cushion, my finicky bluetooth speakers, my crooked steering wheel leather cover – I miss everything about it. I can’t imagine having to depend on public transportation to go to work in the mornings. I’m blessed to say the least.
The Ecstasy of St. Teresa is one of my favorite art pieces of all time. Bernini’s sculpture in Santa Maria della Vittoria is just the perfect amount of extra. The drama, the sensuality, the grandeur – Baroque art is my cup of tea. I’m still in shock that I was able to see the sculpture in person. I could never have imagined it in my wildest dream three years ago when I took the class. The art pieces that I learned about were always so distant but then before I knew it, I was on an airplane to see them in the flesh. I guess that’s how life keeps you on your toes.
One of my favorite movies is Roman Holiday. I suppose it’s quite a common dream to be swept away by someone like Gregory Peck but next time in Rome, I’m making it a point to try to recreate this picture! How iconic it would be! Counting down the minutes until I get to stroll down your cobbled streets again, Roma!
As always, but even more so with this trip, I wish I had more time! Three whole days in the beautiful city was not nearly enough. If you are looking for amazing (CHEAP!) food, stunning scenery and architecture as well as a raging nightlife, look no further than Budapest, Hungary. There’s nowhere in the world like it. (Very open to be proven wrong though). Disclaimer, some of the pictures in this blog post were taken by my very talented roommate Cata. Go give her Instagram a wee look!
This trip, I went with Cata (left) and Cata’s best friend from Chile, Clau (right)! Over the few days that we spent together, I grew more and more inspired by their creativity, intelligence and all around bad-assery. Cata did the Camino De Santiago in Spain BEFORE her three month study abroad trip and Clau CAMPED for a month in the Chilean Patagonia just because! Meanwhile, I scrub my body for an hour after a three day camping trip. My aunt has always said that you are a combination of the 5 people that you surround yourself with and I wish that Chile wasn’t so far because I think it’d be really cool to have some of their greatest attributes in my personality as well.
9:00 – Tesco Run
11:00 – Exploring Buda
17:00 – Drum Cafe
21:00 – Bars and Clubs
12:00 – Gozsdu Weekend Market
3:00 – Drum Cafe
21:00 – Bars and Clubs
11:00 – Vajdahunyad Castle
3:00 – Tukory Etterem
4:00 – Parliament Building
6:30 – Danube River Tour
Budapest is a city with a rich history, to say the least. One of the aspects of this trip that I appreciated the most was who I traveled with. While we were waiting at the airport in Edinburgh, Cata was getting quite frustrated with herself because she didn’t know enough about Hungary. According to her, traveling is meaningless if you can’t put any context to anything that you see. I can’t say that I disagree.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend a guided tour for any of the attractions that we visited. So to compensate for that, she would read from various websites about the ever changing political climate, or about how the food came to be, or how the buildings were built/sustained even amid the World Wars. She and Clau, my other companion, were so knowledgable in the history of the Hapsburgs, and in Marxism and in all these things that I can recognize from the classes I’ve taken but for the life of me cannot completely recollect. I truly mean it when I say that it absolutely changes your traveling experience when you at least have some form of understanding about the how’s and the why’s.
Here is my very brief and surface-level understanding of the city. Budapest is actually a merge of three settlements: Buda, Pest and Óbuda. Nowadays, it’s more recognized as having two sides – Buda (the left side of the Danube River) and Pest (the right side of the Danube River). Buda is where the royal town used to be, so therein lies the Buda Castle, Matthias Church, Castle Gardens, and various museums. Pest used to be a prosperous trading center and is where the majority of the city-life is – the delicious restaurants, the night clubs, and other touristy things. Going into our trip, we actually wanted to dedicate Sunday to a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. After Friday and Saturday though, we knew that there was way too much that we still wanted to do in Budapest to make that happen.
Making our way from our Airbnb to Buda was quick and easy. We decided to stay in Jewish Quarter/District 7, so it was a bit of a walk away but I’ll specify why this was the perfect place to stay later in the post. On our way there, we passed the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, which is incredible considering which side Hungary was on during WWII. (well…it’s complicated…) It gives me so much hope for humanity. Unfortunately, the stars did not align and we were unable to visit the inside of the synagogue but someday, I hope I’ll be able to come back.
The streets were filled with tourists, especially since the Christmas markets were already being set up. We passed a small one, with no more than 20 booths, and I just know that I’ll love them even more if I see them at their full scale. Hand-painted ornaments waited to adorn trees. Piping-hot langosh passed from fryer to customer quicker than the speed of sound. Perfectly stacked sweets tantalized the children that passed by. Christmas markets were everything that I hoped they would be. They remind me of the Sawdust Festival, in Laguna Beach, California, something I could never get sick of, even if I go year after year.
As soon as we crossed the Chain Bridge, we were bombarded with tour promoters. Buda side definitely gives off a more “YOU ARE IN BUDAPEST” vibe, if that makes sense at all. The whole experience on Buda seemed very structured because there were only a few roads in the town and everything was centered around the attractions. We ended up succumbing to one of the promoters and for 7 euro each, we were able to get transportation to and from each of the four major points on Buda Side. We ended up only using it to get up and down the hill and not between places but it was worth it because that distance was quite far.
First stop, Buda Castle! Here’s the thing about Buda Castle. It’s not just one building. It’s an entire complex. We should have done way more research before going into Buda. The “castle” (singular) is made up of several (plural) buildings. There were three different museums, multiple-viewpoints and two buildings that I have no idea that they’re for. We walked around, confused and lost because of the sheer size of the buildings. This is probably the first country that I’ve been to that English is not a language known by most of the people. They primarily speak Dutch in Amsterdam but their english is also very good. We never had trouble communicating with broken english, pointing and lots of smiling but it was different being unable to understand the signs or what was being spoken around me.
This next story is incredibly embarrassing but I think it’s a really good lesson on the necessity of research! I’ve grown very lax in my travels and have paid the price for it. I’m all about going into a city and just figuring it out but now I really need to do more than just a bit of research. So long to free-spirited Rosa and hello again to planning expert Rosa!
So we were wandering around, trying to find the Buda Castle, which we assumed was one building. Finally seeing some security guards, army men and very professional looking cars, we thought that perhaps we found the front entrance to the castle. With confidence, we approached them and asked if this was the castle. They nodded yes and started to laugh. Unfazed, I plowed ahead and asked if it was open today. We had seen that there was a guided tour that came with the purchase of a ticket or something and like I mentioned, we wanted to learn! Because they didn’t speak much english, one had to translate to the other and they laughed even harder. They reply that they are closed. I persisted. Tomorrow? Sunday? Monday? They shake their hands and continue laughing.
