A Year Later

Holy shit. One year ago today, my mommy and daddy dropped me off at LAX, and I ended up in Istanbul. Well, I landed in Paris and had 20 minutes to go through security and sprint to my connecting flight, somehow accomplished that task, and then landed in Istanbul. I’m also 98% sure that I saw Harry Styles from One Direction at LAX.

Anyhow, I remember feeling weirdly disconnected from the whole experience. Any other time that I have been at the airport, about to embark on an exciting trip to a new, exotic place, I had felt, well, excited; this time, though, it just felt hazy and surreal.

I had spent the past several months of my life feeling hazy and surreal.

My weekdays were spent studying literature- an endeavor that was increasingly becoming more pointless in my eyes- that were punctuated by weekends of underage getting-as-drunk-as-possible at house parties or, when I was “dragged” to them, frat parties. I spiced things up by salsa dancing and serial dating.

I was afraid of being alone; my growing distaste for alcohol was trumpeted by my fear of being alone on a Friday night while all my friends went out to parties. I always, always had to have a guy in my life- even if he only treated me well half of the time; even if he was an ex-boy whom I chose to forgive; even if, deep down, I knew we were wrong for each other. Having someone, even if that someone didn’t make me feel like a Goddess, seemed better than having no one.

Here I was, twenty years young, releasing my own power to be at the whim of others’. My parents, peers, and society at large were telling me that I had to be in school because that’s what you’re supposed to do and if you take time off you’ll never go back- even though I was growing more and more discontent. I was releasing control over my own actions every time that I drank way more than my lanky frame could handle, all in the name of wanting to fit in with my friends. I released control of my self-esteem to the mercy of flaky, hormonal college boys.

This didn’t all cease the moment that I saw minarets intermingling with trendy shopping in Istanbul.

Everyone who read my travel blog and saw my pictures marveled at how much fun I was having and how adventurous I was being. It honestly was very fun, but in the name of not wanting to reveal my personal business to all my Facebook friends, my mom’s entire email list, and some random people on the Internet who found my blog somehow, I hid the difficult stuff. Sure, I would reveal getting sick of being in hostels or finding Athens to be uninteresting and not pretty, but I wouldn’t reveal learning unpleasant things about my personality or having one of the worst days of my life.

More so than being “fun,” traveling was both difficult and important for me, with those two concepts inseparably intwined.

I learned that traveling with a friend sucks.

I have a pretty calm, “go-along-get-along” type of personality. This can be great for traveling, given traveling’s knack for throwing unpredicted events your way. It’s not great, though, when you let your friend make all of the decisions, and you end up disappointed that you didn’t see something that you wanted to see, that you spent more money than you wanted to, that you hung out in the hostel bar more times than you wanted to, etc. In traveling, and in life, I learned that I need to speak up. And travel alone.

Because I also learned that I LOVE traveling alone, and that I am independent and resourceful enough to do so. I can do what I want, when I want. I can easily meet people in a hostel or via Couch Surfing; I can hang out/sightsee with them if I want, and if there’s something that I want to see but they don’t, or vice versa, I do my own thing without worrying about abandoning someone.

I learned that getting very drunk in foreign countries is not a good idea. I also learned that it’s possible to have a couple of drinks or, gasp, no drinks, and still have a very fun night out.

I learned that taking back ex-boys is never, ever, a good idea, particularly right before you leave the country.

I learned how spoiled I was. It had to take me missing a train from Nice to Paris- which wasn’t the first train that I had missed- and subsequently getting very, very mad at myself to learn this. I learned just how entitled I felt, how expendable money seemed to me, and how little responsibility I truly had for myself.

I learned that learning doesn’t always come from a textbook or a classroom lecture.

And I learned all of this the hard way.

It’s now one year later- a lifetime later. I look back at that twenty-year-old girl, and I see someone very young and not in control of her own self. The past year, both from traveling and from other life circumstances, has forced me to grow up- not just, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about this and that, and I think it’s time for me to start acting differently in regards to it.” It’s more like growing up has been shoved into my face, and I’ve been forced to eat it. So here I am, a human still evolving, yet a human who is so much stronger and finally feeling in touch with inner power.

Traveling is like life sped up, amplified, and looked at with a magnifying glass.

 

La Fin! L’extrem! El Extremo!

