Saturday, March 26, 2016

Friends, Faro and Granada

 My first non-program trip of the semester was to Faro, Portugal with Caroline the last weekend in February. Monday was a fiesta so we didn’t have class. I was excited to spend a long weekend at the beach. Unfortunately the weather didn’t quite cooperate and I ended up wearing a coat everyday but it was a good time nevertheless. This was also an exciting weekend because on Saturday night my friend-from-home Lily, who’s currently studying in Paris, met us in Portugal and then spent the week with me in Sevilla!
Faro, Portugal
We took the bus from Sevilla to Faro and it was nice and easy, only two hours. We got to our hostel no problem and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. This was Caroline’s first non-program trip ever so I was excited to show her the ropes so to speak. Faro is a pretty small town and it’s definitely a summer town. There wasn’t too much to do but we met this kid named Miles who was staying in our room that night (it was just the three of us) and decided to spend the evening with him. We went to a chapel of bones which was SO creepy. I don’t know man, I did not like the feeling of being surrounded by bones and having a bunch of skulls staring at me! While we were walking around we found a vihno biblioteca (wine library) that was having happy hour, only 1,5€ for a glass of wine. It was super cozy and we spent forever there and bless Miles for being genuinely interested in hearing about Sweet Briar. If you get two SBC girls together, especially with wine, you’re going to hear all about the time that it almost closed…even if all the people in question were there. After we had our wine we went out to an Italian place and then to this upscale bar that Caroline found online. They had a super snazzy music video advertisement so we obviously had to go. We ordered our ridiculously priced drinks; mine was a warm berry butter something or other drink. Amazing. It was cold and rainy but luckily they were well prepared and had blankets to keep us warm! Also, don’t let them know but I stole the cup (it was a nice ceramic one).
Deserted Island, Faro
Interesting note: when we were walking from the restaurant to the bar I experienced probably the most blatant example of gender conditioning ever. Miles was joking/playing around on one of the weird playground things on the edge of a parking lot. Caroline and I noticed that a car had driven by us several times, rather slowly before speeding around the parking lot. Then they stopped and two men got out of the car…though they were pretty far away from us. We told Miles that it was time to go and we power walked to the bar and the two men followed us the entire time, stopping only when we went and sat at the bar. We asked Miles what he thought about them and he hadn’t even noticed them and had been wondering why we wanted to leave to abruptly. Maybe we were imagining things but the fact that we both thought the same thing without even speaking to each other while he didn’t notice anything speaks volumes about gender conditioning.
Saturday was pretty relaxed, Caroline and I walked around the town until Lily got there it the evening. It was a bit sad because so many of the buildings were basically falling apart. A sad sort of beautiful. That night we had dinner at the hostel. They were having a special 5 course meal. It was amazing, but very filling!
Carrot cream soup, avocado and tomato, creamy spinach and mushrooms and peanut chutney, a grilled pepper stuffed with cheese and cous-cous, mango mousse. Obviously with Sangria.
Sacramonte, Granada
I met this Danish couple at dinner that was cycling through Portugal. They have a son who is living/working/volunteering in India and a daughter who is going to Colombia University for their journalism graduate program. After we ate we played a bit of “drinking Jenga” with some of the people at the hostel and then we headed out to a bar that Caroline had found online. There was a band that was going to be playing called “Six Irishmen and a Fiddle”. They weren’t particularly good but it was fun to sit in a nice bar and order fancy drinks (Sex on the Beach and Strawberry Daiquiris, can you tell we were wishing for warmer weather?)
Our game plan for Sunday was to go to this desert island. We headed down to the dock bright and early in our shorts praying that it would warm up. The island was about a 35 minute ferry ride away and was really cool. There’s nothing on it besides one restaurant and a couple of storage shacks. During the high season they only take 400 people out a day but there were way less when we went! We had a bunch of fun walking around the island, laying in the sun, and dancing around in the waves. Oh and I also made Caroline and Lily join my mini beach cleanup…there was an awful lot of trash for an uninhabited island. After a full day at the beach we went out for Mexican food complete with margaritas.
Sacramonte, Granada
We headed back to Sevilla on Monday. Lily spent the week with me and my host family My host mom is an angel, apparently a lot of people charge if their students have someone over but it wasn’t a huge deal because I have an extra bed in my room this semester and we didn’t really eat en casa. I had class all week so I didn’t get to spend much time doing touristy things like I did when the family was here but since I didn’t have anything to do on Friday we spent the morning at a café and paseando por la ciudad. We got French fries from this place I’ve been dying to try and then got bocadillos and spent the afternoon at the park by the river just like I did when my family was here. It was great.

