Monday, February 29, 2016

Vienna: Coffee, Cake, and High Expectations

As much as I like writing these blog posts, it’s been almost a month since I’ve gotten home and I want to be caught up and writing in real time again!

After my time in the Czech Republic I was headed off to Vienna. I had high expectations for the city because while I am part hippie I am also part wannabe European royalty and what better place to live a life of extravagance than Vienna?

The hostel I stayed at was impossible to find. I walked around for over an hour after I got off the tram. Because I was so excited for the city I didn’t let it phase me too much and also the hostel had free warm apple cider. Almost all of the hostels I stayed in were part of “famous hostels” which is a collection of smaller hostels all over the world. I highly recommend staying in one when you travel!

The "Summer Palace"
The first day I was there I had breakfast at the hostel and then spent the morning at the Schloss Schonburn, the summer palace. I opted to do the long tour with the audio guide and I absolutely loved it. I’ve been to my fair share of palaces and castles but I think this is my favorite so far. I got to see over 40 rooms on the inside which was even cooler than normal (I imagine) because I was almost always alone and when I wasn’t the other people were either cleaning or repairing things so it felt more like I was in a personal space than a museum, like I was truly getting a behind the scenes look at Viennese royalty. I did the audio guide which was very informative. The information was either on Marie Therese (mother of Maria Antoniette) or the infamous Sisi and her husband. It left me wondering when was going on during the other years! I loved walking through the grand ballroom but it was hard to stop myself from dancing around to the classical music that was playing! After my tour of the palace, I walked around the very extensive grounds, which I’m sure are even more amazing when it’s not the dead of winter. There is a glorietta on top of a hill overlooking the city and it’s pretty spectacular. I especially loved the people watching on the walk up as well as at the top. There was even a guy doing Tai Chi.

I went back to the hostel for lunch and some apple cider before taking the metro to “the ring” which is the center of Vienna where all of the main attractions are. It was super windy so I ducked into the University of Vienna (Universität Wien) and pretended I was a student there. Pro tip for traveling: universities have free bathrooms. I went to the Hofburg to see the Sisi Museum, the royal apartments, and royal silver collection as I bought a combined ticket that morning. I was finishing just as they were closing so I had the “alone in a museum” experience twice in one day.

Cafe Imperial
I walked by the Opera House and somehow got convinced that I should buy a ticket to a touristy show. After I bought it the guy who sold it to me was hitting on me, but “oh really, you look 16” just wasn’t something I wanted to hear. I went to Café Imperial, one of the famous Viennese Coffee Houses and as soon as I connected to the wifi I emailed the company and told them not to charge my card for the ticket. I still haven’t bothered to check if they did. I was really flustered at that point, but luckily the Imperial Torte that I ordered was amazing. The experience of the coffee house though, was a bit overrated. One of the problems I had constantly in Vienna was that I felt like such a fraud. I like the idea of the elegance of the city but I just could not pull it off. Later, I went back to the hostel and had drinks with one of the girls in my room. She’s from Switzerland and studies psychology too.

The next morning I went to the Spanische Hofreitschule, the Royal Spanish Riding School, to see the morning practice. The actual practice was a bit boring but the videos they showed of the performances were amazing, especially the jumps that the horses do! Of course, I’m constantly conflicted over whether or not what they do with the horses is acceptable but they seem to be treated pretty well. I went to two smaller museums, the globe museum and the Esperanto museum. Both were very informative, quirky, and cheap. I went to Café Central after which is way over hyped. I ran into the “being too deep in thought” problem but I ended up talking to one of my friends from the states for a while (thanks Noell) which helped a lot.

Royal Spanish Riding School
As I said before, I was overwhelmed with a sense of “fakeness” while I was in Vienna and not long after arriving I remembered the flier that I picked up in Cesky Krumlov for a hostel called the Tree House in the Austrian Mountains. Since I was feeling kind of disconnected I emailed the owner to ask about availability. He had space so I cut my stay in Vienna down by a night and my upcoming time in Budapest by two.

One of the things I had been most excited about in Vienna was going to the Opera. You can get standing tickets for 3 euros and there’s something playing pretty much every night so I had no excuses. I saved it for my last night. I had even told one of my history professors at US about it late last semester and after making fun of me for being so excited, he told me that I 100% had to go. You had to line up three-ish hours before, so after I was done at Café Central I walked around the shopping district for a bit and had some unexpectedly amazing pizza bagels at a cute little café before getting in line.

At the opera
The wait sucked but the opera, Fidelio, was great (yay strong female leads!)I had two really annoying girls standing next to me but they left at the first intermission. There was also “closed captioning” in both German and English which I was not at all expecting but was very thankful for! Normally I’m an avid people watcher but seeing everyone dressed up for the opera made me kind of sad, like how are you possibly so rich that you are dripping in furs (ew) and diamonds. But alas such is the life of an imposter. On the way home I got a gigantic slice of pizza off a street vender and took it back to the hostel to eat with some apple cider… that’s more my speed.

I ran into a slight problem. I was pumped about going to the Tree House but I was not pumped about paying a 100 round trip train ticket. I decided I wasn’t going to. I had heard people talking about Blah Blah Car during fall semester in Sevilla, it’s like a long distance Uber (which is basically ridesharing). I decided to give it a shot. I downloaded the app and found a student who was driving from Vienna to Linz the next day who could give me a ride.