It’s been over 6 weeks since I’ve returned from Europe, but I decided that I might as well properly conclude my blog. I left off in Barcelona, at which I had a couple of remaining days…

After a very long night of partying, I leisurely slept in and then proceeded to go to Park Güell with DeeDee, my Texan friend, Rachel, my Santa Barbaran friend, and Rory, my Scottish friend! Park Güell was created by Gaudi, who, as you may know, was known for his outrageous architectural style; basically, he created a lot of weird shit. Anyway, after getting lost and walking uphill for dayz, we arrived at this gorgeous, funky park overlooking the city and the Mediterranean Sea! It was spectacular.

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(Rory, DeeDee, Rachel, and me)

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After hanging out there for awhile, the four of us went to eat at… Subway… then we went back to the hostel for a siesta.

That night, we ate a most delicious meal in our wonderful hostel with all of the other guests. Later on, a giant group of us went out, but my two Australian friends, Lenny and Tom, and I somehow got separated from them at a bar. We thus didn’t know which club they were going to and ended up having to call it a night early. Hungry, we found some late-night kebab to eat, and then something very, very scary happened as we were walking back to the hostel: a man ran up to Tom and tried to mug him. I had never before experienced something like that and didn’t know what to do. Tom struggled with the guy, and Lenny somehow talked him out of taking anything from Tom or hurting him. We’re pretty sure that the guy had a knife, though. After convincing him that none of us had anything valuable, he eventually gave up and left. It was really scary, but thank God that everyone, especially Tom, was okay!

The next day, having recovered from the previous night’s episode, a group of us- Tom, Lenny, their friend Roman, DeeDee, her friend Austin, and I- all went out to sightsee. We walked up to this hill that had an amazing view of the entire city, and then proceeded on to the Olympic Stadium!

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(The view, with the Sagrada Famiglia)

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(Tebow-ing at Olympic Stadium with, from left to right, Austin, DeeDee, Roman, and me)

Then we took this ski lift/glass tube thingy up to an ancient fort. The ride up was really cool and had stunning views, as did the fort! It was right above the Sea and so, so beautiful! The sun was shining on the bright blue water, which expanded forever…

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(Pimpin’ ain’t easy… with Roman, Austin, Tom, myself, and Lenny)

DSC01528 (The view from the ride)

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Afterward, me and the boys went out for some paella and sangria, and it was SO BOMB. I do actually regret not taking a picture of it, but we were at a restaurant with no English speakers in this very vibrant part of the city, and god damn was it good! If you don’t know, paella is a giant plate of seafood atop delicious rice, and it’s meant to be shared with multiple people. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Finally, we went back to our hostel for, of course, a siesta. Then, as it was my last night in Barcelona- and in Europe altogether- I went out dancing with a giant group of people from our hostel. It was really fun and a wonderful way to go out with a bang. However, as my flight was pretty early the next morning, I literally came back, took a 45 minute nap, and then finished up packing and went to the airport. I was so exhausted and very sad to be leaving Barcelona. I totally fell in love with this city- the people, the sunshine, the beach, the food, the laid-back yet vibrant feel, the streets, the art, everything- and could have stayed there forever. Yet, coincidentally enough, a guy from my hostel named David just so happened to be on my same flight! I was flying to New York and then LAX, and as he was from New York he was on the first leg of my flight. We thus went to the airport together and, upon boarding the plane and seeing how empty it was, sat next to each other! David had been backpacking around Europe for the past several months, and how funny that we would both end our journeys on the exact same day on the exact same flight. Anyway, we bonded on our flight home, and it was so wonderful to meet an awesome new friend as a way to officially end my trip.

Being on that flight home was bittersweet in every sense of the word and very weird. I think I’ll make another blog post in which I elaborate on this further and reflect upon life after being abroad. Stay tuned… =)

My New Favorite City

To end my European adventure with a bang, I decided to have my very last stop be Barcelona!! I had heard tons of great things about this city, so my expectations were quite high to say the least. I arrived at night to a hostel that some friends had recommended to me, Hostel One Paralelo. Valerio, the hot Italian guy working the front desk, greeted me and immediately fed me some pasta for dinner. I would soon realize what an amazing hostel this was. It had a very social environment, making it really easy to meet interesting and fun people, and one of the staff members cooked an amazing dinner for EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE HOSTEL EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Thus, after eating my fantastic pasta, I met some people in the common area and went out to a bar with them- two Americans, one Scottish guy, and a Mexican girl who worked for the hostel.

The following day, I decided for the first time in my entire trip to take a walking tour with my hostel. Everyone in the tour group was American, and I would soon find out that the hostel was filled with Americans! It was so weird! Anyway, the tour was actually a cool way to get to know some people and see the city- we went to some churches, a giant food market, and different places that the film Vicky Christina Barcelona was filmed, such as a café by a modern art museum and a square with a church and a big fountain.