The next day was my program trip to Granada. I went last semester so just like with Madrid I kind of got to do my own thing. Lily and I spend the afternoon eating on an outdoor staircase in the sun trying to see how much we could remember about the people we went to high school with. It wasn’t that long ago but you forget a lot and fast! 
Sacramonte, Granada
The next day, while everyone else was at the Alhambra I decided that I was going to check out Sacramonte which is a neighborhood of Granada famous for its caves. The gypsies traditionally lived there but now they are home to professional squatters, the poorer population, and the hippie type. It was really cool to walk through the area but at the same time it felt like I was intruding on their lives. It’s a part of the city I had heard about but had never been to. I was surprised by how expansive the area was and also the diversity. Some houses looked normal; they were built into the caves but had entrances that looked like normal houses while others were literally just the cave with maybe a blanket hanging over the front. The normal looking ones were really nice and I could totally see myself living in one but the others were just really dirty. You could tell that the tourists normally walked around the nicer area, there were bars and locals out playing their guitars and kids outside. The other area was very hard to navigate and you could tell the only people there were those who lived there and the slightly more adventurous tourists. I really do like Granada, especially the juxtaposing landscapes...palm trees and snow capped mountains! As usually though I was happy to get home to Sevilla <3

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Family is Coming! The Family is Coming! (Well, they already came)

Okay people, here’s the deal: I’m about to leave for almost a week in Paris, followed by Semana Santa, a bunch of trips, Feria, and then more trips. Then ya está. That’s it. I don’t want to behind on blogging anymore so the three biggest things that have happened in the last month are going to get done rapid fire (I hope). They are being written now and that’s that.

As you probably know, or maybe not, my family came to visit me here in Sevilla almost a month ago. It was super exciting especially because I had been bugging them about it since before I even got here. There were some points when I was sure that they weren’t actually going to come but luckily everything worked out and they did! Per usual, the lead up was one of the most exciting parts of the visit. For several weeks before I would walk to tutoring from the university a different way than usual and go right by the place they would be staying. I imagined all of the things I would tell them about as we walked down the main drag of the city for the first time. I imagined us basking in the sunny Sevillan weather all week taking in the sights that I’ve had the opportunity to walk by every day. Spoiler alert: the weather was kind of crappy.

I picked them up at the airport and they were (obviously) super tired. We hopped on the bus to the center of the city and I brought them to their home for the week. I felt bad that the weather wasn’t great, but we still sat on the rooftop terrace eating the pastries and drinking the OJ I bought the day before.

Over the course of the week that they were here we got to pretty much every tourist spot as well as some of my favorite non-touristy places. We did a lot of wandering down random streets which is one of my favorite hobbies. I have a pretty good command of the city and even if I don’t know exactly where we are I know which general direction to walk in. That means we can get lost enough to find hidden bars in hidden plazas but not so lost that they ever had to worry about not being able to get back. The kids (aka my sisters) weren’t as into the historical things but I had a great time giving my mom and dad a tour of the Alcázar. We also spent a lot of time shopping and Hannah even got her prom dress.

