From the excellent files of Bootsnall.com comes another sterling piece you might find interesting…
Posts Tagged ‘backpacking’
Fabulous Friday Photos is back…as long as the program continues to cooperate.
Prague. The problem with Prague is that it’s so touristy, and so gorgeous, and has too much history to possibly take in.
I loved Prague. I’m not sure that I would want to live there; I showed up about ten, fifteen years too late for that. But to visit, it’s spectacular. It really does live up to its reputation as the prettiest city in Europe. However, I thought it did lack some kind of personality — too many tourists, I suppose. I wish I could have been here ten years ago.
This is a city I’ll be coming back to – often – when I live in Hungary. They’re not very far away, after all…
So, I was having a bit of a think the other day. I know, that doesn’t happen often.
I was trying to figure out where this need to travel comes from and when I first realized how awesome it is. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’m slightly obsessed with it. But I haven’t always been like this. Indeed, I was once a small child with an affinity for road trips and no inkling that a few short years later I would be addicted to something outside my power to control.
I think it must have been Peru. More specifically, it was when a llama decided to chase us on Machu Picchu. (Macchu Pichu? I can never remember.)
I know what you’re thinking. What did I do to that poor llama? Nothing. He came out of nowhere like an avenging angel with a spitting problem and lunged toward us with destruction written in his bugged-out eyes. We had no choice but to run and hope we didn’t fall off the side of the mountain, a thing which is easier to do than you might imagine.
What was I doing in Peru? It was my very first trip out of the country as a wee tenth grader on a school trip. There were tour buses, there was bottled water and jungle cabins and a scenic train and ruins and cathedrals. My god were there cathedrals. Our tour guides just could not get enough of cathedrals. It was a guided “educational” trip which meant they wouldn’t let us try the Inca beer, which looked slightly like a milkshake and probably like it could kill you. I believe it was made out of corn and Incan spit.
Now I don’t remember fact one about the cathedrals or most of the ruins. (Hint to tour guide operators: no one can enjoy that kind of thing for ten hours a day, every day.)
What I do remember is getting chased by a llama off the side of a mountain. And bargaining with people in the markets for a llama-hair blanket and finger puppets of llamas. You may notice a certain llama theme here. This is because we were in Peru, whose main exports are llamas and Inca-themed merchandise.
I think back now to the moment I stepped off the plane into the violently yellow Cusco airport. First of all it was the longest plane ride I’d ever taken so that was exciting, because there was a full travel story in itself on how long and awful it was to be cooped up in a metal box for five hours. Yes, five whole hours. You can see I had never considered going to Australia at that point in my life.
Forgive me this next part. I was expecting something rather more third-worldly here. Other than being intensely yellow, having a propensity for peeling plaster, and a noticeable lack of air-con, the airport was certainly an improvement over certain third-world airports, ones like Chicago O’Hare.
My timid classmates, our chaperone, and I were found by the tour guide and we were shuffled hastily on to a bus complete with curtains in the windows, air-con, and bottled water. The height of luxury. You must understand that at this point I, coming from a small town in Northern Michigan, had never experienced anything like as advanced as public transportation, international airports, currency exchanges, or malaria pills.
When the hotel we were taken to had open windows on the seventh floor – one careless slip and you’re gone for good – I thought that was a pretty Notable Event.
Anyways I got over it.
But on that guided, air-conditioned, educational trip, I learned several important things. First, that I never wanted to give my money to tour operators again. Second, that the world wasn’t, in fact, a terrifyingly disease- and crime- infested place and was in fact Pretty Cool. And third, I learned holyshitIlovethisandthisandIwantogoeverywhererightnow.
So while I still cringe at the amount of money I had to pay for eight days being dragged around every historical site in Peru, that trip was the spark that fueled this traveling obsession and I wouldn’t change a thing.
It’s been over two months since I’ve been anywhere and I’m getting the withdrawal shakes: not being able to sleep at night, compulsively budgeting money I don’t even have yet, checking skyscanner on a daily basis, and finding myself on travel websites with no memory of how I got there. This is going to be a long summer.
You know, I do wonder what I would be doing today if I hadn’t gone to Peru. I almost cancelled for the stellar reasons that most of my friends weren’t going, it was expensive, and it was rather intimidating. Would I be sitting in a university somewhere wondering why I felt so dissatisfied with life? Or would something else have happened to help me realize how awesome getting in a flying tin can and hurtling to strange destinations full of malaria and yellow fever can be?