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Nearby that was a bar where Hemingway hung out back in the day!

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We also saw really cool street art and drank from a fountain that, according to legend, guarantees our return to Barcelona <3.

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At the end of the tour, we went to a bustling little lunch spot in which one must stand whilst eating. We ate fantastic sandwiches and drank pink champagne!

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We then walked on a promenade near a palm tree-lined harbor on our way back to the hostel. Filled with sunshine (Barcelona was a l’il chilly but very sunny the whole time- in December), it reminded me a lot of Long Beach. One we got back to the hostel, it was siesta time, which I love. I just love the schedule of life in Barcelona (and throughout Spain for that matter). The Spanish come home from work around 2 PM for a siesta (a nap) and subsequently have lunch around 3 or 4 PM. Then they go back to work and don’t eat dinner until at least 9 PM. Then, if the night calls for partying, they leave to go out the bars and clubs at midnight and don’t come home until the sunrise. Everything is just delayed and relaxed, yet they still go out and do fun things. I found the city of Barcelona itself to mirror this- it has a very vibrant energy to it yet is laid back at the same time. It think that’s why I loved it so much.

That night, after eating one of my hostel’s famous dinners with all of the other guests, I went on a ghost tour with the hostel for lack of anything better to do by myself. It was pretty lame because we basically saw everything we had seen earlier that day yet with a creepy story attached to it. When it was over, we all went to a bar and then a really fun club! Unfortunately for the three Aussies who had just flown in that day and were soundly asleep in our room, my two new American friends and I came home very late and, in vain, tried to be quiet. DeeDee and Austin (the Americans from Texas) and I couldn’t stop talking to each other and giggling, even though we kept shushing each other and saying that we needed to go to bed. We got to know the Aussies a little better (Roman, Tom, and Lenny), and they eventually forgave us for keeping everyone awake until 6 AM…

And that was only the first 36 hours!

Because Sevilla is Better in Photos than Words

This is almost a month late, but I’ve been preoccupied with adjusting to life in America… anyhow, I spent my final week in Europe in Spain! My first stop was Sevilla, which is this adorable, quintessentially Spanish city in the South. For my first night, I took myself out to dinner and had some of the best food in the world.DSC01405

Later on, after walking around a little (and getting lost because Sevilla’s narrow streets wind a lot and change names while you’re still walking on them), I met some people in my hostel and played drinking games with them. We stayed up super late, and I knew it was time to go to bed when I started passionately debating with this Canadian guy about the Israeli-Palestine conflict…

The following day, I walked all over the city. It is so beautiful! Most of the streets are just narrow alleyways, and the architecture is super Spanish and colorful, with monuments dating back to Muslim rule thrown in there.

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I went to the Real Alcázar, which was a governmental palace from the time of Muslim rule. It was massive and had such gorgeous architecture.

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Later on that afternoon, I had a blast from the past when I met up with my old friend from middle school, Nicole! I hadn’t seen her in quite awhile, so to reunite in Spain of all places was pretty crazy (she is studying abroad in Sevilla). She took me to a delicious pastry shop and then a cute coffee shop, where we were able to catch up on each other’s lives.

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Eventually, Nicole and I walked to the river, and then she had to leave for work. I was able to see the sunset there! Image

Later that night, I went out to a delicious tapas bar with two Australian guys from my hostel. I decided after that to just stay in because I had such a long day of sightseeing.DSC01458

The next day, I had to leave to take a 6 hour train to Barcelona!

Finding My Inner Buda

I have randomly always wanted to go to Budapest, and on November 23rd that dream came true! Feeling adventurous, I went completely by myself, not knowing a single soul there. I checked into my hostel in the afternoon, and the hostel that I had chosen for my first night was interesting to say the least. It was this super hippie/Buddhist hostel in a residential neighborhood pretty far away from the center of the city. All of the walls and décor were very colorful, sunny, and filled with Buddhist motifs and Om symbols. There was incense burning and an Australian dude wearing orange drawstring pants working at the front desk. It was actually very relaxing but, in the end, not a great place to meet other young people who want to go out at night.

Anyhow, I set out that afternoon to go explore the city, making my way to the Pest side of Budapest (the west side of Budapest is called “Buda,” whereas the east side across the river is called “Pest”). Buda is generally prettier, with more hills and monuments, and Pest is more interesting and bustling. I immediately found Budapest to be very beautiful; it definitely has a grittier, more Eastern European feel to it than other places I have been to, yet is interspersed with gorgeous buildings in Gothic architecture. The first place that I went to was this shopping district that, disappointingly, ended up being very touristic. However, once I got out of there, I found a tiny café at which to eat; it was so small and cozy, and I had delicious Hungarian soup and mulled wine. Afterward, I went for a long walk along the river and eventually settled at a lovely park next to a giant church.