One of the things I loved was eating out. Since I live with my host family I usually eat en casa but while the fam was here I got to enjoy a lot of different restaurants. We usually had tapas for dinner which was great. A plus side to going out with a group is that you can get a bunch of tapas and share. That’s a lot harder when you go out alone or with only one other person. I think the US really needs to embrace tapa culture. Easting a little bit of a lot of things is definitely the way to go. Oh, and red wine should be required! I did have a bit of a problem trying to translate the different types of meat for my family; I obviously never order meat so I just kind of ignore that part of the menu! My favorite dinner was at a restaurant we went to in Alameda. I got an apple and nut salad instead of tapas but I kept with the Spanish thing by getting us a jar (10 or so servings) of sangria for the table. I also introduced the family to picos, which are mini, hard breadsticks. It rained a bit but luckily they put up an umbrella for us (we were eating outside as that’s the norm here). We had lots of fun telling stories and joking around…maybe it was the sangria but it was the best time.
I’m used to lunch being my biggest meal but since the family wasn’t going to completely adjust to Spanish time in just a week, we usually had smaller lunches. On their last day here we went to a cute little tienda on a side street by the apartment and I ordered bocadillos for me and my parents and muffins for my sisters. We bought a bunch of snacks and headed down to the river to enjoy the sun (it finally came out on the last day). We spent hours sitting and doing nothing. It was great.
Since I’m going backwards, let’s talk about breakfast. My youngest sister, Emily is obsessed with croissants. She’s into everything French and has always loved them but let’s be honest, they’re on a whole different level here. I even got her to order and ask for the check in Spanish which was exciting. My dad did too sometimes. The typical Andalucían breakfast is a tostada with something on it (it varies depending on the person) and a café (solo or con leche). My parents aren’t big breakfast eaters so they usually just enjoyed their cafes but Hannah understands and appreciates the amazingness of bread. Breakfast is my favorite meal/time of day and I took the family to three of my favorite cafes while they were here. The swanky La Baronesa, my go-to blogging spot Café de Indias and the home of my favorite coffee Christina & Co.
Last bit on food. They were here over Saint Valentine’s Day and I gifted my parents a dinner at the Río Grande, a restaurant that overlooks the Guadalquivir and I took my sister out to the new Italian place on Calle Betis with Caroline. Oh, and of course we got churros con chocolate at the churro stand at the end of Puente de Triana!
It was great to have the family here but I was super tired by the time they left…it’s hard being a tour guide and still going to class! It was fun to show off use my Spanish skills, one time we went into this store that sold antique tiles and I talked to the owner for a while and he told me all about the history behind them and how to tell the old ones from the newer ones. It was a bit frustrating though because there were certain people who would insist on talking to me in English even if I stated the conversation in and exclusively used Spanish. It may have happened more because my family was there but it’s something I constantly have to deal with.

I wish I had time to take them on a day trip or something, but then again Sevilla has so much to offer! I’m also hoping that now that they’ve seen the city they’ll be more understanding if I decide to move here full time J

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Una Semana Sevillana

My blog posts have been almost exclusively travel based lately. I don’t want you to think that travelling is all that I do, I’m still a student who has to do student-y things! I thought it would be fun to show you what a typical week for me looks like. I will note, this is pretty different from last semester, mostly due to my class schedule.

Con Ester
All of my mornings pretty much start off the same. My alarm goes off a bunch of times between 7:30 and 8, when I actually get up varies (today I didn’t get out of bed until 8:15). I leave the house by 8:30 to walk to the university. If I’m feeling particularly motivated I’ll eat breakfast at home before I leave but the kitchen is small and everyone is trying to leave around the same time so it’s usually not worth the hassle. I have my Contemporary History (French Revolution to WWI) class from 9-10. It’s a regular class with normal Spanish university students so it’s a bit difficult to follow at times. The professor usually gets there around 9:08am. After that I have an hour break during which I either eat at the university cafeteria and journal (Monday, Wednesday) or go out for breakfast at 100 Montaditos with Alejandra (Tuesday, Thursday). My class at 11 is another “regular” class called Modern “American” History (16th Century, give or take). My professor shows up between 10 and 15 minutes late and spends a solid 10 minutes getting ready before she actually starts lecturing. I’ve gotten to know another American student from Mount Holyoke very well thanks to all the waiting around we do. It’s actually pretty frustrating, waiting 20-30 minutes for only 30-40 minutes of lecturing.

On Mondays and Wednesdays I usually head to the gym when I get out of class at noon (unless I’m really tired like today, then I’ll go in the evening), go home and shower, grab my bocadillo, and head to the Parque de Maria Luisa to eat before I have class from 3 to 5. That class is a "curso concertado" which means it has a Spanish professor and all American students. It means an interesting topic but a boring class. My issue is that these classes are too easy but the regular ones are too hard! Well...harder than I want them to be. My Monday/Wednesday class and called "Anthropology of Latin America". Since I'm super interested in that part of the world it isn't as painful as some of my classes last semester which is good. On Monday “afternoons” I tutor from 6-8:30/9 and on Wednesdays from 6-7. Since I finish early on Wednesdays I either stop for a glass of wine on the way home or go to the gym if I didn’t earlier in the day.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I hang out at the university or the public library until my class at one, Slavery in Latin America which is also a curso concertado and when that ends at 3 I power walk home for lunch with the family. I love having lunch at home and miss eating it there every day, but I’m glad that I don’t have any afternoon classes this semester! I try and go to the gym after lunch, but I’ve been really tired lately so it hasn’t been happening. I’ll spend my afternoon lying in bed with Netflix, reading at the park, or paseando con amigos.