On a slightly related note, I’ve decided to learn French. I made a good effort to learn Hungarian but without an actual speaker here to help me out I just can’t get the pronunciation. It’s too difficult to try and learn from my limited resources.
But French, French is a piece of cake compared to Hungarian. It’s just like Spanish with a few extra sounds. You say cafe au lait instead of cafe con leche. Big deal. In any case, I can get coffee almost anywhere.
Unless you’re Dire Straits, and then you get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.
Luckily most of us aren’t Dire Straits.
What does it really cost to travel? To do anything? There’s money, but there are also the other possibilities/situations that you sacrifice in order to travel. I remember talking about this concept in ninth grade economics. It’s not complicated. (I’m not talking about free chicks.) Everything you do is a choice, and making one decision will instantly make the myriad other possibilities impossible. You pay a price – whether in time, money, or emotional attachment – and those resources can’t then be used in other ways.
“I’d love to travel but I can’t afford it.”
I’ve been to, I believe, seventeen countries. I’ve paid for all of them myself with the exception of a family trip to Mexico. And I do not have well-paying jobs. They’re your typical summer tourist-town service industry jobs.
I think a lot of people assume someone else is paying for my trips, because I have traveled so much at such a young age and in such a short period of time.
But that’s not true. And there isn’t a secret to how I pay for anything. I work my ass off, save everything. I sacrifice my time here so I can spend time there.
And sometimes, when I’ve been working double shifts for nine days straight, I haven’t seen the light of the sun in at least two weeks, don’t own my own car, and haven’t seen any of my friends in a month, it does seem like a pretty large sacrifice to make.
But for me it’s worth it. I’d rather spend a few months here just earning money and then travel for a few months and spend all my time enjoying myself, as opposed to working less but being stuck here and only having a low-grade kind of enjoyment after work and on the weekends. After all, you can’t get very far away from home in two days.
So if you’d really like to travel – or do anything, really: buy a DSLR camera, open that antiques shop you’ve always dreamed of owning, etc, then don’t think you can’t afford it. Re-evaluate what you’re spending time and money on now and see if you can’t make the short-term sacrifice for the long-term gain. Sacrifice your weekends to work a second job and pay off your mortgage or car payment early. Put your resources where your priorities are.
Looking at something as insurmountable is the wrong way to think. Break it down into smaller steps. Get a concrete goal in mind. The first step, you know you can accomplish. i.e. get a second job so you can start a travel fund, or cut extraneous expenses out of your current budget. Go out less. Buy coffee less. Stop eating out so much. Carpool or take public transportation instead of driving. Trade in your new car for a used one with no car payments. Forgo a weekend trip now in favor of a month-long trip in a year.
The next step you can accomplish. Set a goal to when you will have the money you need. And then find a way to meet that goal.
For example, I want to leave the US for Budapest on October 19th at the latest, because there’s a CELTA course starting on the 26th that I want to make. To make enough money to do so, I’m going to have to save about $1300 a month. I know I’m going to have to work two jobs: I have one for the weekdays, and I have to find another one for the weekends and possibly nights. It won’t be fun. I won’t be able to afford to move out of my parents house or do anything except work. But it will be worth it to know that I’ll be back in Budapest – permanently – in a few months.
When you write that last check, click “purchase” for your plane tickets to Brazil, or take home the camera that will allow you to start your own professional photography service, think about the sacrifices you made in the meantime.
Were they worth it? And I know the answer, at least for me, is a definite yes.
Jim Morrison, lead singer of the sixties rock band The Doors (if you haven’t heard of them I don’t know where you’ve been living but your existence is flat and empty) once said,
“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”
So what is he talking about and how does it relate to traveling, life, or karate? Let me explain…
I brought this up specifically because of a post I saw on Facebook the other day. A friend is doing quite well and moving up in the state/national karate championships. He’s up to nationals now. And his aunt posted on his status with words to the effect of “Congratulations, but we love you so don’t go too far because we want you to be around here.”
I know she was well-meaning and everything, but the basic message she was sending there was, “You should sacrifice what you want so that you can stay here with your family and make us happy, even at the expense of your own happiness.” (There’s my karate reference.)
And this kind of situation happens all the time. Family and friends aren’t trying to be malicious, but by being thoughtless and putting their own wants in front of your own, they can be very effective at sabotaging your dreams. (Jim Morrison quote.) It’s the famous guilt trip of the mother on a huge, subtle scale. It’s your family, thinking they’re doing what’s best for you when really they’re trying to do what’s best for them–all they’re doing is holding you back, making you doubt yourself, making you fear, keeping you from achieving what you have the potential to achieve. And because this “advice” is coming from people you care about, you naturally respect and value their opinions, making it even harder to look at them dispassionately to see the truth behind the words.