We walked away, still confused. While explaining to them the situation, I was struck with the realization. Wait. Army. Security. Nice cars. Oh my goodness. I just tried to get into the Prime Minister’s Office. The Prime Minister of Hungary lives in the Buda Castle Complex. I just asked if his office is “open” and if my American tourist ass can come in. Might as well start writing my speech for stupidest tourist of 2019. So lesson has been learned, start planning things again! Life’s just been moving so fast that I’ve forgotten my roots in being obsessive with preparation. Now that this story is out on the world wide interwebs, I’m never going to be able to forget it, but hopefully you won’t either and you’ll learn from my mistakes!
Moving on from that, we went to Fisherman’s Bastion, which was built originally as a fortification system for the Buda Castle District as it was first being developed in the 1400s. The view is unparalleled. From the Bastion, you get a panoramic view of the Pest portion of the city and beyond. You see Margaret Island to the left, the Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica in front of you and then the rest of the city on the right. You look under you and around you and you feel the history through the stone. The Bastion was severely damaged once by nature’s abuse and then again during WWII. Each time, it was built up again and better than before.
Right next to Fisherman’s Bastion is Matthias Church. I have a big thing for churches but I have an even bigger thing for gothic churches with romanesque roots. From the outside, you are struck first with the unique tile placement on the roof. Then, when you go inside, your senses are overrun with color and light and shadow and how tall the church is and how perfectly the arches curve and enclose you in and it is just perfect. The style of architecture is completely unique to anything else that I’ve seen firsthand before. There is so much more color in Hungarian buildings that I thought there would be, but I’m not mad about it at all.
Our final stop in Buda was the Gardens. We weren’t able to wander around them too much because we started to grow a bit famished but as everything in Budapest – it was beautiful.
Before this trip, we only planned on having one night out in town. Nothing too crazy. I didn’t even pack clubbing clothes and I am usually always ready for a night out. I didn’t expect that Budapest would be so…for lack of a better word…lit. However, as soon as we made it to Szimpla Kert, one of the top ruin bars in Budapest, we knew that it would be impossible to truly experience the city without taking advantage of the raging night life.
Szimpla Kert is so weird but absolutely awesome. Honestly, I still don’t know exactly how to describe the place. I feel like it was a dump for all of those things that people throw out onto the street when they are moving house. There were random bathtubs everywhere, bike tires from the ceilings, typewriters attached to the wall – you name it, it’s probably in a nook or cranny somewhere there. Yet, it totally worked. The vibe was spot on. You could be celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary or going out for your mate’s 21st birthday and still have an equally amazing time. It’s just one of those places.
After that, we decided that we wanted to go for some dancing and boy oh boy. Instant Club: 2 buildings, 6 bars, 3 dance floors, 2 gardens. It doesn’t matter who you are or whether or not you like to party. JUST GO!! We stayed out until 4AM for two nights in a row. As someone who is very particular about dance music, I can confidently say that the best DJs that I have ever seen were at Instant Night Club. When my current favorite song by Meduza (give it a listen) played, I legitimately almost cried because it’s been on repeat for the past two months for me and I haven’t ever heard it played in Scotland. Glasgow needs to hire these DJs (or hire me) because Hungarians know how to properly party.
Remember how I said that staying in District 7 was a really smart move? We were at most a ten minute walk away from Instant Club and only around the corner from Szimpla Kert. Also, oddly enough, our street was not rowdy at all, even though we were so close to all the bars and clubs. Our Airbnb was in a complex with residents that seemed to all have families and jobs to get to so it was very nice happy medium. If you are going to party or go on pub crawls late at night, I’d really recommend looking for a place close to the bars that you want to go to, rather than close to the places you want to go during the day. In Ireland, it was a 30 minute walk from the last bar to our hostel. How we got home safely, I have no idea. However, both nights in Budapest, we barely had to walk half a mile to get home!
Because we partied both Friday and Saturday night, our mornings were a bit harder to get going. We knew after Friday night that we had to make the choice to party again or to have the energy to do many of the tourist-y things that we also wanted to do. We chose the partying and I don’t regret it because I think I’m at the age and point in my life where I’m not in too much of a rush to experience everything. At 20, I can physically and mentally keep up with the partying but I’m not sure if i’d be willing to do that if I’m traveling with my husband or with my kids. I’m really lucky to be able to travel right now with no responsibility, no long-term relationship and a fair amount of money in my pocket. It’s going to be a while before I’m able to up and go like this again, if at all, but I think that finding the joy of traveling so early means that I have years ahead of me to plan for it.
Of course, it would have been nice to be able to see inside the synagogue, Parliament building, or to go to the thermal baths, but both nights at Instant will forever be some of the best times of my life. Besides, I will do everything in my power for an opportunity to take my parents or my future family to Budapest again. It’s been my favorite destination so far!
Back to the wholesome content… After our first night out, we wandered around the Gozsdu Weekend Market, a passage way full of hand embroidered tea towels, soviet collectibles and jewelry makers. I love finding these small markets where you get to meet locals and really see what they’re passionate about. We saw an old man that collected stamps from every Olympics in the past sixty or so years. He had them in books and separated them from country to country, era to era. It sounds like a dream to spend your weekends people watching and sharing your passion with others.
Vajdahunyad Castle is straight from a fairytale. There’s the idyllic lake wrapping around the grounds, the bridge leading to the massive entrance, and of course grand staircases that lead to even grander rooms. It seems with all the castles that I see, I never expect them to be how they are. Like Edinburgh Castle, Vajdahunyad Castle is surrounded by apartment complexes and very close to the main road. It’s crazy for me to think that people live no more than a stone throw’s away from a whole freaking castle! I guess that’s the appeal of traveling/moving to Europe for me. You don’t have to look too far to find a piece of history or a beautiful castle!
The weekend that we were there, the castle decided to gift us with a beautiful Orchid festival. For someone with a black thumb, I sure love flowers. It was a massive affair, with different types of orchids (even carnivorous orchids) on display, brought to life behind a velvet rope and bright spotlights. 60 year old women stuck their phones right up to the orchids, ooh-ing and aah-ing at how strong and healthy the flowers were. It was as if I was seeing myself through a time-traveling machine 40 years into the future. The funniest part was that the husbands were all clustered around the few chairs available, holding floral print scarfs, Coach purses and jackets way too small to be their own. I think that’s a deal breaker for me. Are you willing to hold my things while I take pictures of flowers for hours and drag you along? Yes? You sure? Confirmed: soulmate.
While we were exploring the grounds, there were sudden bursts of very strong winds. As we are in the middle of Autumn (there are SEASONS here!), the leaves started to fall. I wish I had a higher quality video camera to capture the moment. It was the first time that I witnessed magic.