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I was originally going to Couch Surf with this girl named Laura during my stay in Budapest, but for various reasons it didn’t end up working out. However, she still invited me to go out that night with her and her friends. Thus, after realizing how boss I am at figuring out public transportation systems, I eventually met up with her at her apartment. She had other Hungarian friends with her as well as an American girl who was staying with one of the Hungarian girls. The American one turned out to be from Seattle. I then learned that she just graduated from UW! I THEN learned that she lived in the same apartment complex as me!!! It was SO FUCKING BIZARRE! How did I meet someone who lived meters away from me in this random Hungarian girl’s apartment!? Like, what the fuck!?

Anyway, we went to a fancy marketing party for this company that Laura works for. It was so fun! We were able to dress up, and then they had a fashion show at the party. Afterward, they had a band playing and a DJ in another room. It was really cool, and I danced a ton of course =). Laura and her friends were so sweet and definitely showed me a good time on my first night in the city.

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(Me, Lynn, the Seattlite, and Dorka, Laura’s friend)

The following day, I decided to move to a hostel that ended up being the best hostel in the whole world. It was called Carpe Noctem (seize the night) and was right in the center of the city. The staff, as well as the guests, were extremely friendly and fun, which created a really warm and familial environment. It was pretty small and felt more like we were just hanging out in someone’s really cool flat as opposed to being in a hostel. The staff also arrange for everyone to go out together every single night.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking and sightseeing, which included going to this castle in a park, Budapest’s largest cathedral, and the glorious Parliament building. It was so beautiful, in particular with the changing fall colors as a backdrop.

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That night, I went out with everyone from my hostel. We first went to their sister hostel’s bar to have a jager train! It was wild. They have a million jager shots on top of whatever you mix with it to create a jager bomb, and they knock one over to create a domino of shots falling into glasses.

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We then went to a bar for an open mic night. I met a some people who had been studying in Germany and hung out with them for most of the night. I also signed up to perform, and I somewhat drunkenly read a poem of mine… in French. It was my first time ever having written a poem in French!

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(At the open mic night with the students I met)

I decided to spend my next day a bit more leisurely, seeing as I got home quite late the night before. It was definitely relaxing. That night, as my flight was extremely early for the next morning, I chose to stay in and watch a movie and eat pizza with some people from the hostel. It was actually really fun and a chill way to end my time in Budapest. My traveling soul was rejuvenated =).

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After leisurely sleeping in, Rachel and I hit up the Camden Market in the few hours that we had before our train to Edinburgh would be leaving. It was like the Venice Beach of London! It was massive and confusing like a maze, yet filled with a ton of cool jewelry, cute clothes, and other random shit, with really crazy storefronts.

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Finally, we had to depart London to go to Edinburgh. The journey lasted several hours, making it so that we arrived in the night-time. I met some of Rachel’s friends once we got there, and we all had a chill night eating pizza together.

The following day, while Rachel was in class, I set out to explore the city! I absolutely loved Edinburgh. It’s so cute, rainy, old, and… Scottish. I felt inspired to curl up in a café and read, which I did for a couple hours. Afterward, I stumbled upon a castle (you know, just casually). It was up on a hill and so gorgeous, with a panoramic view of the city (who knew that Edinburgh was near a body of water?) and its green hills. I took pictures with my disposable camera because I had misplaced my camera charger and thus decided to kick it old-school; all of the photos that I do have of the U.K. were stolen from Rachel ;). Then, descending the hill upon which the castle stood, I found a lovely park full of leaves changing colors and a giant monument paying tribute to the dude for whom Scotland was named… I think. I subsequently walked a ton and did some shopping- in particular at this adorable, tiny boutique full of girly gifts.

Once it got dark outside, I returned to Rachel’s flat, where we got ready to go out to a jazz bar! Several of Rachel’s friends met us at there, and for most of us it was our first time being at a jazz bar. At first, there was a 15-piece band playing, and the small club was filled to the brim with people who were at least 40 years older than us. We were thus awkwardly standing in a corner with each other for a l’il while. However, once that band was done playing, most of the old people left and we were able to grab a table. A small, more “hip” band then came on, and they were so good! So what do Rachel and I always do anytime there is music playing somewhere? Start a dance party, of course! We thus went to the center of the room and started dancing, just the two of us, which led to a huge group of people all dancing together. It was a ton of fun.