We eat dinner around 10, it’s much smaller than the other meals which works out because I don’t like going to bed too full. A lot of days I’ll just have a yogurt and fruit, Sundays and Wednesdays are usually an exceptions (we have tortilla española and croquetas). I’m pretty tired by this point so I go back to my room after we eat (unless the family is watching something interesting on TV) and play around on my computer/phone, skype, or read a bit before I go to bed.

In 1992
Weekends vary. If I’m traveling, I’m obviously traveling, but if I stay in Seville I usually spend the morning at a café and then make plans for after lunch with friends or occasionally plans to salir por la noche. On Fridays I also like to go to Zumba at the gym in the morning. This weekend I stayed in Sevilla. On Friday, I ate breakfast at home, went to the gym and spent the rest of the morning at a café with a strawberry milkshake. After lunch/siesta I went to walk around el centro with Caroline. I got home around 9 and then got ready and went out to my friend Ester’s flat for pizza and wine with her boyfriend and his friend. On Saturday, I spent the morning in a café working on a trabajo for one of my classes and got home just before lunch. Caroline and I met that night around 8 and stopped at a bar for some wine before heading out for dinner. The bar was having a special on a Sevillan made wine, it was fantastic. We ate at this cute burger place that I walk by all the time on my way home from tutoring. They had a huge selection of veggie burgers and I’ve been dying to try them. I got one made of seitan and it was pretty amazing. We hashed out a plan for all the things we wanted to do working in Admission next year when we get back to SBC and then stopped at McDonald’s for some McFlurries (they don’t seem to have shamrock hakes here L)

I had been planning to go to the Sevillanas dance class that I go to on Sunday mornings when I’m in the city but it’s inconveniently at noon and I had a lot of work to do so I sat myself down at Café de Indias again and worked on my papers until lunch time. After lunch I decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and pasear por Triana and La Cartuja. Triana is my favorite neighborhood and is definitely where I would live if I lived on my own in Sevilla. It used to be its own city and was also a barrio de navegantes in the era of “discoveries” when all of the ships headed to the new world left from Sevilla. It’s also famous for its ceramics and I finally bought a coffee mug to bring back home. It was hand made in Triana! La Cartuja is past Triana and is home to an old monastery/contemporary art museum. It was closed because it was a Sunday but I walked through the park anyway. I’m not sure if I was supposed to because all the gates were locked but there was this one spot where one of the poles in the fence was missing so I could walk right through. There was a bunch of other people there sunbathing and picnicking. Past the monastery is the old site of the 1992 Expo. I had heard a lot about how amazing it was but was sad to find the area desolate and run-down. The city really prospered and gained recognition during the Expo but they don’t seem to utilize that area anymore. The gardens were fun to walk through though, lots of flowers.
That night I came home to our typical Sunday night dinner of tortilla española. Normally we have soup with it but this week we (well I, the kids were tired and went to be early) had tomatoes soaked in olive oil instead, which I much prefer. After dinner I went to bed and got ready to do it all over again!

I’ve come to love my schedule this semester though sometimes I feel like I have too much to do and sometimes I’m too tired to do anything. It’s also frustrating that I only have two months left to enjoy it. I was making my class schedule for fall semester at Sweet Briar and tried to make it so that I could conserve little bits of my schedule here. I think it will be interesting to see what things I hold onto and what things I’ll go back to doing the “American way”. 

Madrid and Segovia

Roman Aqueduct 
It’s about 5am and I can’t sleep, I don’t particularly feel like studying for the midterm I have today, and it’s too early to take a shower. So I’ll blog. I’m finally moving onto the start of the semester! As a general update I only have a little over two months left here in Seville and while it’ll be exciting to see everyone, I’m not ready to leave. I booked my flight the other day and it was kind of (really) sad. Last week when I was tutoring one of my adorable/well-behaved/hilarious students, it hit me how hard it is going to be to leave. She was showing me her yearbook from the previous year, as it was picture day, and I asked when she would get her new one. She was like “I’ll get it in the fall and then I can show you”. I was like “sweetheart, I have to go back to the United States in May”. “Wait you’re leaving, for how long?” “Well it will take at least a year to finish my degree…” “A WHOLE YEAR?” Of course I want to come back to Sevilla eventually but I do have other planes for after I graduate. Needless to say a stake was driven directly through my heart.

