Two posts in two days! Lucky you 🙂
After 117 days in Europe (don’t worry, only 86 Schengen Days!), I’m jumping continents, headed for the much warmer climate of Southeast Asia. Before I left for my trip I was nervous and excited. Oddly enough I feel the same now. Although the differences from Scandinavia to the Balkans are vast, it’s also all Europe, and I’ve grown very comfortable with the general European way of life.
Throughout my time here I’ve been jotting down random notes about things I’ve found to be uniquely “European” so now I’m going to share them:
- Everybody smokes. If I had to pick one country where you just can’t escape it I think it would be Serbia, but it doesn’t win by much, and there are maybe 10 close seconds. Here it’s not a “smoke break” it’s just a constant.
- There is this thing about combining pizza and kebabs at fast food joints. Favorites were a place in Prague called KPC, using a ripped off Colonel Sanders KFC logo, stands for Kebab, Pizza, Coffee, and in Budapest a place called “Okay Pizza & Kebap” and one called “Kebab Happy Pizza” (no I didn’t eat at any of these).
- In European buildings the first floor is one level up. Maybe I’m wrong but I think in the US the first floor and ground floor are usually synonymous (or there simply is no “1st floor”). Hostel directions often say they are on the second floor which I am consistently disappointed to find is three flights up.
- With the exception of some Balkan countries (looking at you Albania) public transportation is super easy and very efficient (like every train comes every five minutes or less, and it’s usually less). Also it’s rare to find a barrier/gate to entry (I can only remember it in Stockholm and Milan) and even more rare that anyone would check your ticket.
- If someone is wearing an American pro sports team baseball cap it’s very unlikely they are aware of it, they probably just liked the color and/or logo, and it’s an awkward way to try to start a conversation (Me to stranger: “Are you an A’s fan?” Stranger: “Excuse me?”)
- If you are going to count or specify a number using your fingers, #1 starts with your thumb, and proceeds down the hand. I find it near impossible to indicate 3 but at the same time it’s a pretty logical system.
- I must have rolled my ankle 100 times on these damn old cobblestone streets. Steph Curry would not survive on this continent.
- The music scene in many places got stuck in the 90’s, particularly with Alanis Morisette (I wasn’t mad).
- America gets picked on a lot and rightly so, but I’ve learned that from the happiest place on earth (Denmark) to those most recently out of war (the Balkans) to those somewhere in the middle (Germany, Austria) nationalist sentiments are on the rise everywhere, and every country has its faults.
How about my trip by the numbers/favorites:
- Countries visited: 16 (new on this trip: 14)
- Cities I stayed overnight in: 29
- Hostels/Hotels/Houses: 33 (2 each in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Vienna, and Kotor)
- Beds: 34 (2 in Mostar, bed bugs kicked me out of the first)
- Salami sandwiches: far too many to count
- Times I did laundry: 11; Best laundromat: Bubbles in Budapest (automation, wifi, couch, dog, bar…)
- Bed bug incidents: I think 2 (Hallstatt? & Mostar)
- Bike accidents: still just the one! (Stockholm… day 5?)
- Favorite hostels: The Roadhouse Prague, Hostel One Budapest, & 5 Terre Backpackers (Cinque Terre)
- Best food: a tie among many things…the cardamom pastries in Stockholm, the pesto spreads at a farmers market in Prague, gelato on the beach in Monterosso, brick-oven pizza and paninis in Florence, my all-American pancake, bacon, & eggs breakfast in Munich, and everything I ate in Athens 😛
- Favorite castle & cathedral: I saw so many I feel the need to pick the best. Favorite cathedral was St. Vitus in Prague, it was just gorgeous and took me by surprise. Favorite castle was the entire fortifications of Kotor, which were just massive and fun to explore. Neuschwanstein in Germany is a close second.
- Favorite hike: Mount Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland. I believe this also qualifies as my favorite day. Perfect weather, gondola ride up my first Swiss Alp, toboggan ride, hiking peak to peak (salami sandwich at the top), cable car down, ferry across Lake Lucerne, ravioli and gelato…not bad for a Tuesday.
- Blog posts: this one makes 28!
- Trains: 11; Busses: 14; Flights: 3 (Between actual stops)
- Longest ride: Belgrade to Sarajevo, about 10 hours
- Favorite place: a question constantly asked when traveling…if I take the people aspect out of it and judge the city by how I felt upon initial impression, which cities got me really exited to explore/made me feel at home, I think it’s a tie between Budapest and Ljubljana.