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^Us with the sax guy! (the one with the mustache :D )

The next day, I didn’t do anything the entire day, until Rachel, me, and her friends all went out to a reggaeton bar for the night. It was Tuesday night and subsequently wasn’t very poppin’. However, we still wanted to go out (yet were all broke), so we ended up going to the only other free nightclub. It was kind of a strange place; one floor was playing 80s music, and the other was playing hardcore rock music. We were perplexed, yet once the hardcore floor started playing a Foo Fighters song that we all liked, we decided to stay just to hear it. However, they then started playing all of this throwback rock/pop music from the early 2000s such as one might have heard at a middle school dance. Embracing our guilty pleasures, we decided to stay and ended up dancing crazily for the next couple of hours to “Stacey’s Mom,” “What’s My Age Again?”, “Hey Now You’re an Allstar,” and other classics.

Then the next morning at the butt-crack of dawn, I had to fly back to Paris. It was there that I learned the hard way to NEVER FLY ON RYANAIR. DON’T BE FOOLED BY THEIR CHEAP FLIGHTS, THEY WILL CHARGE YOU EXORBITANT PRICES FOR THINGS YOU DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT, LIKE PRINTING YOUR FUCKING BOARDING PASS AT THE AIRPORT AND HAVING A CARRY-ON PLUS A PURSE.

That is all.

Tea, Scones, and McNuggets

One of my BFFs from high school, Rachel, is currently studying abroad in Edinburgh, so of course I had to pay her a visit while I was in Europe! However, we both had never been to London before, so for the first leg of my UK trip we decided to explore London together.

We met up on the morning of November 9 and went to the office of Rob, a close friend of Rachel’s mom; he and his family so kindly agreed let us stay with them. After dropping off our luggage, he sent us off to go explore. I loved London immediately! Though it was a large, bustling city, I still found it to be very charming, what with every building looking historical (I feel like that’s the only way I know how to describe European cities), cute shops, double decker buses, red telephone booths, etc. One weird thing for me was that it felt strange to be speaking in English all of the time. I kept wanting to say “excusez-moi” and “merci” when weaving around crowds at the tube! However, I am definitely a fan of the British accent.

We stopped at a pub to eat fish and chips, and then walked around a huge shopping district. Afterward, Rachel and I went to see the Parliament building and Big Ben. They were actually very ornate and beautiful! Furthermore, the London Eye ferris wheel was in the background, making for a very iconic area.

  

Exhausted from walking so much, Rachel and I then stopped into a little café to relax over some fabulous tea and catch up on each other’s lives.

That night, we went to Rob’s beautiful home in a more quaint, residential neighborhood of London. We met his awesome wife, Sue, and their 16-year-old son Jake. They invited several of their South African friends over (Rob and Rachel’s mom are both from South Africa and became friends there), and we all had Shabbat dinner together! It was so lovely because we ate a giant feast that lasted for hours with such a lively group of people. Being in that warm environment and being taken cared of was definitely a welcome break from roughing it in hostels whilst traveling =).

The following day, Rachel and I met up with a British friend of hers, Matt, at the Royal Academy of Arts. We walked through a really cool bronze exhibition together. Afterward, to add to the classiness, we ate at McDonald’s for lunch. Actually, we bought food at McDonald’s and ate it on the street next to an establishment called “Table Dancing.” Matt was then our tour guide for the rest of the day, taking us to Old London. We went to a ginormous cathedral, and then crossed a bridge over the Thames in order to see the replica Globe Theater. The sun was setting right when we were at the bridge, creating a gorgeous orange sky.

 

We then went to the top of the Tate Museum on the other side of the bridge, which is a modern art museum in this very industrial, 1960s style building. The building itself was quite ugly, but on their top floor is a place at which one can have afternoon tea and scones- with glass walls and a panoramic view of the city!

Then (we did a lot of stuff that day!) Matt took Rachel and I to this Christmas market thing, at which we watched a comedian/magician guy swallow a balloon and make fun of Americans. A whole balloon! In that area, we ended up going to a Canadian bar, which was an interesting experience. One of the guys who was at dinner the previous night, Steven, met up with us there. Eventually, Matt had to leave to take a train back to his hometown, and Steven, Rachel, and I subsequently went clubbing.

We danced our booties off until the wee hours! Once we left the club, we were very hungry and went to… McDonald’s. It was mine and Rachel’s second time eating McDonald’s that day. This time, when eating it on the street, we didn’t even bother to stand- we just sat on the sidewalk. Clearly we like to eat in style.

Then, we rode a double-decker bus home!