Esperanto Museum
Since my ride wasn’t until 2pm I spent the morning roaming around the city. I walked through the amusement park that was closed for the winter (kind of sketchy but cool) and some of the neighborhoods that were further outside the city as well as some “eco-friendly” shops. I ended up in this one store where I bought a really nice, super comfy but also stylish pair of jeans. I talked to the girl who was working for almost a half hour about traveling and the living in the moment/do what makes you happy lifestyle. It was great. I stopped at a vegan restaurant for lunch and had a falafel wrap and fries. If I had more time I would have tried their ice cream! I had to hurry back to the hostel and then to the metro stop where I was meeting my ride.

My stay in Vienna was very historically oriented and interesting but I can’t say that the social aspect lived up to my inflated expectations, or maybe it was more extravagant than I expected?  That being said, I did everything that I wanted to do and enjoyed myself. I think I was also just getting tired of being in the city.

Glorietta of the Palace

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Alternative Prague: Embracing your inner hippie + Česky Krumlov

My trip to Prague was…demasiado. I had a two hour train ride from Füssen to Munich and then a six or so hour ride from Munich to Prague. Don’t get me wrong I love trains, but the problem is that when you’re alone you have a lot of time to think. The worst is when you start thinking about the future and you don’t have anything to distract you and you just plummet into a downward spiral. Needless to say, my 8 hours of sitting and thinking put me in a pretty bad mood. Aside from contemplating my future, the ride was nice…I had almost the whole car to myself and the scenery was pretty cool. Also- not very metaphorical, but don’t forget to look backwards, sometimes the view is better.

When I got to Prague it was already dark out but the hostel, The Czech Inn (lol), gave me pretty good directions so after asking for a bit of help from a redhead at the metro station I had no problem getting where I was going. I didn’t pay for any public transportation while I was in Prague and I used it a lot. I probably should have, considering how cheap it was and how hefty the fine is for getting caught (like 40 euros) but sometimes ya gotta live on the edge, right?

The Czech Inn was a great hostel. It was located in a more alternative neighborhood but it was easy to reach the city center via the tram. I heard that it wasn’t a very long walk but it was freezing while I was there so I never did it. It was really modern and clean and it had an attached bar that had breakfast (overpriced but good) and a great happy hour (less than a euro for a beer). The Czech Republic was the first country I went to that had a different currency (that’s a lie, the UK was). My tip as far as currency goes is to just take it out of the ATM and always use it. The conversions to euros are a complete rip off. For example, it was like 10 crown to go to the bathroom (27 crowns is a euro) and I didn’t want to break a 200 note so I payed in euros and it ended up costing me a full euro. I was also buying mulled wine on the street and it was about the equivalent of one euro and they tried to charge me four. I laughed, gave them a bit of change and took the wine.

Lodeh: Kokos Mléko, Galangal, Zazvor, Zelenina Tofu, Mungo Nudle, Ryze nebo Pohanka (Coconut milk soup: Coconut Milk, Galangal, Ginger, Vegetable Tofu, Mungo Noodles, rice)

Once I was all checked in to the hostel I walked around looking for a place to eat. I ended up at this Indonesian/Javanese restaurant that was AMAZING. It was called Javanka and Co. The restaurant wasn’t vegan/vegetarian but they had so many options. It was also cheap, I got a half portion of soup and it cost just over two euros. I had never had Indonesian food and it made me want to go to Southeast Asia. It was just so light and fresh! It was also good for people watching. There were a solid amount of other people eating alone as well as some very earthy-looking couples, definitely a cool neighborhood to be in. When I got back to the hostel I saw a flier for an early morning yoga class just up the road and decided that I would go. I hadn’t really thought about it before arriving but I quickly realized that Prague was the perfect place to embrace your “inner hippie”. It’s a city with a great alternative edge and I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer!

Zelený čaj, Chléb, Echte Luikse Siroop, Jablka, Banány, Hrušky (Green Tea, Toast, a Belgian Jam, Apples, Bananas, Pears)

I got up and found the yoga class which was in this cool, multi-purpose space up the road from the hostel. The teacher was actually a substitute but she did speak some English (they advertised as being English-friendly). I talked with her a bit before the class. There were two others in the class and let me tell you, it was hard. The difficulty was physical, not due to the fact that it was entirely in Czech. Besides walking, I hadn’t really done any exercise up to that point and I was very tight. As they say, it hurt so good. After class we had breakfast which was a nice surprise because the flier said tea and fruit but there was also had some toast and jam. After chatting for a bit I went back to the hostel to get ready for the walking tour. Since we were pretty far from the starting point, a bus picked us up from the hostel which was super convenient. It was absolutely freezing out, so I didn’t enjoy the tour as much as I could have. The most important thing that happened was that I met this guy from San Francisco and he told me about this language exchange that would be happening on Sunday (my last full day) at a big international bookstore. I also met some people from Poland who happened to speak Spanish, so I talked to them a bit. I’ve found that while the free walking tours are fun they’re really more for meeting people than for seeing things.