And to go further into this, what is an appropriate sacrifice to make for the people you care about? Would they be willing to make the same sacrifice for you? Say, for example, that you wanted to move to New Zealand, about as far away as you can get from the United States and still be on Earth. It would be pretty common for your family and friends to try to talk you out of it, or at least try to get you to come back and visit them as often as possible.
But is anyone offering to go visit you in New Zealand? Or, if they’re the ones trying to talk you out of moving, would they be willing to move as well? To go with you? Because what they are, in essence, suggesting is that you should sacrifice what you want (to move to NZ) in order that they should have what they want (for you to stay close to them.)
And if they’re not willing to go the distance for you, but expect you to do for them what they would not for you, then perhaps you should re-evaluate your relationship.
And when people give you advice about a big change you’re considering in your life, examine their motives behind the words, even (especially) if it’s your own mother speaking. In the end, you have to listen to yourself, do what you want to do, and not be swayed by people trying to change your mind. (The reference to life.)
In my not lengthy life so far, the majority of the people I’ve talked to have or have had some kind of dream to go on a big trip. But almost none of them think of this as a realistic dream–they immediately come up with excuses: work, family, commitment, money, etc etc. And these people regret not achieving their dream. (My travel reference. Title is accurate!)
So are you going to be the person who listened to everybody’s advice and stayed home and is now regretting the choices they made for other people, or are you going to be the person who takes personal responsibility for what they do and lives a rich and fulfilling life because they’ve properly recognized and made the appropriate choices to achieve their goals and dreams?
This wasn’t the loveliest day–in fact, it started snowing while I was out–but this is what Budapest looks like in the winter.
This is probably “the” shot of Budapest. Most cities have one photo that is the stereotypical image. Paris–Eiffel Tower; Prague–Charles Bridge, possibly, although Prague has so many great things it’s hard to pick just one; Rome–the Coliseum; etc etc.
The second bridge is the famous Chain Bridge, the first bridge to connect the separate cities of Buda and Pest. Until 1849, the two cities were quite different: hilly, stately Buda on the west side of the Danube; and flat, industrial Pest on the east bank of the river. Then the chain bridge was built and they were finally connected permanently, only a hundred and sixty years ago. That’s quite recent as the history of this city goes. The first settlement on the current site of the city was built by Picts before 1 AD and called Ak-Ink, which allegedly means “Abundant Water.” Later, the Romans occupied the area and called it Aquincum. Later still, the Bulgarians took it over when it finally became the two cities of Buda and Pest.
Then the Hungarians occupied it and in the 10th century officially founded the Kingdom of Hungary. In the 1500′s, the Ottomans took over and occupied the city for nearly 140 years, during which time they constructed the Turkish baths that are still popular today.
The Austro-Hungarian empire was formed in 1867. But it wasn’t until 1873 that the three parts of the city–Buda, Pest, and Obuda, or ancient Buda, were combined officially into the one city of Budapest–long after the chain bridge was built.
In 1918 after WWI ended the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and Hungary declared itself an independent republic.
After many complicated fiascos through WWII, which you are welcome to read about somewhere else if you are really interested, Hungary became a Communist People’s Republic. However revolts and more shenanigans soon followed. The Soviets rolled some tanks in and managed to kill over 3,000 people in the confusion.
While in the Eastern bloc, Hungary apparently became known as “the happiest barrack” due to lighter restrictions than most of the other satellite nations of the USSR. Stubborn Hungarians being stubborn, they managed to rebuild most of the city in this time.
In 1989 Communism fell and Hungary developed a capitalist economy, representative government, and other trappings of the free Western world.
Budapest is also notable for building the second underground train system in the world.
Imagine if New York had a history like that.
Today, Budapest just so happens to be the best city in the world. if you like coffee, Budapest has great coffee from the Austrians. If you like Turkish baths, it has those. If you like drinking, you’re definitely in luck. If you like delicious food being delivered to your door for convenient nomming, you got it. River cruises? Got it, if you can stand the bajillions of other tourists. If you like cool old buildings, you will be happy. It has an outstanding cathedral replete with the mummified hand of King Saint Stephen, founder of Hungary (overachiever) on display, and for 200 forints you can get the lights to turn on in the case for two minutes. W00t!