More on Sevilla mía later. The first weekend in February I went to Madrid with JYS. I went to the museums and stuff last semester so I was free to do whatever I wanted. It’s a pretty sweet deal because I got my AVE tickets, food, and the hotel for “free”. The trip was part of the program fee, but whatever. I decided that I would go and see Segovia while the others were in the museums. Segovia is a smaller city/town a bit to the north of Madrid and the alcázar there is the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle. As a Cinderella lover, this has been on my list for a while. Oh there’s also a Roman aqueduct. I ended up not getting to Segovia until pretty late in the day, almost 4pm. By the time we got to Madrid and I got out to the other train station I had missed the 1:30 departure by like 5 minutes. I spent some quality time in the station waiting. Luckily for me one of the cafes was having a Valentine’s Day coffee/doughnut special.

When I got there, after a 30 minute AVE ride, I had to take a bus into town. The first thing you see is the huge Roman aqueduct which, I’ll admit was pretty cool. Since I only had limited time, that and the Cinderella Castle were the only things on my to-do list. I di un paseo por la judería (strolled around the old Jewish neighborhood) and some gardens before I got to the castle. At first sight, I was not impressed. I remembered what had happened in Fussen and was determined to find a better view point. That’s exactly what I spent the rest of my afternoon trying to do. I went up and down a million staircases and hills but eventually I did find the perfect view, more than one actually. There was this mini-field almost directly under the fortress and at one end there were houses and at the other end was a line of trees and a river. If you stood on the edge of the river and looked straight up, you’d be staring right at the castle. Talk about growing up dreaming big. I know that I would have spent my childhood (and/or adulthood), had I lived back in the day, simultaneously splashing around in the river and pretending I’d be a princess who lived there one day. Casual castle in the back yard.

The sun was just starting to set when I made my way up some of the hills in the “back” of the castle. I had an amazing view and decided that I was going to wait there until dark so I could see it all lit up. It was really cool seeing all of the lights in the city slowly turn on. All the churches slowly lit up and the street lights looked like strings of lanterns and the car lights looked like hundreds of fireflies. Of course the castle was the last thing to be lit up and by the time it finally started, it was dark, cold, and I had missed the bus I wanted to take back to the train station. I waited anyway, and it was definitely worth it. The walk back into town was a bit of a struggle because it was so dark and my phone was dead so I didn’t have a flashlight. Also those stairs back up into the actual town were so rough, but I made it! I looked at the bus schedule and saw that if I got on the next bus I’d make it back to the train station just in time to catch my AVE. I had time to kill so I went and got a caramel McFlurry and people watched. It was prime people watching time because it was the weekend of Carnival so everyone was dressed up like they would be for Halloween in the US. According to my host sister Carnival is much more fun in the pueblos than in the big cities. I really felt that in Segovia, it’s not tiny by any means but it has a much more family-y atmosphere. Next time in in Spain, Carnival is on my to-do list!

I got back to the hotel in Madrid about halfway through dinner. I was glad I had the McFlurry because after my primer plato of green beans/sauce they brought out a fish dish since they didn’t get the memo that I was vegetarian. Normally when we stay in hotels it’s a buffet but this time it wasn’t. I just ate the fruit we had for dessert and that was that. I wasn’t planning on going out that night but with the promise of an apartment party I said yes. It ended up being pretty boring but Caroline and I went and got churros con chocolate at San Gínes which is a famous churro place in Madrid that I’ve been to almost every time I’ve been in the city…that would be three out of four times. It down poured all night, but who can complain when churros/chocolate are involved?

The next day was low-key. I walked a bit and then sat myself down in a café to catch up on journaling. The women who worked there were really sweet and took the time to figure out why the wifi wasn’t working for me. It was nice to talk in Spanish. Even though I feel, more often than not, that my Spanish is actually getting worse there are occasions like that were I can just have a nice conversation with no problems. I definitely love being back in a country where I speak the language especially after my trip in January!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

January trip wrap up and budget

Now that I’ve finished all my storytelling (that’s actually a lie, as I type I’ve written approximately two paragraphs about Budapest. But whatever.) This post will serve as a reference with links to all my relevant posts and a budget breakdown. As much as I’ve loved blogging about this trip, I’m now super far behind with everything else I’ve done so I’m glad this is over!