Špenátovy komínek s grilovanym kozím syrem vlsskymi orechy a gratunivanymi bramborami polnícek s bazalkovym pestem; Med zázvor čaj; Raw orechove koule s japonskym, jemne mletym cajem matcha a raw ruzovou cokoládou (Grilled goat cheese with walnuts, served on potatoes au gratin and spinach leaves, lamb’s lettuce with basil pesto…really just fancy cheese fries, am I right?; warm honey ginger tea; raw nut balls with Japanese matcha powder tea and rose chocolate)

I ate lunch at vegetarian restaurant called Lehká Hlava which translates to “clear head”. The food and the atmosphere were amazing. I spent close to two hours there and loved every second of it. I wish there were more vegetarian restaurants in Sevilla/at home! As I was leaving I talked to a guy who was also leaving and he gave me some suggestions for other veggie restaurants in Prague. I didn’t end up going to any of them but I have a list if you’re interested!

I was cold and tired after I ate so I went back to the hostel to relax. I was kind of bummed because there was this cool looking vintage concept store right next door but it was closed the whole time I was there. It was around this point that I realized that I had missed a day when I was booking my accommodation. I was due to check out of the Czech Inn (lol again) on the 11th but my train ticket to Vienna wasn’t until the 12th. I could have just booked another night in Prague, but I had wanted to take a day trip to Česky Krumlov anyway and my hostel recommended a hostel there that looked adorable and is owned by people originally from New England so I just decided to go ahead and book that. By the time I had my life all sorted out I was hungry for dinner. There was another girl just sitting in our room so I introduced myself and asked if she had plans for food yet. She, Chloe, didn’t so we went to this place down the street that she had been to a few days before.

Spinach and cheese quesadillas with a pesto basil sauce and spicy salsa. I knew I was missing Spain when I said “Spanish quesadillas” upon opening the menu and when I ordered.

As you can imagine it was nice to have someone to talk to over dinner. It did make me feel old though, she was 18 and getting ready to head off to university (in Australia, because literally everyone traveling in Europe is actually Australian). I’m used to being on the “younger” side of things, but I felt ancient! This was also the two-week mark in my trip which at the time I could not believe! It felt like I was gone for a weekend, not a month!

The next morning, with the advice of Chloe in mind, I went downstairs to the bar for an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast, journaled, and then hopped on the tram with plans of spending most of my day at Prague Castle. Prague Castle isn’t just a single building, it’s a huge complex. My favorite part was Golden Lane which was basically a reconstruction of the houses of the non-royalty who lived and worked on the castle grounds. It was really interesting and very well done. The great hall and the huge colorful books in the Old Royal Palace were pretty amazing too. Oh I also enjoyed getting screamed at by a Czech lady as I tried to sneak into the bathrooms in the castle…I was pretty angry that they were making me pay after I just bought an entrance ticket. I spent the whole morning at the castle and when I was done I went to go find the John Lennon Wall which is basically just this wall that someone pained John Lennon’s face on as a symbol of peace and freedom around the fall of communism. The original image is long painted over but it’s constantly being transformed with writing/graffiti/street art. It’s a pretty well-known thing nowadays but there are no signs/directions. I purposely didn’t look for detailed instructions online because I thought it would be cooler to “stumble upon” it.

At the John Lennon Wall
While I was looking for the wall I saw a bunch of cool other things like reproduction United States army vehicles (I was confused, I think they were movie props though) and a wishing tree. I got some mulled wine and spent some time just freezing standing by the river admiring the beauty of the city. As far as cities go architecturally and historically, I remain indifferent to Prague but based on experiences and atmosphere it’s at the top of my list. 

By mid/late afternoon I was still looking for the wall which was supposedly right by the castle. I gave up because I was cold, tired, and had to go to the bathroom but didn’t have any change on me. As I headed to the bridge to get on the tram, I walked right into the wall…I’m not even joking. I of course was thrilled that I found it but secretly happier that I just “ran into it”. It was very cool. I don’t really know how else to describe it. There was a guy with his guitar singing “Imagine”, there were little kids running up to it while their parents took pictures, a girl gave me a sharpie and told me to write something and then pass it on…it was very cool. After taking some time and taking it all in, I grabbed the tram and went back to my neighborhood. I got off a few stops early so that I could walk (I was feeling all inspired) and wound up at this cute second hand store slash café where I got a nice and warm chai tea latte. I sipped on it as I chatted (briefly) with the barista and walked through the racks of already-worn clothes. There were so many things that I wanted but since my suitcase was so small it would have been impractical to buy anything so I settled for “window shopping”. I wanted to come back the next morning for breakfast but they weren’t open on Sundays.

Raw & Vegan Cheesecake
I went to happy hour at the hostel bar with Chloe and then ended up going out with her and the other Australians and one Canadian that we met. In my head it was going to be more fun than it actually was and I, like an idiot, decided to leave my phone at the hostel (aka I didn’t have a map) because I didn’t want it to get stolen. We went to Prague Beer Museum which would have been cooler if I actually liked beer. I decided after an hour or so that I was tired and wanted to go home. The group was fiercely opposed because I was a girl in Prague, which I understood, but I was being stubborn. They gave me directions back to the tram stop and I set off. I made it back to the station (and thus the hostel) perfectly safely after stopping into one Kabab shop to ask if I was going the right way. Looking back, as much as I hate to admit it, it probably wasn’t my smartest move but I will say that I kind of felt like a badass employing my “active bitch face” and firmly “no”-ing the sketchy looking people who got a little too close.