If you enjoy climbing stairs then this city is really your dream city. Caving, really good caving where you get to squiggle through cracks the size of a toaster, is also of course available (these caves under the city are some kind of record, but I don’t remember which one and I’m not going to look it up. They’re memorable, so remember that.)
Plus, Budapest is cheap. Quite cheap. You can always spend a lot of money, but it’s easy to live well on a very reasonable budget. It’s definitely not as cheap as Latvia, but if you’re just coming from Western Europe you will be quite pleasantly surprised.
Special note for Americans: Communism and other evil things died in the city twenty-one years ago. It’s a lovely safe city and you’re not going to die or get robbed unless you’re extraordinarily stupid. I mean really, really extraordinarily stupid. This is not some bombed-out ruin of the former USSR. This is a European capital, part of the EU, and boasts 1.7 million people in the city proper. It is generally considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Hungarians may be reserved, and sometimes may even seem slightly distasteful of you non-Magyar speaking foreigner, but I have found that a winning smile and a badly pronounced “kőszőnőm” is usually enough to at least get them to stop glaring at you long enough to roll their eyes.
No, really. I like Hungarians. I’m delighted by them. Their language is so foreign, their history and capital city so interesting, and their sometimes disdainful-seeming attitude somewhat misleading. Hungarians probably aren’t going to run up and be your best friend right away, but they’re good people, solid, down-to-earth, and they’re not going to waste anyone’s time being fake or flippant. Not to make generalizations or anything *cough cough* like I just have most certainly not been doing, but I’d trust a Hungarian over an Italian any day.
Of course, I’d probably trust just about anyone over an Italian. But that’s a different story.
Eating out in Europe is almost never cheap and generally not in a backpacker’s budget. Of course, there are those times when you really just want to try the local cuisine, and that’s important, but you can eat cheaply and conveniently without going out every meal, saving your money for that one splurge at a nice place. Here are some tips for eating well on a budget in Europe.
1.) Stay at hostels. Don’t be afraid. Hostels are almost always clean, safe, and fun places to meet other travelers like yourself–and best of all, they usually have a fully-equipped kitchen. Buy food at the supermarket, and cook it in the kitchen. There’s generally a fridge as well where you can store your (labeled and dated) food for consumption the next day. Sometimes, hostels will even have a free food shelf. People tend to leave behind pasta and other non-perishables that they don’t want to carry with them, and you may be able to snag this for free!
Protip: Stealing other people’s food is a jerk move and will instantly give you bad traveler karma. DON’T do it. DO get together with other travelers and plan a big group meal if the opportunity/group is right. It can be a lot of fun, it’s cheaper than buying food just for yourself, and have everyone cook their local specialty so that you get to taste food from all over the world. Mmm.
2.) Street food. Namely kebabs. And, in the British isles, fish-and-chip shops. There usually isn’t room to sit–they’re take-out hole in the wall establishments. But you can get a filling, greasy kebab–which is strips of chicken, beef, or lamb, cut off an enormous hunk turning on a spit, and put in either a pita or rolled burrito-type of deal, along with lettuce, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce–for two or three euros. If you’re in a hurry, your hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, or you’re just in the mood for some greasy street food, kebabs are the way to go. You’ll find them all over Europe. Germany and Spain have the best kebabs, although for the real deal they originated in Turkey. I haven’t been there so I cant judge the quality of Turkish kebabs–yet.
Protip: Kebabs are really good drunk food, and best of all, most kebab shops stay open late.
3.) If you want to eat out, ask your hostel to recommend a place. Guide books are out of date by the time they’re published. In Spain, we spent hours looking for a bar recommended in the Lonely Planet, only to discover that even the building it was in had been torn down. Restaurants can change ownership and quality quickly. The hostel employees will know the cheapest and best local places to eat. In Rome, I ate a four-course meal with a carafe of wine at a nice Chinese restaurant for 6 euros. Not a bad deal for enough food to keep me filled for the rest of the day.
4.) Go to an outdoor market and pick up picnic supplies. This is probably my favorite option. Many European cities have a central farmers market on certain days of the week, or sometimes big, permanent open-air markets. Budapest has a colossal two-floor structure; Barcelona has an open-air market filled with every type of seafood you can imagine and some you can’t, along with fresh fruit, cheeses, sausages, Iberian hams, baked goods, coffee, wine, and confectionary. Fresh, authentic food sold by locals, often lower prices than in the supermarket–what’s not to love?
Protip: Pick up a friend or two at your hostel, grab a bottle of wine, some chorizo, a loaf of crusty bread, and some cheese and go to a public park to enjoy your fresh purchases together. A toast to traveling!