Quick! Funny story. Near the entrance, they were offering a view in one of the towers for 300 HUF, which is about 1 Euro. Paying the price, we climbed up some stairs and were lead to this room, where there were photographs and illustrations about the damage and subsequent renovations that the castle had to go through following the wars. My friends went through the door to the outside first and I trailed along at my own pace. Stepping across the threshold, I was calm and cool until I looked up and saw THIS:
I am still just so confused as to why there is a dummy on this viewpoint. I understand having a scarecrow in a field so that the crows don’t peck at the crop but we tourists are supposed to pay the 300 HUF to go to the top of the tower! Why is the dummy there!?! Also, why is the dummy fully dressed with tied shoe laces?! I’m just confused.
We ended off the trip on a very good note. Even though my nose felt like it was going to freeze off and my hair turned into a rat’s nest from the wind, the Danube River Tour was well worth it. It was only 10 Euro a person! We were given a glass of Vino Caldo (mulled wine) and a beautiful view of both Buda and Pest. I thought to myself: when are we ever going to get this view again? I don’t think it’s necessarily about making every second in your life matter but it’s about knowing which seconds do matter. You’re going to have the occasional day where all you did was make yourself a Cup Noodle and watch Mind Hunter. (I’ve had way too many of those but let’s not get into that) That’s okay! I’ve forced it into my head so much that every day has to matter and if it doesn’t, then I’m not living. That would require me to be on my A-game 24/7 for my whole life, which is just foolish! It seems that every year that I grow older, I have more of these seconds that matter and that thought makes me incredibly happy.
One of the biggest disappointments of this trip was not being able to go inside St. Stephen’s Basilica or the Hungarian Parliament. We were on our way to the Basilica but unfortunately found out that it was closed and we were unable to book a tour with the Parliament and they only allow in visitors via guided tours. I would have never been in this situation a year ago. I would have made sure that I had tickets for the exact time that I wanted. I would have made sure that I knew how much time it would take to walk to every site and about how much time I would spend at each.
I wish that I was like that on this trip. I had so much fun and I don’t regret any moment of it but I think, especially with my last few trips as well, that if I had only just taken the reigns and let myself plan instead of trying to match everyone else’s pace, I could have gotten so many more things done with the same amount of time. With my next trips to Rome, Paris and London, I’m trying to structure my time a bit more since those cities are so overwhelming. At least with the places that I’ve been before, I’ve done 85%+ of all the things that I’ve wanted to do so I can confidently say that I had a good trip. However, with the big cities, there’s no way that I will be able to do even most of the things on my bucket list so I just have to pick and choose and make sure that I choose the right things.
Who would have thought that Hungarian food would beat out every other type of cuisine that I’ve ever had in my life? Cheese, paprika, bread, pasta, more cheese, paprika, pasta, bread, even more cheese, paprika. I’m drooling just looking at these pictures. We were trying to find an authentic Hungarian restaurant to try and for the three of us including drinks, our meal only cost about 35 Euro. We loved it so much that we ate at the same restaurant twice! So amazing. Phenomenal. See pictures below.
Here’s about a chart about Hungarian food/Drinks that I had way too much fun making:
Are you drunk? Are you tired? Are you in Budapest? Just get the damn Gyros.
WDYM YOU DON’T LIKE BEER
Smells like rubbing alcohol but tastes like fruit. Take Caution.
hard pass. never again. will die if consumed. steer clear. danger zone.
Budapest, I love you so! Your culture, your food, your people – everything! I hope that I see you again soon and by soon I mean tomorrow, preferably! I write a postcard to my parents with every city that I visit. I usually tell them what happened with excitement and they respond with an equal amount of happiness that I experienced what I did. Yet, as I wrote the words “one day in the future, I want to bring you here to visit this beautiful city”, I couldn’t stop crying. In Vietnamese, those words bring even more emotion because they carry a sense of longing and “far-awayness” if that makes sense. I wish so much to be able to share my experiences with them. I wish that I could show them that all of their hard work has not been in vain and that every wrinkle on their face and every ache in their neck for me has been worth it. If traveling for myself is not enough incentive for me to work my ass off for the next few years, taking my parents to places like these will be.
Wow this was an incredibly long post. Almost 4000 words! If you got to the end of this, you’re a true homie and you should go to Budapest. Everyone should! Goodbye for now, Budapest. Next stop, Rome!
Where do I even start? In my experience, Dublin is great for two things: drinking and beautiful cathedrals. Unfortunately, on the weekend that we went, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral were booked for graduations, my friend wasn’t interested in the Book of Kells and we didn’t have time to go to the Jameson Distillery or the Malahide Castle & Gardens. But, we did do so many other things that made the trip 100x worth it!
5:00 PM- Hostel Check-In
7:00 PM- Bar Italia
8:00 PM- Pub Crawl
11:00 AM- Lemon Crepe & Coffee
12:00 PM- Exploring
4:00 PM- Guiness Storehouse
8:00 PM- Red Torch Ginger
6:30 AM- Onto the Bus
9:00 AM- Kilmacduagh Monastery
11:30 AM- Cliffs of Moher
1:20 PM- The Burren
3:00 PM- Galway
8:00 PM- Back to Dublin
10:00 PM- Last pub!
Going into this trip, we didn’t do much planning prior. All we did was make a list of things we wanted to do and then we booked the day trip for Sunday (which was such a good move!). So when we got there on Friday, we walked around to look at the menus of various restaurants to see what we were craving and I could not be more satisfied with our choice.
Bar Italia is an upscale Italian restaurant with some of the nicest staff you could ask for. Our host, who seemed to be doing five million things at once, offered to take our coats as soon as we came in. It was really crowded so we ended up just sitting by the bar and having a glass of wine while we waited for a table. I ordered a seafood risotto, which was one of the best I’ve ever had. The portion was large enough to make me full but small enough so that I was craving for another bite even as the night wore on. The clams mixed into the marinara sauce were perfectly tender and not too chewy and overcooked! The sauce itself was deliciously light but still creamy. I’m dreaming about the dish even two weeks later. The video of our dinner isn’t too high quality but I hope that the filming technique I used is effective in showing my excitement. The pizza that Becs ordered was apparently amazing as well. All in all, Bar Italia is a must visit!
After dinner, we walked around Temple Bar district. It’s absolutely made for tourists. The beautiful cobbled streets, the flowers hanging from window sills, the flags with Irish/Celtic symbols – it was all very overwhelming at first. Nonetheless, it was fun to walk around such a festive area. When we started our night, we weren’t planning to do get plastered while on a pub crawl. Ireland had different plans for us.
What I ordered:
In Four Words…
Pint of Guiness (duh!)
I am a tourist!
Whiskey & Coke
Let’s just chill.
Whiskey & Coke x2
Crying in the Club.
Whiskey & Coke…x3
So how was Dublin?