By the next morning I was ready to go, but I still had one more full day. After breakfast I went to the monastery and library that I read about online. When I first got to the area I went to the Museum of Miniatures. It cost two euros and I thought that it would be a waste of money, especially because it was packed with a huge Asian tour when I got there, but I was pleasantly surprised…it was wicked cool! There were portraits done on poppy seeds and little metal-work figures on pieces of hair and mosquito wings. I thoroughly enjoyed the metal-work camel caravan trekking across the eye of a needle. After that I went to the library which was amazing as promised but you could only see the whole thing if you booked a tour ahead of time so I settled with what I got and went to the park to walk around. It was a pretty cold and dreary day and I was ready to leave. I walked into another vegetarian restaurant as I was leaving the park where I had a salad and some vegan cheesecake and tea. Both good, neither stellar.

I remembered the language exchange that the guy from San Francisco told me about on my first day and decided that I might as well go. I’m glad I did. It was in this international bookstore that had a huge restaurant attached. I stayed for two or three hours and there were hundreds of people by the time I left. Each table was designated a different language and people could move freely between them. I stayed exclusively at the Spanish table and met some Czech students, a guy from Cataluña and another American who was doing his entire degree in Prague. It was tons of fun and I could have stayed forever. I really liked the format, it was very casual and there was a bar and food. I think that going to something like that regularly would encourage me to work on a third language (French or honestly anything) because I could just go and sit and listen to conversations until I felt ready to speak. There were over twenty languages represented and there was a native speaker at each. I loved every second of it and wish there was something like that here in Sevilla/at SBC. One of my favorite experiences of the trip for sure.

I was going to go out to dinner with Chloe but she was going out in the center of the city and I was too tired and had to do laundry. I went out to look for the place that we had gone to together but for some reason could not find it. I ended up back at Javanka and Co and I’m really glad I did. I got a full meal as opposed to the soup that I got the first time.

Tempeh se sójovou omáčkou, bílá rýže s smaženou cibulkou a Gado salátem; zelená Indonéský palačinka (Filling, protein rich tempeh cooked with soy sauce, white rice with fried onions, and gado salad. Dessert was a “green Indonesian pancake” filled with warm coconut served with a coconut sauce-the lightest, most satisfying dessert I have ever had)

Divine. If I lived in Prague, I would live in that neighborhood and I would eat there all the time. I need to learn how to cook that kind of food! The people watching was great again, a nice mix of people eating solo and lots of impeccably dressed earthy-crunchy couples sipping on tea and eating organic, Indonesian inspired vegan desserts…what more could you want?
As I said before, while the city itself was a bit overrated in my opinion, I loved the experiences it offered which were completely different than I expected. I know my time in Prague wasn’t exactly the “typical” college backpacker experience, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing!

[Brief interlude before you continue: as I’m writing this, I’m sitting under a tree in Parque de los Príncipes, barefoot, in a tank top and capris. 20 de Febrero 2016]

Česky Krumlov

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to include my day in Česky Krumlov as part of Prague or make it its own post. Seeing as it was really only one day, I’ll tack it on the end of Prague. In the end, I’m glad I made a mistake with my booking because my time in Česky Krumlov, though short, was a great experience. It was good to get out of the city and I would have liked to stay longer or to go in the summer when they have tons of quirky little festivals like the “Five Petal Rose Renaissance Festival”. It’s not so off the beaten track, it’s well known all around for its medieval appearances and castle. My only problem, besides the fact I was there for such a short time, was that it was very hyped up so it wasn’t quite as amazing to me as it could have been. I read a good number of blogs about it before I went and so I knew what to expect which led to some heightened expectations. Nevertheless, it was a good trip. I’ve been working on striking a balance between researching a place and just showing up.

The hostel I stayed at, Krumlov House was adorable and the couple who ran it was also great. I was pleased to find a full kitchen and one cozy dormitory. I would have loved to stay longer, but that’s life. I took a “Student Agency” bus to and from Prague and I highly recommend them! It was 3 hours each way and each seat had a movie player and you got free hot chocolate/cappuccinos and you could order food as well. The actual seats weren’t as nice as the Flix Bus I took to Innsbruck but it was a great service anyway.

Since I didn’t have much time in the town I just walked around trying to get a feel for it. It’s a beautiful place, very fairytale-y. I was surprised by the amount of street art mixed in with the old-fashioned houses. One of my favorite parts of the day was going into a cheap grocery store, buying a cheap pastry, and standing by the river that circles the town and taking everything in. At this point I looked up and saw an extravagant old blue building with a for-sale sign in the window. I immediately imagined it as a ballet academy; studios with big windows, dressing rooms with velvet curtains, waiting rooms with floral wallpaper and chandeliers…I guess some dreams just never die.