While I was traveling with my friend, it was hard to find time to write, and after she left I was so far behind I don’t even know where to begin…but now that I’m back home with consistent computer access, here’s a summary of the past few weeks.
It’s been a long, incredible road since I last left you in Paris. Now, our original plan had been to travel through Spain, France, and Portugal, but as usual while on the road, plans change, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but who can judge? What happens is the ultimate outcome. In our case, the train reservations were booked solid for the next six weeks, making our railpasses utterly useless (thank you, holiday season and the French railway system,) so we had to catch a last-minute Ryanair flight back to Madrid after Paris, for a considerable amount of money. Once we got back to Madrid, we were pretty much locked in since flights anywhere else were too expensive and the trains were booked up. So we spent the remaining five or six days of the trip in Madrid. I can’t say I regret not getting to see Portugal or the south of Spain though, because I got to spend some time in that wonderful city. We occupied our time walking through the narrow, winding streets, exploring the Christmas markets and talking to Spanish people.
Spain is a wonderful place; like Italy but cool. The people can be unfriendly unless you speak Spanish, when they suddenly open up and become the nicest people on the planet. They, in general, are proud of not speaking English, exactly opposite of most of the countries I’ve visited.
The food is excellent, the tapas bars are amazing, the Iberian ham phenomenal (though scary looking if you’re unprepared.) The sangria is delicious. If you ever get to Madrid, El Tigre is an excellent tapas bar where you can get a mug of sangria and a big plate of tapas for under 5 euro. Puerta del Sol, the central square in Madrid and the geographical and cultural center of Spain itself, is always busy with hundreds of people, both locals and tourists. Since it was the holidays, there was an enormous wire Christmas tree in the center that lit up at night and looked quite festive. No matter where you go in Madrid, it seems that the narrow streets always spit you back out right at the Christmas tree.
While in Spain we also tried paella a few times. It’s a delicious rice and seafood dish, complicated and time-consuming to make and therefore quite expensive, but definitely worth it.
We spent a quiet Christmas in Madrid, and then on the 28th I flew to Frankfurt, there to catch a train back to Budapest to spend the last two weeks of my trip. And what a two weeks this has been…
I made it back on the evening of the 29th and as soon as I stepped off the train I felt like I’d come home. There was Keleti station in all its glory, with its basement markets where you can buy anything for almost no money; the doors, thronged with blackmarket money-changers, scam taxis and others looking for opportunity from fresh arrivals; and outside, the wonderful rainy dark. Instead of taking the trolley bus, which is always packed tighter than a typical Ryanair airplane, I walked the twenty minutes to Blaha Luhja Ter and took the brand-new tram down Terez Korut to Nyugati station and then to walk a block back to Carpe Noctem. On the tram a backpacker with dreadlocks started talking to a Hungarian, “Do you speak English?” and pulled out a map. He didn’t, but I did, and I helped her find out where she was going. I felt like I was starting to belong to this city, being able to give her directions. The Hungarian man she’d originally asked smiled at me in gratitude for helping him out of an awkward situation. A Hungarian actually smiled at a foreigner! My life felt good.
Rang the buzzer on the unmarked hostel door–they’d changed the codes in my absence. I climbed those familiar 100 stairs and was greeted by….craziness, of course. Chooseday night, and it was Rock Star dress-up theme. There were more leather pants, ripped shirts, makeup, Sharpie tattoos, drumsticks, and leggings than I’ve ever seen in one place. Exxxcellent time to return. Within minutes after dropping my bag in the corner I was adorned with Sharpie tattoos, heavy eye makeup and some pink dreadlocks, ready to rock ‘n roll. I love this place. On Tuesday nights, we go out to a jazz club that opens only for about three hostels in the area. Take Five is a great place. They accept us no matter how crazily we dress up, they have excellent karaoke, and the bartenders are awesome.
My first night back was a crazy headbanging rock night, with way too much karaoke. Another guest named Ryan and I rocked out the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He is even more obsessed with them than I am.
I should mention at this point that at that time almost all of the guests at the time were like me, repeat offenders, on their second or third trips to Carpe Noctem, some of them former workers. Only two people were here as their first time, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be back. There’s a reason Carpe Noctem has been ranked #1 on Hostelworld worldwide, and is currently #3.