Something to note about drinking in Ireland, though. If you are going to drink in Temple Bar District, be prepared to spend spend spend. Each drink that I got was about 10 euros each. It’s not cheap, so perhaps pre-gaming is a better option.
Temple Bar. If you’re a tourist, I’d say you absolutely have to have a pint of Guiness here. It’s a very nice bar, don’t get me wrong. There are multiple rooms with beautiful fairy lights and cherry wood beams, but it was just very crowded and there is not one local in sight. We got out of there as quick as we could. Perhaps that’s why we were so drunk. We downed that pint like no one’s business…
The Norseman. There’s live music and the drinks were good. The crowd was a bit older though so it was a bit more difficult to get into the vibe. There was live music though so it was really nice to just sit around and have good conversation.
Fitzsimons Bar. There was a rooftop beer garden here that was so nice! It was decorated with shrubbery and cute picnic tables that I’m sure would be a very outdoor-sy/Instagramable setting during the day. Becs and I were enjoying our time so much that we got two drinks here! Downstairs, there was live music but not much seating. The bar did wrap around the whole entire downstairs though, so drinks were very easy to get.
The Church. Initially, we wanted to eat here for dinner but it was so crowded that they turned us away. This building is a church that was converted into a bar and is now a restaurant and hosts traditional Irish dancing during the weekends. At the end of the night, we decided to try our luck and make this our last stop on our way home and thoroughly enjoyed the company here. The whiskey that I had, per the bartender’s recommendation, the Jameson Caskmates, was probably the best I’ve ever had. The building itself was beautiful with the high ceilings and wooden beams. The bar was right in the middle with dramatic lighting all around and the electronic remixes from the speakers made the church a bit less about repenting and more about doing things that you’re going to repent about. *wink* Disclaimer, we only briefly remember taking these photos, but we look damn good!
Friday, unexpectedly, ended up being the wild night out that I’ve always dreamed of having in Dublin but recovery on Saturday was not fun. I took a bit longer on Saturday getting ready but we left the hostel by 11, so we didn’t lose too much time.
While walking around Dublin, we quickly realized that there wasn’t much to do in the city. Though it was fun to pop into a boutique art store here and then a Brazillian churro shop there, it is definitely a city made for tourists. I think an indication of a tourist city is how many souvenir shops there are. There was easily a Carolls Irish Gifts Shop every mile that we walked.
We tried to visit the cathedrals but they were both closed for graduations. We walked around Trinity College, which was beautiful, but it didn’t quite measure up to the allure of the University of Glasgow.
Surprisingly, the Dublin Castle was smack-dab in the middle of the city! With the Edinburgh Castle, it is at the end of the royal mile and there’s a lot of buildup and advertisement leading up to the entrance. We walked past the entrance of the Dublin Castle and had to double-back because we were not expecting it to be so close to a main road or to a bunch of casual restaurants and cafes.
We opted out of doing the guided tour and took our time wandering the grounds. It only took us about 30-40 minutes to walk through the interior rooms, explore the gardens and to gaze up at the dramatic grey facade of the castle. If you have time to do it, I recommend a brief stroll, but I wouldn’t say that it was necessary to visit.
One of the best things about being in Europe though is that their humor is so effortless. We were in the main dining/entertaining room of the castle and I saw a little piece of paper on a chair. It was obvious that the chair served as the throne or choice of seat for a very powerful person since it was so nice and regal…and…cushioned. But the best part was that there was a little piece of paper that read:
"I am old and delicate. Please do not sit on me."
This sign personified the chair with such grace that I couldn’t handle myself. I burst out laughing and could not stop for a solid five minutes.
The best part of Saturday, however, was the Guiness Storehouse. Yes, it is about 22 Euro to get in. However, it is so so worth it! I’m not much of a dark beer person, but I am absolutely in love with Guiness. The experience was so immersive and captivating. They really brought the process of making beer to life and made the 22 Euro worth it because we even got a flight of three types of beer with our ticket! On the seventh floor, there’s a 360 degree floor-to-ceiling window bar called the Gravity Bar that was way too crowded for me, but it was still really awesome to see the entire city from that high up.
We ended off our day with delicious Thai food at a beautiful restaurant but 22 Euro Pad Thai doesn’t quite hit the spot like 7 USD Pad Thai back home does. Despite that, I’m hit again with the realization that though it may not be completely the same, Europe has done a wonderful job reminding me that I can find a bit of home anywhere that I go.
Sunday was absolutely my favorite day of the whole trip. From Dublin, the Cliffs of Moher are a 5 hour, multi-transfer bus ride. It would have been hell and back to try to get to the Cliffs by ourselves. We looked into different ways that we would be able to get to the Cliffs of Moher and settled on booking a day trip with Get Your Guide. This was the best decision that we made the entire trip.
For about 40 pounds, we got full transportation to multiple attractions around Ireland and even had some time to stop in Galway and have a drink! We had lovely tour guides, Lisa and Lisha, as well!
When we got to spend the Cliffs of Moher, we had about two hours or so to explore. The pictures online do not do the sheer size of the cliffs justice. When you enter the parking lot, you don’t see the drop off point at all. However, there’s a moment when you just reach the top of a hill that you look over and there they are in all of their glory. The craziest thing is that there isn’t much of a barrier. In America, there would be warning signs, security guards and three layers of gates. In Ireland, the only thing stopping you from tumbling off the edge of the cliff is your capability to balance on your own two feet. The drop off point is about 702 feet on average, which is insane! Thankfully, the wind and rain did not start until we were on the last leg of our stroll along the cliffs. If you can allocate a full day of your Ireland trip to go to the Cliffs of Moher, I can vouch that the easiest way will be through doing the day tour with Get Your Guide!
You see, I have a very big thing for goats. However, there is an animal slowly creeping its way past my stubborn barriers. The Highland Coo. In Glasgow, there are lots of coos (not cows, coos!) roaming around Pollock Park, which is a short distance from where I live. However, I haven’t been able to allocate time to visit the park yet so this was my first time up-close-and-personal with the creature! See video for some tongue action.
While on our way to Galway, we drove along the Irish coast and (surprise, surprise) I, again, felt an overwhelming wave of gratitude for the opportunities that I’ve been given. I hadn’t felt such a strong sense of longing for home until we saw the cliffs along the coast like I would see while I drive along PCH at home. Oh how I miss my car, and the drives, and the sunsets that painted the sky like it was freshly spun cotton candy. Oh how I yearn to be home but long to continue on this crazy adventure. What a predicament!
Slowly but surely, we made our way to our last stop of the day, Galway. Becs and I were those Americans that weren’t able to stop singing Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl. Similar to Dublin, the city center seemed to be built for tourists, with excessively “Irish” decorations and more tourists than locals. After walking around the town for a bit, we ducked into An Púcán, where my life was changed forever. Two words. Whiskey. Sour. Four Ingredients. Lemon Juice. Egg White. Simple Syrup. Damn Good Whiskey. If there’s one thing you get from my blog, it is this! Don’t knock it before you try it!