Dublin, Ireland: I spent a night in the airport and a half a day here before boarding a ferry to Wales. You can find the link to my blog post here.

Bus to Santa Justa: 1,4€
Ave (train) to/from Madrid: 123,6€*
Bus to Airport: 5€
Flight MAD to DUB: 50€
Food: 17€
Bus into Dublin: 6€
Ferry to Wales: 40€
Total: 243€
*While I do love the AVE, this was not ideal but it was necessary as the bus times would have resulted in me waiting at the airport for over 12 hours each way

Holyhead & Bangor, Wales: I stayed with my co-counselor from camp this summer! Link here.

Budget (in pounds):
Train ticket to Bangor: Free, since we were stuck at the station forever due to flooding
Accommodation: Free (thanks Laura!)
Wales sticker: £1,25
Toiletries: £2,78
Second hand book: £2
Food : £22
Total: £28.03 (~36€)

London, England: I spent NYE here with another camp friend and her friend. Blog link here.

Budget (in pounds):
Accommodation: Free (thanks Charlotte and Kasia)
Food (including coffee and drinks): £33,6*
24 hour Transport ticket (x2): £24
Other transport: £17,8
Gifts: £8
Total: £83,4 (~107€)
*I had some access to food thanks to the people I stayed with J

Munich, Germany: I flew from London to Munich and spent about 3 days here. Blog link here.

Flight to Munich: 62€
Housing, 3 nights: 41€
Food (including groceries that lasted the rest of the trip and a fancy lunch): 50,3€
Transportation (including. to/from the airport): 11,9€
Other (tours, museums, etc): 23€
Total: 188.2€

Innsbruck, Austria: This was a day trip from Munich. Blog link here.

Bus to/from: 27.5€
Food (including Christmas market mug): 12.9€
Post Cards: 3€
Total: 43.4€

Füssen, Germany: I spent two nights I this fairy tale Bavarian town! Blog link here.

Train to/from Munich: 40€
Accommodation for two nights (in a real hotel): 116.5€
Food (including a very fancy dinner): 44.23€
Fun stuff (the movies, castle visit, etc) 27.8€
Total: 228,53€

Prague, Czech Republic: 4 Nights in the Czech capital and lots of vegetarian restaurants! Blog link here.

Budget (prices converted from the Czech currency):
Train to Prague from Munich: 20€
Hostel for 4 nights: 40€
Food: 60€
Fun stuff (yoga, museums, etc): 19€*
Total: 139€
*Considering how much I did this is amazing

Česky Krumlov, Czech Republic: Thanks to a booking error on my part I spent one night here. I’m glad I made that mistake. Blog link here.

Budget (prices converted from the Czech currency)
Bus to/from Prague: 15€
Hostel for one night: 15€
Food: 13€
Total: 43€

Vienna, Austria: I spent 3 nights in the Austrian capital. This was a very history-oriented visit. Blog link here.

Train ticket from Prague: 20€
Hostel for 3 nights: 51,5€
Food: 56€
Museums and other cultural things: 41.5€
Transport Pass: 16.6€
Stamps/stickers/a really nice pair of jeans: 83.3€
Total: 268.9

Grünau im Almtal, Austria: I spent 3 nights here. Everything just got put on the tab so I don’t have a good of a breakdown. Blog link here.

Blah Blah Car (x2): 20€
Groceries/alcohol: 10€
Weekend tab (breakfast and dinner, accommodation, horseback riding): 111€
Total: 141€

Budapest, Hungary: I spent five nights here and was really tired by the time I got here so my record keeping was subpar. Blog link here.

Budget (prices converted from Hungarian currency):
Bus ticket from Vienna 18€ (I actually have no idea how much this was, I actually think it was less)
Hostel for 5 nights: 65€
The entire week including food, activities, a ballet, my travel back through Madrid, and a copy of the Book Thief: ~150€
Flight to Madrid: 35€
Total: 286€

Approximate total for one month of travel: 1.700

The budgets I gave my self ranged between 1.000€ and 2.000€. I hadn’t been planning on going to Innsbruck, Česky Krumlov, or Grünau im Almtal. Obviously spontaneity isn’t free, but it sure is fun!