And like that, I was back with a vengeance in the loopy, insane, awesome world of Carpe Noctem. Suzi, the other owner, is now back from Australia and she is definitely the fun director of the hostel. Since I’ve been back we’ve gone to hockey games, Cinetrip (a huge rave in the Turkish baths on New Year’s, definitely NOT to be missed for anything, it is phenomenal) and one mad trip to a place called Mongolian Barbecue. There, you pay about the equivalent of $25 (it is a really really nice restaurant) and get five hours of unlimited food and beer and sangria.
But the food was even more amazing. They have a long buffet line, some of it prepared dishes, but the majority of it consisting of different types of raw meat marinading in a variety of flavors. There was goat, pork, chicken, beef, horse, rabbit, and lamb. You fill up a plate with raw meat, take it to the crisply-uniformed grill man, and he cooks it all for you. This is not a place for vegetarians. You eat platefuls of nothing but meat, washed down with glass after glass of Dreher, a truly excellent Hungarian beer. And after that, for the ones still standing, there was a hockey game. And after that, for the few hardy souls still standing straight, there was, of course, a pub crawl. I made it through the first pub and then Brad and I had to get Tumnus home, as he’d tried too hard to keep up with Brad, who is twice his size.
It’s a small world, this hostel. Everyone knows everyone and it’s like a large, extended family because everyone just keeps coming back, and back, and moving to Budapest, and crazy stuff like that. I’m starting to become one of the family as I meet more and more members. I miss everyone now that I’m back in the States, but I’m keeping up with them online and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back soon. I missed seeing Kurt again by a week, as he and Hawaii went to Thailand a week after I arrived the first time and he is coming back to Budapest today, less than a week after I left. Speaking of which, their pictures of Thailand are absolutely phenomenal. I’ve added it near the top of the list of places I want to see next. It doesn’t hurt that I love Thai food. The place looks absolutely gorgeous, paradise on earth–plus it’s ridiculously cheap and has good food.
Ah, I miss everything about Budapest. I miss the people, I miss NOA Pizza across the street, the river, the street vendors, the supermarket, the trams, the goulash, the crazy traffic and taxi drivers, the language (Magyar is the second-hardest language in the world to learn, allegedly,) even the taste of the tap water. I miss the people I met there and made friends with.
I’ve spent almost a third of my trip in Budapest so it’s no wonder that I know it better than any other city I visited. I’ve walked home in a surprise snowstorm in flip-flops, had midnight snowball fights on the streets, made group dinners for the hostel, eaten group dinners for the hostel, slept in the staff room and every dorm room, cleaned the bathrooms, smoked the shisha, read every book on the bookshelf, spent too much time on the computers, and feel completely at home when I walk in the door of Carpe Noctem. I know the streets of Budapest better than I do Traverse City. I have an instinctual knowledge or something of this place. I know the nearest supermarkets, secondhand shops, the routes to all the tourist attractions, the cost of admission, hours of entry and which Turkish baths are the best. I know how much groceries cost at Kaiser’s, where the towels are hidden in the hostel, how much a taxi should cost, the website and cost of every delivery restaurant in district 6, both the ladies who work at NOA pizza across the street, the other good hostels in town (Tiger Tim’s and the Bubble,) and so on and so forth. It wasn’t easy to leave and I seriously considered not getting on the horrible plane back to the States.
But I’m almost out of money and had to come back so I can earn some more to get back to Buuudapest. (And Thailand!)
This trip was incredible. It opened my mind to the numberless ways that people live and interact in the world and made me view my own country with far different eyes. We have this culture of fear and ignorance in the US, unfortunately, where people are afraid to travel, or view it as a luxury or indulgence. This is the wrong attitude to have. Traveling has been the best thing that ever happened to me. In American schools, we learn about America, and the attitude unfortunately exists in our culture that the most important country in the world, the only one worth really learning about, is America. The other countries are something of a curiosity, something far away. We are separated from the rest of the world (except for Mexico and Canada) not only geographically, but mentally. Coming from that, it’s absolutely astounding to see how connected and educated the rest of the world is about everything, including us. Coming from that, we look kind of like the dunce in the corner, afraid of everything.
Don’t get me wrong. Americans are some of the friendliest, most outgoing, generous people you can meet–in general; you can’t stereotype, but certain generalizations do tend to hold true. It’s a cultural thing. However, we are ignorant compared to the rest of the world. Look at Australia. It’s built into their culture to travel for a long period of time, either when they graduate high school or university. You will find Australians all over the globe, in every corner of every city and out-of-the-way town. Instead of being afraid of travel, that’s just what they do. And in general, they’re very good people. Unprejudiced, friendly, intelligent, and guess what? They don’t have any bad stereotypes about them that I know of, unless it is that they drink too much and party too hard (true, but who can blame them?) And they tend not to get in wars, as well.