All in all, yes! Go to Ireland. There’s something for everyone. I feel like this trip was a great medium between all my different interests: drinking, exploring and road trips. I should probably be concerned that I’m thinking about those three things while I’m supposed to be a diligent student in uni but hey, that’s life! On my next trip to Ireland, I’m going to dedicate a day to what I have dubbed: Cathedral Crawl, where I just visit any and every cathedral in Ireland! If you find that fun as well, you may be as crazy as me and you should get your noggin’ checked out! Until next time…
Three weeks ago, I spent four days in Amsterdam with four people that I had quite literally only known for ten days. Weeks later, that thought has still not sunk in. Life has been moving so fast lately. So many things have been happening and free time is a distant dream. Thus, this blog post is weeks late, but nevertheless, here it is!
While in the magical city of Amsterdam, I had a brief moment of regret that I didn’t choose the Netherlands to study abroad in, but that was quickly pushed away when I spent 15 euros for my crepe with five slices of banana and a sprinkling of Nutella and 8 euro for a sandwich I could have made blindfolded. (insert upside down smiley face). Nevertheless, I still had a blast exploring the city with four of the most wonderful girls.
Amsterdam was a spur of the moment kind of trip, something I had never experienced before. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts, especially since Maui, you will know that I spend much of the weeks, or even months, prior to a trip planning out places to eat, things to do and sights to see. However, this weekend trip was booked at 11PM on a Monday, with my flight at 10AM of Thursday that week. I worried for 72 hours straight about what was going to happen once we got there. Was there going to be a good dynamic between us four? Were we interested in the same attractions? Did they want to go out at night like I did? Would we be able to agree on what to eat? There were so many questions running through my mind, but as soon as I felt my worries carrying me away, I quickly shut them down. I wasn’t going to be a victim of my own tendencies to fret over everything anymore.
I grew to realize that though this is my first time in Europe, it will definitely not be my last. It is such a simple revelation that may be so obvious to some people, but to me, it wasn’t. Previously, I felt like I had to live every day in Europe to the absolute most. I had to check off at least three things on my bucket list a day. I had to make sure that I tried that restaurant that I’ve always wanted to try. I had to make sure that I went to as many countries as possible because I won’t ever be 20 and responsibility-less ever again. With so many things to do, I forgot that I had to actually live through every moment instead of just planning for it. The abruptness of the trip threw me into a situation where I had no choice but to let life unfold itself before me. And this will be the first time that I’ve ever felt okay with not knowing what was going to happen next. That being said, see below for a sample itinerary of what our days turned out to be like.
3:00 PM- Hostel Check-In 6:00 PM- Anne Frank Museum 8:30 PM- Il Panorama
10:00 AM- The Pancake Bakery 1:00 PM- Van Gogh Museum 4:00 PM- Mannekenpis (Fries) 6:30 PM- Canal Tour 9:30 PM- Volkshotel
11:00 AM- Van Wonderen Stroopwafels 12:00 PM- Cheese Museum 1:00 PM- Explored around the Canals 6:00 PM- KFC Dinner…why not? 8:00 PM- Waterkant
9:00 AM- Rijkmuseum 12:00 PM- Flight home
Throughout this trip, there were brief moments of slight disappointment. I had done research on Amsterdam previously and had a list of things I found interesting. However, because we were traveling in a group, it was a bit harder to get things up and running some days. Yet, I wouldn’t change any minute of the trip. Perhaps, I would have liked to have done more things. Or for our crepes to come out faster than they did or maybe I would have liked more time in the Rijksmuseum. But especially after the Anne Frank museum, I learned to savor in every single minute that I spent in the company of my friends and in the open air of the beautiful city of Amsterdam. I’ve repeated the saying “You can do anything you want, but not everything you want” so often during the last couple of years but I never really understood the meaning and the impact that saying could have until now.
A Lesson on Perspective
My first thought upon landing in Amsterdam was “Hopefully, I will never have to go through the annoyance of flying from Edinburgh again.” To make my flight at 10AM, I had to wake up at 4 AM, leave the house by 5 AM, uber to the train station, take the 40 minute train to Edinburgh and then take the 30 minute bus to the airport. Victoria and I were on the same flight and I’m pretty sure the guy we were talking to on the train thought we were both on something because we were pretty delirious at 5:00AM.
After those nightmare transfers, we had to take two more trains to make it to our hostel. I hate to sound ungrateful and spoiled, but the hostel absolutely abhorrent. Becs, my best friend, was on a trip to Berlin while I was in Amsterdam and she raved about how the showers in her hostel were even better than the ones in our building in Glasgow. Meanwhile, I was lugging my carry on suitcase up four flights of steepest stairs I’d even seen. I slept on my towel because I didn’t trust the sheets and though I’m used to hearing the sound of snoring at night, I didn’t anticipate that an orchestra would to come and do a piece using only teeth grinding, snoring and tossing and turning. Given that our trip was so hastily planned, it was quite difficult to book a hostel within our price range. Let me tell you…never again! In this case, advanced planning is absolutely necessary so you can get the best deals and living conditions as possible.
Thankfully, things started to look up as soon as the other girls got there. We made our way to the Anne Frank Museum, where we were all fed a bit of perspective. We were tired from the traveling, annoyed by the hostel, and famished from the walking but we were slapped with the realization that we were in Amsterdam. We all had the privilege of booking a trip to Amsterdam as soon as the idea popped into our head. We could pay for the fare and hostel. We could allocate time in our schedule to travel. We could choose to complain about a bed, shower and toilet that were clean but not clean enough. Those are luxuries that so many people cannot say that they have. With a renewed sense of gratitude, we approached the rest of the trip with a bit more awareness.
During our walk through of the museum, it was stressed that though this museum is primarily about Anne Frank, it is also about the millions and millions of other victims of the Holocaust. There was a book on display with all the names of Dutch people who were taken from their homes and placed into the concentration camps. There were four Aaron Franks, all around the same age as Anne Frank. None of them have a museum dedicated to their life. The loss of a wonderful soul like Anne Frank is such a tragedy but so is the loss of every single one of the lives that the Nazi Regime took away. I think the museum did a very good job of reminding visitors of this. While I was crying my eyes out, I was also filled with so much hope and love. The line that snakes out the door, the women, men and children that solemnly walk the cramped quarters, the silent tears that stream down all of our faces – they are a reflection of our capability as humans to empathize and reflect upon ourselves. How much of a difference could we make in each other’s lives if we showed more compassion towards each other? I reckon a lot.