My Czech "Feast"
After I finished walking around I went back to the hostel and talked to the owner a bit about running the hostel and moving here from the US. She recommended I go to a restaurant called “Two Marys” over the vegetarian one to get a feel for “authentic Czech food”. I did, though I’m not entirely sure it was the right choice.
Staročeská vegetariánská hostina: kuba, pohanka, jáhelník, placka, knedlík, brambor, salát; Jihočeská medovina; Český koláč (Old Bohemian Vegetarian Feast: puffed barley, buckwheat, millet, potato cake, dumpling, potatoe, salad; South Bohemian Mead; Apple Strudel)

It was an authentic medieval restaurant. The atmosphere, after an arguing mother and daughter left, was really cool and I could imagine what it would have been like back then. I would not have wanted to live in that time period pero bueno. I went back to the hostel after and went to bed because I had to be up early the next day. PS Mom and Dad-this is when I wrote you those postcards.

The next morning I caught the bus to Prague after having to wait in the rain. There was also this kind of sketchy guy there and someone else most have thought he was strange too because the police came and talked to him. The bus ride back was uneventful, I didn’t watch any movies but I did spend time looking through the various hostel fliers I picked up mostly for Bratislava but also one for a place in Austria called “The Tree House”.

My unplanned stop went wonderfully and left me wanting a bit more spontaneity in my life.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Füssen: Land o' fairy tales

Ahh Füssen, I spent two glorious nights in this Little German town, though it’s often done as a day trip from Munich. I’m glad I stayed for so long, but it’s definitely doable in a day if you catch an early train there and a late train back. The reason most people make the trip out is not for the Alpine village but rather for the world famous “Disney Castle”, Neuschwanstein. This was exactly the reason for my trip but I discovered that there’s more to see than the castles! 
I got the 10 o’clock (or so) train from Munich and it only took two-ish hours to get there. Make sure you pay attention to the views on both sides of the train, the scenery is spectacular especially as you go further and further south. My original plan had been to keep my suitcase and backpack in left luggage at the train station because I couldn’t check into my hotel until later in the day. Unfortunately, the train station was under construction and so at the moment it didn’t actually exist. I went to my hotel to see if I could store my bags until check in, which I could. You might be a bit confused because I keep saying hotel and not hostel. Well I splurged and decided to treat myself for this part of the trip. It work out nicely because the hostel was adorable, pretty cheap especially considering how nice it was, and you could choose a single room. It was called Hotel Fantasia and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling there. I payed about 120 euros for two nights and I also got a complementary Fussen card (for discounts), my laundry done for free, and some yummy cappuccinos.
As I was dropping off my bags I met these two girls from China who were studying in the UK. We went back to the train/bus station to catch the bus to Hohenschwangau which is the town where the castles are. It was only a 10-15 minute bus ride. It was pretty late in the day by the time I got there and since everything was running on winter time I only bought tickets to see the famous “Disney castle”. Ludwig II, the king who built it lived in the nearby Schloss Hohenschwangau. I knew I wouldn’t have time to really enjoy both to I just settled for looking at it on my climb up to the other castle. I was surprised how busy it was even on a cold day in the off season. I waited over an hour just to get my tickets. I was also surprised how “cheap” they were because Bavaria (Southern Germany) is pretty expensive in general. It was 11 euros for the tour, and free to walk around the grounds…I’m still reeling from the 16,5 euro tour of the Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal! Entrance is only available by guided tour and I had about two hours until mine started. I grabbed a soft pretzel and some coffee and walked around the village of Hohenschwangau for a bit. My favorite part had to be the lake Alpsee and the beautiful mountains in the background. I’m pretty sure I took as many pictures of the mountains as of the castles. I met a Spanish family (they. are. every. where.) and asked them to take a picture for me. After a couple of normal ones they had me doing all these random poses, because “no one wants boring pictures!”
All of the paperwork on Neuschwanstein says that it’s a 40 minute hike up to the castle so I gave myself plenty of time. I don’t know if it was all my youthful energy combined with my love of all things Disney, especially the princesses, or what but it only took me twenty minutes to get to the top and I stopped 4 or 5 times along the way to take pictures. It was solidly uphill, but not as rigorous as I had been expecting. I had a ton of time before my tour started so I got to do some exploring. At first I was bummed that “Mary’s Bridge”, which is a view of the castle from a height, was closed but when I went to check it out anyway I found that people were climbing up a look-out type hill. The fences seemed to be placed knowing that tourists would simply climb over them so it wasn’t too hard to get up. The side of the hill you had to climb was super muddy and slippery but the view was more than worth it. The castle is not only surrounded by mountains but built on the side of a gorge so standing on this particular look out point led to an amazing, undisturbed view of the castle and a heart stopping drop just inches in front of you.

As I was waiting for my tour to start, I wandered around the courtyard of the castle and it started to snow…talk about magical!! The tour was very short, as the castle was never finished and there isn’t very much to see. That being said, it was 100% worth it. It’s true that the exterior of the castle is pretty amazing but you honestly can’t appreciate the level of extravagance that this man had until you go inside. It was spectacular. The art was amazing and there was even a grotto and a winter greenhouse. Not to mention the views. I would have built that castle just for the views. Ludwig may have been living in a fantasy world but he knew what he was doing…
After heading back down the mountain I caught a bus back into town and took it easy the rest of the night, going to the grocery store and making dinner before going to bed. The next day I was supposed to go paragliding but I got an email that morning saying that due to weather conditions I wouldn’t be able to. I was bummed to say the least. I thought about making some other plans but in the end I spent the morning walking around town before giving myself the afternoon off. Füssen is your classic, fairytale German town. I thought it was adorable and filled my morning with a paseo through a park and old fortress, a few churches, a cemetery, and down the little town streets. Most things were closed because it was the Epiphany/Three Kings Day. After lunch and a nap I decided to go to the movies. There was a cute theater in town that was showing the new Heidi movie. In case you’re wondering, I did see it in German. It really wasn’t a problem that it wasn’t in English because I know the story of Heidi pretty well. Did I miss some things? Probably. It also gave me a chance to appreciate how beautiful German is in place of its usual characterization as a hard and angry language. I enjoyed the movie with a kinder sized version of what I think was caramel-corn.