- Favorite song to listen to while walking around a city: Middle East – Blood.
- I really have met amazing people from all over the world. If I post something to instagram about 20% of my likes are now people I’ve met along my travels. I feel like I could comfortably contact people for places to stay in London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Melbourne, Sydney, Dublin, Helsinki, Colombia, and Pittsburgh, to name a few. I’ve found that sometimes a city is enough to make the experience, with or without the people, but even a crappy city can be made amazing by the company. You know what else? I’ve met a lot of people I don’t like, and I’ve learned a lot about tolerance 😐 .
- I really enjoy history. I love finding out how a city got to be the way it is. I love listening to books on audible while I walk around the city it takes place in. I love trying local food and hearing local music.
- Hiking a difficult trail (preferably with a lot of elevation) and having a delicious snack at the end (preferably a salami sandwich) is a great way to spend a day.
- I’ve received tons of podcast recommendations along the way, but in Stockholm I was introduced to My Dad Wrote a Porno, a comedic British podcast, and it has kept me laughing for over three months now (just finished season 2)!
- Do I know what I want to do when I get back? No. Do I think about it much? Not really.
- I still have no idea how to answer the question “Where are you from?”. I can say “America” and someone from Argentina will say, “Really? I’m from America too”. I can say “California” and 99% of the responses are “Oooh California, aren’t you fancy”. I can say “San Francisco” and get a weird look for responding with a city and not a country. I can say “the US” or “the United States” and the response is almost always “Where? Oooh America” which brings me back to attempt #1. It’s a lose lose lose lose. Any suggestions?🤷🏻♀️
So now on to Asia. I thought I’d do another version of Anticipation, as it turned out to be pretty accurate the first time. Here is what I’m excited for:
- Warm weather! After over a month in the Balkans averaging right around 40 F I’m ready for some heat. I’m sure I’ll regret this within 30 seconds of landing. 😎
- Visitors! I’m excited to see my parents in March, they are leaving the old home to join me for a Cambodia/Vietnam adventure! I’ve also got some friends with travel plans in the works which would be really fun!
- A change in the historical scene. As much as I’ve enjoyed learning about the Austrian & Ottoman Empires and the Balkan Wars, I’m ready for a change of pace. I feel pretty uneducated about Asian history and culture and I’m excited to dive in.
- Asian food. I really love Asian food and can’t wait for the Street food scene (and yes, I’ve got some medication ready…)
- Crowds! Again, will regret this pretty quick but while it was really cool to travel during the off season and have major tourist attractions, old towns, and hiking trails to myself, it’s also a bummer to be only 1 of 3 or 4 people in a hostel, way more intimidating to enter empty cafes and restaurants, and a lot of touristy things shut down in the off season!
Which brings me to what I’m nervous about:
- Advance planning. I’ve grown accustomed to just showing up at bus stations, hostels, tours, etc., without having to worry about booking anything in advance. I’ll be hitting Thailand at the beginning of its peak season so that will have to change and I’m a bit stressed about it.
- Culture shock. I had been to Europe a few times, sort of knew the ropes, wasn’t too worried about my arrival aside from the daunting prospect of leaving my home for a year. I’ve never been to SE Asia, or any other part of Asia for that matter, and with the potential exception of a one month very organized trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in college, I haven’t been anywhere like it. It’s going to be crowded, chaotic, dirty, fast-paced. All of the language is new and unfamiliar looking. I know I’ll get used to it but I also know there will be an adjustment period.
- Teaching English. I’ve secured a spot at the ECC (Education Centre for Community) in Po Krum Village, near Siem Reap, Cambodia, where I plan to be for the month of February. It’s a big and ambitious school with over 100 students attending English, French, and computer classes. While I am really excited about the opportunity, I have never taught English before, so it’s a bit daunting!
- Motorbikes. I’ll have to ride them at some point, and I’m nervous about it!
- Bugs! This is a repeat from my initial list, and it rightly still stands. While bed bugs were my only real nemesis in Europe, mosquitos are already terrifying me.
Finally, I picked out a picture from each place I stayed, that reflects something I think about when I reflect on that city – can you match them up?
So that’s a wrap on Europe! Hopefully most of you are still with me and enjoying your weekly history lessons. It will be a surprise for all of us (including me) what I’ll find to write about in Asia. Thanks again for all the nice comments, emails, and texts!