Maybe I’m just eating at the wrong places, but Europe needs to up their food game! I didn’t realize how absolutely spoiled I was in Southern California where there’s an abundance of delicious foods from across various cultures. I hate to admit it but I’ve become somewhat of a food snob within the past few years so it takes a lot of ‘wow’ me.
The line was quite intense. Though it moved quickly, it stretched down the sidewalk and past many storefronts. To my hungry stomach, I thought this would be the perfect remedy. The smell invaded my senses, filling it with anticipation that could only be attributed to a significant amount of carbs. Yet, I genuinely only ate about 1/8 of this portion. Perhaps I got the wrong sauce, or put too much of the cajun-type powder on it. The starchy potatoes and fatty sauce and salty powder was way too overwhelming after the third bite.
Stroopwaffles are good, don’t get me wrong. I’m just not a very big dessert person. The thin and crispy sweet waffle, the thick molasses like syrup, the chocolate dipping and then the dutch cookie crumble on top was an explosion of sweetness. It makes for a fabulous picture, but I only enjoyed about half of it before my sweet tooth felt a little too indulged.
The same feelings apply to this delicious pancake/crepe concoction. The texture of the pancake was incredible and the bananas added so much flavor and natural sweetness, but it was quite overwhelming for 11AM. In addition to that, our service at this restaurant was horrible! Working in a restaurant for the past year, I’ve grown a sense of empathy for the servers that have to deal with full tables for the majority of their shift. Yet, it was of putting to see the blatant disregard the server had for us when we reminded her that our food had not come out for 45 minutes. I don’t want to be that person, but in this situation, I think I have a right to be! Aside from that, the pancake was a solid breakfast.
This was most definitely my favorite meal of the entire trip. It was our first night in Amsterdam. After the fiascos with the bus/tram/metro transfers, then the hostel situation, then the Anne Frank emotions, pasta was necessary. Since moving to Europe, I’ve grown to really enjoy a beer with my meal. My body protests every time, but nonetheless, I think it’s worth it. The pasta was cooked with a lemon-tomato-basil sort of sauce, so it was comfort food without all the cream and fat that can weigh you down. I chose salmon as my protein – an admittedly odd choice – but it was incredible. In fact, it was so good that I’m going to try to recreate this dish for dinner next week!
My other favorite meal was completely unexpected. We were walking around, tired after a full day of activities and stumbled upon a dim sum place. Before my trip, I stuffed myself with as many vegetarian xiu mai, shrimp rice cake, and har gow as possible, thinking that I would never be able to find authentic asian food over here. For once, I’m glad that I’m wrong. My experience at Full Moon Garden is comparable to Dragon Beaux in San Francisco. The chicken black truffle xiu mai was mind-blowing. After being wow-ed by scallop xiu mai in SF, I didn’t think it was possible to have something even better than that. Disappointedly, I forgot to take pictures, but I’ll forever remember my first taste of home from so far away.
Simply walking around the city was a wonder in itself. No matter where we were, we were never far from the canals. Every once in a while, we would find ourselves on a bridge, looking left and right, marveling at the way the sun peaks through the trees and how the canal seemed to have a life itself. The water sways a bit with the wind and the boats cut through it steadily, creating a smooth current. Each time we passed by a bridge, it seemed impossibly prettier than the next. See below for a plethora of canal-side pictures.
Fortunately, we were able to sit on an open boat tour where our two lovely guides told us all about the city. From Magere Brug (the love bridge), to the horse hooks on the underside of the canal to the misshapen buildings, the stories brought life to the streets of Amsterdam. We didn’t go on the boat tour until the last leg of the trip so I didn’t realize how much history there was on the streets that I walked. I didn’t know that you could measure the wealth of a family by how many steps they had leading up to their house. I couldn’t imagine being taxed based on the width of my home. If only all of my classes had a view like this one…
My favorite part of the trip had to be our nights out in town. We went to a hotel which had everything from a basement cocktail bar, ground level retro bar, and a rooftop terrace bar. Each bar had such a different vibe that us four girls had a wonderful time moving from one bar to another at our leisure. In an effort to spend as much time outside of the hostel as possible, we dressed ourselves up and mingled with others (shout out to Jack Sparrow and the Australians!) and while nursing a few drinks. Volkshotel definitely left an impression on us. Here’s to hoping that we find a bar with a similar vibe in Glasgow!
Another bar that I wish we had more time at is Waterkant. Canal-side, trendy, with absolutely amazing cocktails (highly recommend the Dutch Mule) – it was the perfect last hurrah for my Amsterdam trip. Because I was feeling a bit sick, I didn’t spend too much time there, but I could have sat there and watched the water for the whole night.
One of the most unique things about Europe is that drinking is so incredibly social. I’ve met some of the most interesting people at bars/pubs/clubs. I suppose drinking is social in America too, but there is a different vibe over here. I found myself looking around and seeing couples ranging from young to old, having casual drinks at 8PM without a rush in the world. I saw large groups, boisterous and rowdy, toasting to a good week. I saw individuals, a drink in hand, standing by the bar, introducing themselves to other people, ready to ask questions about their life and simultaneously share about their own. For the first time, I had the thought that I could see myself coming here not just on vacation, but after work or during the weekends.
It’s always been a romantic thought for me – moving to Europe and building a life over here. Yet, the more time I spend on the continent, the more in love I grow with the people I meet and the things to see.
I’m a big sucker for museums. Especially art museums. Imagine my excitement that not only was there a Van Gogh museum, but in the same plaza, also the Rijksmuseum, which houses Dutch artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Peter Paul Rubens! We took our time wandering around the Van Gogh Museum, opting to do the audio tour. Art is beautiful to look at but even more fascinating to learn about. Seeing my favorite Van Gogh works, Almond Blossoms and the Wheat Fields Series, and then hearing his thinking behind each brush stroke helped contextualize the significance of this piece during the time.
I wandered the Rijksmuseum by myself and almost cried when I saw the restoration of The Night Watch by Rembrandt. For those that don’t know, the piece is significantly damaged. Art historians and restorationists decided that something drastic needed to be done. Thus, the introduction of Operation Night Watch. The goal is to use highly advanced imaging techniques and scans to restore the painting to its true glory. Each scan takes 24 hours and they need 56 scans. Each one details the painting on an almost atomic level, taking into account the elements that make up the pigments and strokes. It’s an incredible sight. Everyone has the same awe-struck face when they see the painting but the wonder is heightened even more when you see the machines that are meticulously exploring what the Night Watch is truly made of.
For Next Time…
Even though I spent about three full days in Amsterdam, I still have so much left that I want to see.
I want to walk through the gardens at Castle De Haar. I want to try everything at the Seafood Bar. I want to layer up and do shots at the Ice Bar. I want to bike through the country side and pass by the windmills. I want to see the tulips blossoming and waving along with the spring wind. I want to visit the castles, run my hands along the walls and hear the stories that they tell. I want to see all of Mondrian’s work at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and perhaps grow a larger appreciation for shapes and colors.