Budgeting tips for longer term travel:

1    1.      Take advantage of grocery stores, but be aware of what type of kitchen appliances your accommodation has, if any. Also, you are not above electric kettle pasta (just make sure it doesn’t have an exposed burner).  
2    2.      Buying transportation ticket ahead of time can save you a lot, my 20€ train tickets would have been 60 if I bought them the day of
3    3.      Laundry is more expensive than you think, just wash your stuff in the sink
4    4.      It’s okay to splurge on a nice dinner or lunch!
5    5.      If traveling alone, try to befriend your server, you might get free food!
6    6.      Going out will kill your wallet, if you do want to go out take advantage of happy hour, especially at your hostel!
7    7.      If you travel in winter you’re going to spend more money on activities but less on travel/accommodation. I went into a ton of museums simply because it was too cold to walk around for hours at a time, but I got off season prices on almost everything.
8    8.      “Free Tours” are fun, but don’t expect them to show you the big tourist attractions. Use them to meet people.
9    9.      I loved Blah Blah Car and saved 80€ round trip using it. I recommend trying it out but definitely be careful with who you pick to drive you!
1    10.  When traveling to a country with another currency, always pay using that currency, check your change, and take it directly out of an ATM instead of trying to exchange it.
1    11.  Always ask about a student/young person/old person discount!
      12.  This shouldn’t have to be said, but watch what you’re carrying so you don’t have to pay extra fees on your luggage. Also if you travel light you won’t have room to bring home a bunch of souvenirs and such, which is ideal if you’re on a budget.

Fellow shoe-stringers: what am I missing?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Budapest: I can’t feel my face when I’m with you

My last stop was Budapest. It was cold. So cold. So cold and windy. Freezing. The Weeknd lyrics were going through my head the entire time I was there. 

My previous post does a pretty solid job explaining how I got lost and eventually got to my hostel to if you want to catch up I’ll leave the link (Here). When I finally did get to my hostel I was pleasantly surprised at how small and empty it was. After I checked in I found a few people hanging out in the kitchen eating dinner and after a quick run to the store for a TWO DOLLAR frozen pizza, I was glad to join them. I was tired but I had a hard time falling asleep. I’m not sure why but this has been pretty common for me in the last year or so. On top of that I was woken up by a super early morning “call to prayer” from the mosque that was supposedly down the street. I never did end up seeing it. I guess I can’t complain though because my room, the India Room, was pretty cool. I had the whole loft to myself so I got to spread out a bunch. I also never locked my stuff up. There were only a few of us in the room and they all seemed nice enough (this isn’t foreshadowing. Everyone was nice and no one stole anything).

I spent my first morning walking along the river and through the Castle District. The city looked nothing like I expected and it was almost completely empty. It actually had a pretty eerie feeling. I stopped in a few cute little shops and bought a Christmas ornament in one of them. It was kind of strange (also magical) to be in these cute, cozy, warm stores and then all of the sudden be back out on a street of communist era buildings that seemed to be falling apart. You lose yourself in all the crafts and beautiful things and then you forget about the outside. I walked by the coolest wedding dress store and also went into a music history museum and an art gallery that I was rushed out of after the woman on duty received a phone call and then said she needed to close up.

I thought a lot about how lucky (blessed, mostly blessed) I had been the night before. I got to thinking about what could have happened if that man hadn’t been there. Not pretty. I went back to the hostel around lunch time and I went with some of the people I met to a cat café (slightly disappointing, I mean not really because I don’t like cats) and the “cat-pucchino” that I had was pretty amazing, mostly because it had peanut butter in it. From there we went to this secret tea house called “Altair”. It was amazing. There are no signs for it so you only hear about it from other people; this is me telling you to go. You have to take your shoes off when you go inside and it’s hard to describe but it’s kind of like a jungle gym and you just relax on the various levels/lofts and drink tea. We stayed for a while but I could have sat there all day. It also seemed to be a popular date spot. That night I cooked myself a huge pot of pasta and tucked myself into bed with Netflix and watched “Suits” for hours. I ended up staying away until almost 4 because I just couldn’t sleep.

The next day I lay in bed until after lunch watching Netflix. The guy that I traveled to Vienna with got to the hostel that afternoon and we walked around the city taking pretty much the same route that I did the day before. Instead of seeing the sun burning through the fog we were treated to the sunset and Budapest all lit up. It’s not a super impressive city during the day but it’s absolutely breathtaking at night. One of my biggest regrets is not seeing historical Prague at night! We stopped back at the hostel and met up with another girl who was staying there and the three of us went out to dinner at a traditional Hungarian place. I had potatoes and fried cheese with blueberry sauce (great combo with the carbs right?). I also had two beautiful glasses of Rosé that were less than 50 cents each. What. And I thought Spain was cheap! Our waiter was clearly not as impressed by the wine prices as I was because he gave “the look” when I ordered a second glass to go with my ice cream.