Though I wasn’t super hungry after the movie, it was dinner time so I went to look for somewhere to eat. I stopped at a few places before finally deciding on a traditional Bavarian restaurant called Madame Plüsch. I highly recommend it! My server spoke English and was very nice, even after I managed to know over the three glasses on the table (water, wine, more wine). In reality it wasn’t my fault, the menu that was standing up fell over at the perfect angle. It was like the domino effect. For dinner I got a salad and Allgäuer Käsespätzle which is homemade noodles and cheese with fried onions on top. I got the half portion and I’m glad I did, I was super full but ate it all anyway because it was SO GOOD. For dessert I got a fancy ice cream sundae that came with shaved almonds and hot raspberries/jam. The atmosphere was great: classical music (including Waltz of the Flowers…I was practically dancing in my seat), people watching, snow falling outside. Maybe it was the wine, but that was definitely one of my favorite “eating alone” experiences. Speaking of eating alone, I’m getting much better at it. It’s harder here because there usually isn’t wifi in nicer restaurants but at the same time it’s easier because I can drink wine. After I finished my meal, and let it digest a bit, I took the long way home to enjoy the snow and one last glimpse of fairytale Bavaria. The next day I had to be up bright and early for a long day of travel to Prague.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Munich and Innsbruck

2 January 2016
In the air. Worst takeoff I’ve ever experienced. I’ll blast my music and try to enjoy the rest of the flight.

Milchkaffee from the market in Munich and some planning
I don’t want to ruin the surprise but I really did not like Munich. There wasn’t much to see or do, the weather was awful, the food was awful, the hostel was awful. I’ve heard it’s great during Oktoberfest but in was pretty terrible. I was also in a bit of a slump, I had just spent a week with my friends and now I was alone…and had three whole weeks to go. I didn’t realize that being alone would hit me so hard, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was running on no sleep. I mean maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought, when I got there I was sleep deprived and it was cold but there were some good parts like the Viktualienmarkt and the view of the city from the church tower and the Spanish tour I went on. I don’t want to bore you with the all details. I’ll skip to my second to last night at the hostel.
 I had just cooked some pasta in the electric kettle that I borrowed from reception and was journaling when two American girls came in. The room had been empty all day so I was expecting someone to come in and I was SO EXCITED to meet some Americans, I think I met like 4 in the whole month I was traveling. A few minutes prior to them coming in I had been looking at bus tickets because I didn’t want to spend a whole other day in Munich but I had already paid for the hostel and had my train tickets to Füssen and Prague. I saw that tickets to Innsbruck, Austria were cheap and impulsively told them that’s where I was going the next day when they asked what my plans were. They had been in the city for a few days already and felt the same way I did, it was settled… we were off to Austria in the morning.

We got up and headed to the bus station for something like 7 o’clock. The tickets were 8 euros online but they ended up costing 18 on the bus which isn’t terrible but I guess spontaneity isn’t free. The bus was with Flix Bus and it was really nice! It was a double decker with lots of leg room and Wifi. The ride was three-ish hours but it was beautiful. I really came to appreciate traveling by bus on this trip. We got to see the sun rising over my first glimpse of the Alps-my new favorite mountain range. We stopped at a ski resort on top of a mountain and it was a complete white out, luckily it cleared up beautifully by the time we got to Innsbruck. The whole way there all I could think about was how the little towns we were passing through were what I really wanted to see, not the big cities. Though I’ve learned it’s not true I always have the saying “big cities are all the same, it’s the towns that show you life” floating around in my head.

When we got to Innsbruck we stopped at a café called “Baguette” for breakfast. I only got a verlängerter because I packed a bread and jam sandwich. We got our lives together and ordered our return tickets before we set out. If you asked me to describe my experience there in one word it would be “mountains”. The whole day I had the TAW creed going through my head “the inspiration of the towering mountains...” We walked through the old town and fawned over the coo-coo clocks and big knitted sweaters and took in the sights and smells of the Christmas markets and then we went across an amazingly blue river to a neighborhood called Sankt Nikolaus. It felt more like we were in Scandinavia than half way to Italy (Innsbruck is the midpoint between Munich and northern Italy). The weather was beautiful, sunny not warm, in the morning but by afternoon it started to rain. We went inside again to thaw out. In the café an older guy who was mentally disabled started to talk to us when he heard the two girls I was with say they were from California. His brother has apparently been living in LA for thirty years. I’ll be honest, it was kind of heartbreaking because it sounded like he hadn’t heard from him since. A bit later we headed out to look around the Olympic facilities. We couldn’t see much but it was cool to be in a place that held the Olympics because I’m slightly obsessed. I’m not sure why but I just didn’t make it to any of the facilities in London or Munich. At the Christmas Market I bought a pretzel and some mulled wine along with a mug to put it in. Both were amazing. We were pretty tired at the end of the day so we tried to change our tickets to the 5:30 bus but the drivers were being really difficult so we spent two hours sitting at Baguette and then Burger King (Baguette closed at 6:30) waiting for the 7:30. The bus ride home was so warm which was wonderful after a very, very cold and wet day. My only complaint is that I was surrounded by couples who saw nothing wrong with three obnoxious hours of PDA.