Though there’s still so much of this country left to explore, I am so happy to have done the things that I have done. Thank you, Amsterdam, for such a wonderful weekend trip! I can’t wait to come back and see what else your culture and people have to offer. Let me know if there’s anything else I should add to my to-do list in regards to the Netherlands!
I was blessed enough to be able to go on a Carnival cruise with my family a few weekends ago. On the Carnival Inspiration, we had a variety of different activities and foods open to us. The pool, a buffet, a casino, two restaurants – just to name a few. Yet, over the three days that we spent on the boat, I found myself becoming restless. The boat is advertised to be the destination for one of the best times of our lives but it quickly became boring. By quickly, I mean by the third hour of the first day. The food was mediocre at best, the pool was tiny and crowded with children, and everything else….well, I don’t gamble, can’t order drinks and don’t gym so I had very limited options for entertainment. The only fun I had was between the hours of 10PM-3AM, the club (and the people inside of it) made the trip completely worth it. If you know the stories of what happened in those late late hours, then consider yourself one of the lucky few!
I only spent six hours in actual Ensenada but it was enough for me to see glimpses of the struggling citizens, the beautiful history as well as the potential for something more. First, we visited La Bufadora, which is a street lined with shops selling faux high fashion items, pharmacies requiring no prescription for purchases and children wandering around with plates of churro or yogurt samples hoping to gain a customer. The oil splattered in large vats, the smoke from grills created a cloud around the stalls and there was an ever lingering smell of cooked seafood, tequila and corn tortillas. It was overwhelming but so organized at the same time. I felt like there was an unspoken rhythm to everything there.
We spent a few hours at the market and tried our fair share of oysters, pina coladas, fish tacos and browsed around the shops where we bought a beautiful handmade clay pot. The hectic atmosphere as well as the obvious desperation of the citizens was eye-opening. While I was on the cruise and complaining about how the unlimited food was mediocre at best and grumbling about how the margarita ice was not fine enough, these children were trying desperately to lure customers to their family’s booths to get enough money to get through the week.
In a somewhat somber and pensive mood, I looked out of the window of the bus for our hour drive back into the city. We drove along the coast most of the time, where we could see the rings used to catch blue fin tuna into the ocean, the wealthy homes near the shoreline and the influx of worn down vehicles climbing the mountain. On the drive, Beba our tour guide, described how it would take only $1000 a month for someone to live comfortably with money for leisure items and money in savings. I thought about what $1000 would buy in California. It would potentially pay for rent but not food, gas, utilities or extra purchases let alone money for leisure and savings. It’s so much more expensive to live in California but yet my family has given me a home, food, gas, utilities, leisure and savings for my entire life so far. It’s incredibly humbling to think about how tirelessly my parents work to make sure that I have everything I could need and want.
Next, we visited Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. While the rest of my tour bus curiously poked their heads between the pews and loudly whispered breaking the silence of the hushed worshipers, I found myself folding my hands together and bowing my head in prayer. Religion has always had a special place in my heart. Maybe not so much religion but perhaps a better word for it would be faith. Faith in something bigger than oneself. According to the Thai Soccer team that was stuck in the cave, it was faith that brought them out alive. So seeing congregations of people, declaring their faith to God and coming out in their cleanest clothes and purest intentions despite the tainted and impure world around them, gave me a moment of clarity my own life. Although this year has been difficult to handle emotionally, it is with my faith that my heart can find its solace. It is with my faith that I can find strength and hold steadfast onto it. It is with my faith that I can find a reason to come out on the other side of trials stronger than before.
As our last activity in Ensenada, we went to several wineries and city stops where we could taste tequilas, margaritas, wines, and beers to our heart’s delight. Wine tasting has quickly become one of my favorite things to do. It’s crazy how different grapes can taste when they’re put through different wine making processes.
Though it was a strangely emotional six hours, it was nice to be off the cruise ship for at least a little while. With just six hours, it seems like I’ve seen and done all the things in Ensenada that I would have liked to do. Let me know if there’s anything that I’ve missed! Maybe then I’ll consider coming back for another visit! Thanks for such a great tour, Beba and thank you for your beautiful culture, Ensenada.
I guess I should start off with a preface about the meaning of this trip to me. In high school, my nose was stuck in the worlds built by YA authors like Sarah Dessen and Taherah Mafi. Romance is often referred to as the emotion and happenings around love and lust but it’s also the excitement around the uncertainty, mystery and intrigue about life itself. I guess you can say that I was in love with romance. I was so infatuated with the lives laid out between the pages and so dearly wished to have the same feelings about my own life. I always dreamed of being stolen away for a summer along the East Coast or to be bunkered down in an underground laboratory harnessing my superpowers to save all of humanity. But the sensible side of me brought me back to planet earth, where unfortunately, stories like that were few and far between.
Then, things started happening. There wasn’t a sudden moment of change but instead, it was gradual, a slow work in progress, unconscious enough that when I finally had time to breathe and reflect – I was exactly where I had always dreamed of being. I met people that wanted to travel and talk about their emotions as much as I wanted to. I met people where I could comfortably sit in silence with. I met people where I would still feel understood and heard even when I’m in sweats and incoherent. I might not be saving the world yet, but I finally felt connected to my own world as much as I did to the worlds in the novels I read.
Initially, it was going to be a trip to Big Bear, CA. A cabin with a fireplace, Settlers of Catan, and some snow gear would have made the trip unforgettable. Yet, the idea of inviting 11 people and accepting the liability that comes with “a cabin in Big Bear” was not very lucrative. The plans turned a full 180 degrees when one of my friends mentioned that her parents had a condo in Kihei, Maui, a mere 200 feet from the beach and one mile from acai bowls, fish tacos and phenomenal Thai food. That’s when the hard work started. We had to figure out how many people we wanted to squeeze into a condo with one bedroom, one bathroom, one kitchen and one sofabed. We had to figure out when to book the trip to get the best price. We had to figure out how to get around, where to go, what to pack – the list was endless! But lucky for me and my best friend – the excitement of a trip to Maui over Spring Break made every single moment of stress worth it.
Monday: 12:30 – Arrive in Maui 1:30 – Lunch at Tiffany’s Bar and Grill 3:00 – Costco Run 6:00 – Thai Food for Dinner
Saturday: 8:00 – Leave for Hana 9:30 – 4 Falls of Na’ili’ili 2:30 – Sandwiches from ABC Store 9:30 – Paia Fish Market
Worthy Mention: 4 Falls of Na’ili’ili
When you think of Hawaii, you usually think of the beach, but the hikes are so worth the work. It’s so tempting to run to the beach immediately when you wake up but it’s the perfect weather and unhurried spirit of Hawaii that makes a morning hike worthwhile! Out of the three hikes we went on, my favorite would have to be Na’ili’ili, a beautiful hike with waterfall after waterfall. The hike is located within 15 miles of the beginning of the Road to Hana, so for those that do not want to commit to driving the full length of Hana, this hike is perfect for you!