The next day James (the guy I met in Austria), Pedro (a guy who works at the hostel) and I all went caving. IT WAS SO FUN! I was nervous at first but I’m so glad I did it. It was great to do something more adventurous and it makes me want to go caving when I get back to Sweet Briar! The caves were wicked cool, literally and figuratively. There’s a natural stage down there and once a year they have Christmas concerts in the cave. At one point near the end the instructor had us turn off our lights and work our way through a tunnel by using each other’s voices and bodies as a guide. My favorite part though was when we were sitting in a big “room” and she had us turn off our lights and sit silently. Because you’re underground absolutely no light gets in so it’s complete darkness. It was amazing. Same goes with sound, all I could hear was my blood in my ears. I lay down on the clay. That’s what I need for a good night’s sleep- absolute silence and darkness and a clay floor. I was sore for days afterward from all the climbing and squeezing through tiny spaces, but I think I have a new hobby!

After lunch and a nap James and I went up to the Citadella to see the city from a birds eye view (well…). It was quite the workout, but also worth it…just take a look at my pictures! We went to this really nice Italian place for dinner after stopping for a yummy street food dessert thing. I got a pesto pasta dish for dinner and some surprisingly good Hungarian red wine. It occurred to me that that was the first time that I had gone out to a nice Italian place and ate like an adult (aka had wine with Italian food that wasn’t pizza). It was really nice having someone to walk around with and talk to. Budapest was the city I felt the least safe in by myself, though my perspective may have been biased for a variety of reasons given my recent experiences. I realized that when I’m not walking alone (in whatever city, even Sevilla) I’m always smiling and laughing but when I am alone I have my game face on. It sucks that that’s the way it has to be but I guess that’s what you get for being a woman.  

On a lighter note, I found out exactly what happened my first night in the hostel in Grunau…apparently I had a bit more to drink than I remembered. It all made so much more sense! I’ll spare you the details.

My last day was pretty low-key. James left that morning so I walked around a bit by myself in the morning and ended up buying a ticket to see Romeo and Juliet at the opera house that night. I wanted to spend all the money I had withdrawn and I had a bunch left (aka 30  dollars) so I decided to spend it all in one place J That afternoon I went on a run down to an island that’s connected to the bridge by my hostel. The island had a 5(y pico)km track that was actually really nice.

The ballet was very…Eastern European. The dancers were great and I thought Romeo and Juliet did a great job showing just how young the couple is which I always think is important. There was a bit of a Hungarian flair to it and there were some surprisingly funny parts as well. My seat was in a box almost directly in the back of the theater and it was in the first row which meant my view was amazing. During intermission I was people watching and I saw several little girls dancing around pretending to be ballerinas. I want that to be my children and I want to dance around with them. It was actually heartbreaking seeing some of their parents on their phones! Oh, also, they do this really cool thing in Hungary where they all clap in unison at the end of a performance. It was so weird and unexpected and a bit creepy, but cool nevertheless. On the way home from the theater I walked by a bunch of cool cafes and bistros. I wish I took the time to eat out and explore Budapest a bit more. I’d love to see the city in the summer. I stopped at the metro station and spent the last of my money on a ticket to the airport for the morning and on a slice of pizza for dinner (my new post theater meal).

I left pretty early the next morning for my flight that was at nine. It took my about 12 hours to get home, there was a lot of waiting around for the train but I ended up buying “The Book Thief” so it wasn’t too bad. I was really glad to be back home. I was sad not to be traveling anymore but I was excited for my host mom’s food and my bed and being able to understand the language!

…that’s that! My first solo trip was a success! Lots of ups and downs but I learned plenty about myself, other people, everything. I also learned that being completely free to do whatever you want is the most exciting, though sometimes overwhelming, feeling in the entire world. This type of traveling is totally different than any traveling I’ve done before but I think it might be my favorite. You just can’t replicate how that freedom feels. Sorry to the folks at home but I think I’ve found my new drug! (Hi can we just appreciate how I just brought that right back to the title?)

**Stay tuned for my budget breakdown coming soon**