All in all I am so glad I went to Innsbruck and I’m glad I had two new friends to go with. We got along really well and it was cool to hear about life in California, sometimes it seems as different from home as Spain. It was also nice that we had the same sort of thoughts on traveling, that going out is great but if you are going to party every night and sleep all day, why don’t you just stay home? Aka our entire hostel room.

The next morning I got up early, checked out (best moment ever…I really did not like that hostel) and headed down to the train station. I had two nights booked in Füssen, Germany, the land of fairy tales which I’ll save that for another post because I have a lot to say about that!


31 December 2016
Last day of one of, if not the, best years of my life! So yesterday after I got off the train, I followed Laura’s instructions and got on the Underground and managed it all by myself! After I got off at Waterloo I had a bit of trouble finding the aquarium [where I was meeting Charlotte, the person I was staying with] but walked right out to the London Eye with Big Ben in the background, wow. While I was waiting I got to take in the London Skyline and had a nice conversation with the doorman of the aquarium. When Charlotte was finished, we headed to her place on the tube. She lives pretty far outside the city so it took a while. We stopped at a fish and chips place on the way home and I got a spring roll (ehh…) and chips (yummy!). It was raining so the walk home was rough but it made for perfect movie watching weather. We watched “Bridget Jones’ Diary”, the quintessential British movie. We had some tea and tea cookies as well. Charlotte is such a sweetheart and the whole day felt really British. I loved it! 

On the morning of the 31st, I had the whole morning to explore before I met up with Kasia, another one of my friends from camp. Let me tell you: London on New Year’s Eve, even early in the morning, is absolutely INSANE. There were so many people, and they were ev-er-y-where. I was really overwhelmed at first because on top of that, the city is huge and there’s just so much to see. My original plan for the morning was to see Big Ben and Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the changing of the guard at Buckingham, and the Royal Opera House. I didn’t realize that fitting all that in simply wasn’t possible. I ended up walking by the first three buildings without stopping because of the crazy crowds. I got to the palace about a half hour before the changing of the guard and realized that there was no way I’d be able to see anything, but I waited anyway. When it finally began I was 
disappointed that 1. I still couldn’t see anything and 2. The guards were all dressed in their winter (i.e. not red) uniforms. At one point, another girl and I climbed up onto this concrete wall thing to get a better look, which only lasted for a minute before everyone else followed us and then the police yelled at us to get down. After a while I gave up and went to go walk around more. In the area I was in there weren’t many things to see. Well let me explain: there were the “big” attractions and then a bunch of business buildings and stores. I felt like I needed to be at Buckingham or whichever big attraction and not in between them. Maybe this isn’t the truth about the area, but it is certainly how I felt. I walked around a bit and went into Westminster Cathedral before heading back to the palace. When I got there the crowds were cleared and I got to go up to the gate and take a look for myself. Looking back and comparing it to all the other castles/palaces I’ve been to, Buckingham leaves a lot to be desired. I walked through the park perpendicular to the palace with the intention of going to the Royal Opera House before meeting up with Kasia but I’m glad I didn’t.
Once I made my way back to the London Eye, our meeting point, I realized that we should have been more specific about where we were going to meet. We must have spent a half hour looking for each other because the crowds were so crazy. Maybe it’s because I’m a small town girl, but I am still amazed by the sheer amount of people that were there that day!
As with Laura, I was super excited to see Kasia, she was the fourth person I had seen in as many months that I knew from “home”. She loves traveling like me and has a super cool new website Vivant Images that you should totally check out! Anyway, after our reunion we walked down along the South Bank, past some Christmas markets and The Globe. We went out halfway across the “Harry Potter” bridge and then all the way across the Tower Bridge. Most places were closed because the city was setting up for the NYE fireworks but we did find a pop-up bagel shop to stop at for lunch. I had a sesame bagel with mozzarella, greens, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto and a flat white which is supposedly the equivalent of a café con leche, but it was nowhere near as good.
Tower of London
Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling alone, but it’s so nice to have someone who knows where they’re going. Some places are great for getting lost in tiny winding streets, but others, not so much. Kasia was a fantastic guide because not only did she know where she was going but she is also kind of a history buff so I got tons of historical context with my tour. It was so cool seeing things that I learned about in my Modern European History class this fall, though it was a bit confusing at first because I forgot that names of people and places are not the same in English and Spanish. I think that the Tower of London was my favorite even though it was extremely eerie. Even after being in Europe for five months, I am constantly amazed by the amount of history here! It’s crazy to think about the buildings (and ruins) that have been here for hundreds of years!