Quiet with 30 feet tall bamboo trees hugging you to the earth, the trail is surreal. The only sound was the squishing of my shoes against the mud and my water bottle sloshing in my backpack. It’s nice to just walk at my own pace and lose myself to my thoughts because even though I was less than a mile from one of the most popular scenic roads in Hawaii, I felt like I was transported into another world. The first waterfall was about 20 feet. We lazed around on the giant boulders surrounding the water and felt the tiny droplets hit our skin as we added another layer of sun protection. At first, we thought it was a dead-end because there was no obvious path. Then we realized that a nearly vertical, muddy wall with nothing but a soaked and frayed rope and two foot grips was the way to the second waterfall. It took a full 15 minutes to convince me to climb that wall. It was incredibly frightening to place my entire weight on such a debilitated looking rope but everyone that came down that way said it was worth it and boy oh boy – it absolutely was. After some maneuvering and reluctant courage, I finally got back to the path.
The second waterfall was where we spent most of our time – swimming, talking, cliff-jumping, just typical “hooligans playing at a waterfall” things. The water was refreshingly cool, albeit algae-filled, but worth all the times my heart stopped because I touched the slimy substance. The adrenaline of climbing the wall must have clouded my judgement because before you know it, I found myself swimming through the algae and climbing onto the rocks underneath the waterfall. It was in this moment that I felt like my story started. I waited and waited for the moment that my everyday wouldn’t be just another page in the novel of my life but it would become a story in itself. Standing and looking out across the pool of water that I would have never a swam through and then turning around and seeing the people that, six months ago, I would have never imagined spending my spring break with was that moment where I finally realized that every single day for the past few months has been a story that I cannot imagine living without telling. It didn’t hurt that I was sun-kissed bronze, filled with quality poke and swimming in a waterfall in Hawaii either.
Note to Self (and Others)
Over the course of the week or so that I was in Maui, I came to the conclusion that two things had to be addressed before you decide to go on any trip with anyone:
1. What are the expectations for the trip? ie. Are we doing adrenaline-junkie things? Is the trip for checking off bucket list items or relaxing? How are we going to spend our days?
2. What is the budget for the trip? ie. Are we eating out every night? Local food? Fancy food? Are we going to snorkel? Go on boat rides? Rent a car?
Before my trip to Maui, I didn’t think to sit everyone down to talk about the expectations or the budget. After starting the spreadsheet and reminding everyone to add and make changes to it, I thought that would be enough planning necessary for the trip. This was however, under the assumption that everyone wanted to maximize their trip to Hawaii the same way as I did. I always say – I work to travel. I go to school to travel. I don’t go out and spend money on frivolous $5 coffee to travel. I save all the money that I can when I’m at home so that I do not have to worry about anything other than narrowing down the list of things I want to do when I’m on vacation. However, once we got there, the lack of structure with no cohesive answer to these two questions caused some friction between my group of five friends.
The point of the trip is to make memories together and to have as much fun as possible. Even as straight forward as that sounds, fun is incredibly objective. People are raised in different environments and have spent their vacations different ways so it’s hard to find a medium between five people without sitting down and having a discussion about it prior to the trip. Spring Break in Maui was amazing and I don’t regret going but I can’t help but think that it would have been less taxing if we had all laid out the groundwork prior to arriving at the condo.
Favorite Pictures/Places with a Brief Aside
After a long first day, we were determined to head to the beach first thing the next day. We made sandwiches, grabbed some Guava Hawaiian Sun juice, packed everything into a cooler and headed out. Keawakapu was the first beach that we went to and it was my favorite beach of all. The pictures do not do it justice. The thing that I loved most about being at the beaches in Hawaii was how warm the water was. Instead of icy cold, 15 feet waves like in Huntington Beach, there was instead a warm, steady current that greeted me. I had that sigh of relief that one has when finally reach the light at the end of the tunnel. This was it. This was all that I was working for. And I could not feel more complete.
On the way back from a walk, Becs and I suddenly heard the boys calling our name. In awe, my eyes landed on a sea turtle, swimming leisurely through the water, without a care in the world. It was so much bigger than I thought it would be and it was absolutely beautiful. We made sure not to disturb it but we couldn’t help but try to swim closer to see the ridges on its shell and the texture of its paws and feet. I don’t think any moment is going to match my surprise and wonder at how blessed I am to be able to see something so simple yet so extraordinary.
Waihee Ridge Trail
The trail was a bit of a workout, which is just how I like it. I think it’s such a good way to get the blood flowing but to also really get back in tune with your mind and the world around you. This picture sums up the hike perfectly. The view was absolutely breathtaking. We saw the true vastness of the ocean, the tiny buildings along the coast and the lush greenery around us and it was the sheer size and magnitude of the earth that really made this hike amazing. You feel so aware of every sense and smell when you’re that high up above the ground with nothing but your thoughts to keep your company.
Sunset Pictures near 5 Palms Restaurants
This little spot is down the shore from Keawakapu. I feel like I say this a lot, but it was absolutely breathtaking. The pictures speak for itself. There is nothing like watching a sunset at a beach. There is simply no comparison for it.
Attack of the Roach
After a long day out, I was ready to be in my pajamas, watch some Queer Eye and consume my body’s weight in cheap white wine. I had just finished showering. The most vulnerable time for this to have happened if you ask me. My guard was completely down. My makeup was completely off, my glasses were on and my feet were bare. I open the door and my heart drops to the deepest depths of hell. A spider like creature, about the length of a thumb but twice the width, scurries into the closet right outside the door of the bathroom. I scream. My four friends on the couch look over in panic.
“That’s the biggest freaking bug I’ve ever seen. Oh my goodness what the heck is it?!” I’m freaking out and I cannot escape the bathroom. I feel trapped. I cannot breathe. My soul has basically escaped my body and I’ve died and gone to heaven already.
The boys think it’s a small bug. They think I’m freaking out over something minor. They believe that with my track record of dramatic outbursts, that this would be another one of them. No sir. Not today. See the video below for evidence.
Reflecting on the trip months later, it was so worth it. It doesn’t matter that I have to work 25 hours a week on top of a full class load. It doesn’t matter that I can usually only eat two meals a day. It doesn’t matter that I have to hesitate before I spend money on a $5 cup of coffee. It is so worth it to be able to laugh until my belly aches, eat until my heart is full and scroll through so many pictures that I’m sick of it. Thanks for the memories, Kihei. I can’t wait to make more!