It should be a requirement for every American to venture forth into the world for at least a few months, and I guarantee we would start to lose some of the negative stereotypes attached to us. (That we’re ignorant, arrogant, love fighting, stuck-up, pretentious, redneck, etc. etc,) It could only be an improvement for this country.
Some numbers: I was gone for 98 days, spent an average of $67 a day (including the transportation I bought in Europe but not my Eurail pass), spent $1349 on a Eurail pass which covered all my transportation save for about $100 of reservation costs, $x for in-city metros, trams, buses, etc, and about $450 for four in-continent flights; took over 39 train rides, the longest lasting 14 hours; visited 13 countries and 31 cities; and made 82 friends on Facebook, all of whom I still talk to. I have invitations to go stay with people in countries all across the globe. My favorite places were Budapest, obviously, but I also fell in love with Germany and Scotland. I’d love to go back to both Edinburgh and Berlin and spend more time like I did in Budapest.
This was the best three months of my life and what I know now without a shadow of doubt that my road lies on the road and I’ll be back out there asap. I’m not just going to put my souvenirs and old maps away in some drawer now and return to what everyone likes to tell me is ‘real life.’ There’s another real life out there, populated by the most interesting characters and places and adventures any novelist could ever come up with, and the difference is that it’s reality, not fiction, and anyone can access it if they want to.
I’ll see you on the road.
From now on I’ll probably devote this blog to travel advice and tips that I picked up on the road and wished I’d known before I left, at least until my next trip when it’ll go back to this. If you know anyone who wants to travel, getting ready to travel, or who’s currently on the road, pass this link on. I’d appreciate it and so would they. Happy travels!
I guess it’s time for another blog post, since I haven’t updated it in five days. These have been a busy five days, though. After spending two amazing weeks in Budapest, I didn’t have time to go to Croatia, so I’ll save that for another trip. No worries. From what I hear, it’s absolutely dead at this time of year and most things are closed anyways. So instead, I am doing a whirlwind tour of Italy in six days before staying with friends in France this weekend. Then it’s off to Madrid to meet another friend on Tuesday. And then we have fifteen days to fly through France, Spain and Portugal before she flies back home and I, I go straight back to Budapest to spend the rest of my time in the city I have a passionate love affair with.
I got into Venice on Friday morning on the overnight train from Vienna. Venice is one of those cities that you hear so much about, you don’t really know what to expect–well, you think you know exactly what to expect, but it never turns out ot be right. In this case, the poor city has a lot to live up to, and unfortunately, it didn’t really manage to live up to anything. I didn’t like Venice much. I didn’t hate it, but two days was more than enough. You can walk through the entire thing in a few hours, and other than a few churches and the Doge’s palace, there isn’t much to do. The nightlife is absolutely nonexistent. My second night, a Chilean guy that I’d met and I went to the university quarter where we’d been promised the nightlife was. A few caffes that served beer were still open, with people quietly sipping at their €6 beers. There weren’t many, and it wasn’t great. We each had one beer and gave it up for lost.
The city itself is shabby, faded splendor. The canals aren’t dirty, though. In fact, they were a brilliant shade of blue-green. Some people say that Venice stinks. I suppose, if you prefer the scent of exhaust and car fumes over the smell of brine and seawater. At different times of the year, I’ve heard it’s worse, though and sometimes smells like sewers. It didn’t while I was there.
I don’t even want to go into how much those two days in the canals cost me. I didn’t even do anything: I didn’t pay any admission fees, public transportation costs, or go out at night, but the cost of food and my hostel was so high that I didn’t have money for that anyways. I paid nine euro for a small, bad, take-away pizza one night. The hostel of course didn’t have a kitchen, so I couldn’t cook for myself. Not that the supermarket was affordable, but it was better than thirteen dollar pizzas.
On Sunday morning I went to Florence. This city was if possible, even worse. After two days of walking its streets nonstop we came to a sort of peace. I don’t hate the place, but it’s nothing I would ever go back to again. There is a small, attractive mediaval section, packed with designer clothing shops, leather stores, Christmas decorations, and tourists, and then surrounding that is the rest of the quite unattractive city. They even make you pay to go see the statue of David. The only part of Florence that I really liked was the Christmas market. You can get everything there, from leather goods to Venetian masks to hats to boxer shorts to watches to fake Louis Vuitton bags, and even better, unlike most Christmas markets I’ve been to, there is lively negotiating going on; it’s crowded with people; and it’s not kitschy.