Camp Reunion!
After our mini-tour we headed to Kasia’s apartment and I met her mom who literally is the sweetest/cutest person ever. I didn’t realized how Polish Kasia is, she’s bilingual and it was really cool listening to her and her mom talk to each other. We had some “milk tea” while her mom cooked us dinner and then some lemon tea with dinner (because Poland, also I drank so much tea that weekend and it was great) which was cheese and potato perogies, a fruit platter, and a couple shots of Polish vodka (with her mom!). We all talked for a bit, mostly about traveling and how parents, understandably, have mixed feelings about their kids traveling. Kasia and I are in the same boat in that we are both very restless and don’t like to sit still. She’s going to Australia in September for a couple years with Charlotte and I think that’s amazing…I want to join them!

NYE on the tube
After we were done eating and chatting we headed back over to Charlotte’s house to get ready to go out. Getting ready, per usual, was one of the best parts of the night-we drank, ate chocolate, talked about traveling, and listened to music. Once we decided that we should probably get going so we didn’t miss midnight, we headed to the underground. Since Charlotte lives so far out the tube was pretty much empty when we got on. Kasia and I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to run up and down the car dancing around and swinging on the poles. When a group of people finally got on, the made fun of us for a bit but soon joined in and there was lots of laughing and photo session. When we got off the tube, we had about an hour until midnight, so of course we dramatically ran through the streets of London to the bar we were going to like we had someone important waiting for us there. The bar was owned by a friend of a friend of Kasia and NYE was their opening party. Honestly, none of us were very impressed by it. We stayed until midnight and attempted, with Kasia’s Spanish friend, to eat the traditional 12 grapes on the each strike of the clock…it didn’t work out very well. We left shortly after that and when we decided that we weren’t about to pay 20 pounds to get into a club or party we went and got some pizza and “garlic knots”. The tube ride back was fun because Kasia and I spent the entire trip singing, or attempting to sing, the songs we learned at camp this summer. I’m sure our audience loved us. I was honestly impressed with how much we remembered. Also shout out to Charlotte for being such a trooper. When we got back to the house we stayed up trying to remember how one song in particular started, even resorting to Google and Youtube but to no avail. After we gave up I went to shower and by some magical force remembered that the “river song” started “I went down to the river, brought me a sandwich”…

The next morning Kasia and I took our sweet time getting up and ready. We packed up and went back to her apartment for some tea and to buy my coach ticket to the airport. We left her house around 2 and walked around Camden Town, which is where she lives. It’s a really cool part of London and I know that I wouldn’t have made it there if I was traveling on my own. It’s super hipster and trendy but it attracts a lot of tourist these days. I wonder how much the internet affects growing tourism in the “hidden gems” of the world and how much is just “natural”. There were tons of cool shops and street art. I was really surprised by the amount of canals; I don’t think canals when I think London. We ended up having lunch at this cute place called Café Loren. We got sandwiches but they had this really cool sounding Middle Eastern dish that I want to try when I go back. After that I took my first double-decker bus and we did some more exploring. We went to this really cool/colorful/artsy/earthy area before we made our way to Covent Garden. I absolutely loved the Opera House, but I had no idea how expansive Covent Garden is. I could have spent all afternoon there at the cafes, listening to music, looking at art…it was beautiful. After that we went to Chinatown, which I was told has terrible Chinese food but very good secret bars, and Picadilly Circus. They were cool, but too many people for me. We also went into Hamley's which is the biggest toy store in Europe, but apart from the high quality stuffed animals, I was not super impressed. For dinner we want to Wagamama, a Japanese restaurant. I got a rice bowl with veggies and tofu and it was divine. I was pretty impressed with myself for using chopsticks instead of a fork. The meal came with green tea instead of water which I think is good because when you mix the strongly flavored food with the almost harsh taste of water it is not good. I was SO full after. As we started making our way back to Camden we stopped in the National Portrait Gallery which was super cool, especially this one painting that looks very distorted when viewed from the front but normal when viewed from an angle. It was painted for a child in the royal family. We walked past a bunch of really pretty/cute/expensive houses and then Kasia took me up Primrose Hill. It was a bit of a climb but she had me close my eyes on the way up so she could surprise me with the view. It was amazing. Breathtaking. Indescribable. It was the perfect panorama of the London skyline in all its sparkling glory. I of course attempted to take a picture, which turned out terribly so I just took it in and I hope that my memory doesn’t ever fail me! Kasia told me that one time she and her friends took a picnic up to watch the sunset and then ended up staying there until sunrise. I’m sure many a proposal happened there. On the way back to her house we walked by a bunch of cute shops that were all lit up with Christmas lights. I imagine that’s what a little English town would look like.

Just as a side note: I think this year I’ve really come to appreciate Christmas as a season that extends past the 25th, I was still feeling very Christmasy then, and normally I’m done by the morning of the 26th or even the night of the 25th. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a “definitive” Christmas moment this year? I don’t know but I could really get behind the whole “Christmas is good family, friends, and food” thing.

Anyway, back at Kasia’s we watched “The Holiday”, which is now one of my favorite movies and had tea and snacks, including chocolate covered plums. I had to catch a bus to Victoria Station around 11:30 and then a bus to Gatwick at 12:30. My flight to Munich was at 6am but the 12:30 was the last bus that night. Though it didn’t rank high on my list before I got there, I absolutely loved my time in London and did not want to leave. That was the first time I regretted planning ahead so much, I could have spent my entire break there. In retrospect, I’m glad I did move on though because there were many more adventures to be had!