And this morning I went to Rome. This is such a strange place. It’s smaller than I expected, and not as crowded with Vespas. But what it is full of are ruins, thousand upon thousands of them. Everywhere you look there is an excavation site, or maybe just a crumbling Roman watchtower crammed between a billboard for Prada and an apartment building, and it’s absolutely ridiculous. I went to the Coliseum today. It was about what I expected. Quite impressive, but so crowded with tourists even on a drizzly December afternoon that it was difficult to get any good pictures.
So far, Italy overall, I haven’t even come close to falling in love with. If I hear ‘caio, bella’ one more time I am going to punch the offender in the head. The cities are shabby and ugly and would look right at home in Serbia, except that the prices are positively Scandinavian. The food isn’t my favorite. I prefer Asian food in Budapest. Although to be fair I have found Rome very affordable. My hostel is cheaper than the one in Budapest, and food is not too expensive as long as you stay away from the city center.
Anyhoo, I have to go. The computer has been tied up for long enough. I’ll be back soon with another post, hopefully before I go to France. I have a lot more to say about Italia.
And Budapest. Ahhhhh, I miss Budapest like crazy. Every night I look for cso cso tables, but you know what? The rest of the world is lame. I think I have found my Mecca and it is in Hungary. Time to start learning Magyar.
I’m still in Budapest. I seem to be stuck here and unable to leave. It’s an incredible city, with a great atmosphere–affordable, lively, packed full of history and Asian restaurants. I’ve eaten only asian food in the past three days. Pad thai, sushi, miso soup and many many noodles.
Once you get used to being in a country that isn’t quite first-world standard, it stops feeling scary and strange and starts feeling quite homelike. I’m now used to signs that read, “Tilos, az atjaras!” I have no idea what it means, but you get my point. It no longer disturbs me that I understand nothing of the language, the culture, or the people. Instead it feels really normal. When I spent my four days in Austria after the Czech Republic, I was bored out of my mind. German is easy peasy lemon squeazy. And Western Europe–did I mention that it is boring compared to this?
So, Budapest. At the moment I’m not quite sure how long Im going to stay here. I might stay through Thanksgiving and then move on. I meet a friend in Spain in about three weeks, so I’ve got three weeks of random solo travel left before I have to discuss plans with other people. I was supposed to leave yesterday–couldn’t leave. I was supposed to leave today, but I missed my train. At this point I might as well give up and just stay until after Thanksgiving. We’ll see. My hostel wants to have a big American Thanksgiving, and they want some Americans for authenticity. Pumpkin pie recipes, anyone? This is the greatest hostel ever. There are only a few dorm rooms, so it’s a small, family like atmosphere. The owners take us out every night to different bars and clubs in Budapest, and during the day we all hang out, go out to eat, do touristy things together, and jsut hang out and watch movies. It’s such a family like atmopshere, or like all your best friends are staying in an awesome city with you.
Now, I’ve heard recently that some of my family thinks I’m turning into an alcoholic because I always seem to talk about it in my blog. I’m going to admit it, I drink quite a bit. But the cultural difference in the attitude that Europeans vs. Americans hold towards drinking is quite astounding. Americans take this shit seriously. Europeans don’t care. You can order a beer or wine with your Big Mac jsut like a soft drink–they don’t see a difference. Everywhere, you see people walking around the street or in shops with open bottles of beer. It is regarded the same way as any kind of non-alcoholic beverage is. Now that is interesting. But the other thing is that the greatest way to talk to people is to go out for a few drinks at night. Sometimes, the only way to meet locals is to go out to a local bar or pub with a few friends from your hostel. I may not be legal to drink in the US, but in Europe I’ve been able to drink for over a year, in some countries two or three years. There is jsut an enormous difference in the attitude. You know, seeing museum after museum, cathedral after cathedral, that is interesting, but that night in Munich when you danced a salsa with an Argentinean, drank a liter of beer and ate an enormous pretzel at the original Hofbrauhaus, and had a durum doner in the kebap shop with the Australian, that’s what gets remembered. The people are the best part of the trip, hands down. Call me an alcoholic, but so far I’ve managed to have fun without getting dangerously smashed, and I’ve learned how to drink. Haha, a lot of my friends back home are clueless about this rather important skill. The trick is to never accept shots of tequila, don’t try to keep up with the Aussies on the beer sculling front, and don’t ever drink as much as a German.