Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest

Since I had a free week and no other plans, I took a lap around Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. It’s not too far from Kraków, which is currently home base because that’s where my suitcases live.

I spent my three days in Vienna wandering its spectacular palaces, museums and art galleries, taking breaks to sit in cafés decked with crystal chandeliers. And, as luck would have it, I happened to be there during the hottest day in the city’s history, which is an event I really could have sat out.

From Vienna, I wanted to go to Budapest. Bratislava happened to be on the way, only an hour away from Vienna by boat. So why not? 

I love boats. 

Bratislava absolutely surprised me. It was charming and small enough to visit in a few hours. Conveniently, Polish is very close to Slovakian, so I got along just fine with everyone and felt right at home. 

After lunch and a stroll in Bratislava, I hopped on a train to Budapest. 

Oh, Budapest. Where to begin? Language, history, good people, cool parties and group bathing. It had everything I love.

I spent a lot of time learning about Hungary’s rich history and the Hungarian people. The sovereign nation is fairly new, having been occupied by everyone from the Ottomans and the Turks, to the Austrians, to the Nazis and the Soviets. Their language fascinates me, because it’s not quite Slavic and not quite any sort of anything I comprehend. In fact, it sounds a lot like the how the Sims speak.

But really, if you’re into cool languages, European history, occupations and the war, Budapest is a solid place to go. 

That being said, their nightlife was on point too. 

I don’t usually go out much when I travel alone, but you can’t not go out in Budapest, and I was fortunate enough to find some new international buddies.

The entire population of my hostel consisted of my blonde self and 15 Spanish speaking guys, from all over Spain and Mexico. Fortunately, I happen to speak Spanish, so we got along swimmingly. 

Also, traveling alone has taught me how to pick up women. I met two girls my age during a walking tour, Meitao and Arenike. Meitao was Chinese and Arenike was Nigerian, but they were both from London. Together, the three of us were literally the poster women for diversity in Budapest, and turned a few heads when we went out that night. Mostly due to confusion, though. 

One of the coolest things about Budapest was ruin pubs, which are unique to the city. They’re essentially abandoned buildings and warehouses, filled with broken furniture and confusing art (think owl heads on naked women’s bodies.) Let’s just say that when a bar has 26 rooms, leaving before 6 am is not an option. Fun was certainly had. 

I spent my entire last day at the infamous Hungarian baths, bathing in the city’s thermal pool with a herd of Hungarians and tourists alike. It was a cool immersion into Hungarian bath cultural, and a glorious way to spend a 100 degree day. 

Overall, my spontaneous weeklong trip was loads of fun, from eating Sachertorte in Vienna, to leaving the pubs at daybreak with new friends in Budapest.

Now back to Poland we go! 

  

Selfies in Vienna


  

Slow My Roll

I have spent the last ten days in Kraków, camped out on a couch at my aunt and uncles’, sleeping, reading and watching Netflix. Yes, after weeks of bouncing around from city to city, Seville to Córdoba to Granada to Barcelona to Warsaw to a wild wedding here, it was time to slow my roll.

The truth is that every once in a while we all need some TLC and to just chill out. For months, when I wasn’t traveling, I was at least planning my next travels. I was barely sleeping, insisting that I’ll sleep when I’m dead. And, I had half a dozen books on my kindle, untouched.

So here I am, attempting to do nothing. Quite honestly, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to. I don’t really remember how to do nothing. Binge-watching Netflix has no appeal to me, especially since I’ve already finished Orange is the New Black, and sleeping-in is overrated.

That’s why I’ve broken up my rest with exploring this gorgeous city, visiting it’s museums, taking walking tours of the historic neighborhoods and treating myself to ice cream.

I believe in something I call the hometown effect. It’s when you live in a city, or you’ve been to a place so often that you’ve never visited it. I’ve lived in Chicago all my life, and hadn’t gone up the Sears Tower up until a few years ago. And similarly, after visiting Kraków year after year to see family, I still couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. So, I found a free walking tour of the Old Town and another of the Jewish neighborhoods and I tagged along for the day, strolling through the cobblestone streets, checking out the castle and even learning about the former Jewish ghettos of Kraków.

I took myself to the chocolate drinker-y yesterday, the literal translation of “Pijalnia Czekolady.” Yes, that’s a thing. A gorgeous cafe in the city center dedicated to drinking hot (or cold!) chocolate. Not the powdered kind that you dissolve in milk, but the real melted down chocolate that is so thick that you’re actually a little sick after drinking it.

There you have it, that’s what I’ve been up to the last week or so. I am resting. I am on vacation.

But let’s be honest, I am me. I’ve got one eye on plane tickets, and one foot out the door. Only a matter of time until I’m off again!

 

Beautiful streets of Kraków

Wedding Belles

One of my best girlfriends, Kasia, is getting married this Saturday in Kraków, in one of Poland’s most historic and beautiful churches in what is essentially the wedding that fairy-tales, and Pinterest dreams alike, are made of.

The bridal party has spent the first half of the week strolling Warsaw, Poland’s capital, shopping, relaxing and fine dining. The fabulous bride and her lovely family have absolutely spoiled the bridesmaids, showing us the best that Poland has to offer, including private evening concerts from opera singers and tours of Warsaw’s royal gardens. I may actually be ruined after this trip because Mondays without kiwi-basil lemonades and delighting in freshly prepared beef tartar after a day at the spa are not Mondays I want to go back to.

Now, everyone is hanging out in Kraków, in the gorgeous old town square. Being back in the motherland is quite exciting and strange for me. I would spend every summer here, growing up, but it’s been two years since my last visit. It’s changed a little, but for the better. Poland is one of Europe’s most rapidly developing countries, and you can tell; there are more businesses, the infrastructure has improved, and the technology has advanced.

I’m slowly adjusting from speaking Spanish everyday, to speaking Polish. However, the easiest adjustment to make was the currency. Poland, although part of the European Union, still hasn’t adopted the Euro. One dollar is about four zloty, so basically I can live like a king for the next month. Okay, maybe not a king, but some kind of non-peasant.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Poland; maybe the entire month, maybe not. In the mean time, I have a Polish wedding to go to!

Please pray for my liver.

Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!

Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!

Onward

After a week long trip with my brother and his girlfriend to Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada, I’m finally back in Barcelona. 

Today is my last day in this vibrant city I call home, and it feels rather strange to be leaving. However, life only moves in one direction, and that’s forward. It’s certainly time to move on, but there’s a certain uncertainty that always comes along with change. 

While most people who have studied abroad have already made their return flights to the States, I have another month of traveling Europe ahead of me. But now there is one big difference: there’s no place to call home. 

Barcelona has been home since January. Although I was traveling often, coming back to my apartment and feeling the coolness of the vintage green tiles beneath my feet, and lying down on my own bed to stare out my balcony, at the church across the street, always brought me comfort and peace. 

And now there is no home base, just a collection of unfamiliar pillows and tiles to discover. I have no dresser or drawer to open, just a suitcase to unzip and a backpack to unhook. No wide-eyed, half-naked Argentinian artist/roommate will roam the hallways, telling me to slow my roll. No waitress in the bistro next door knowing my order before I ask, “Un cortado y un yogur.” My safety net is gone, and all at once things have gotten a little more daunting and a lot more exciting.

The next stop is Warsaw, and then Kraków for one of my best girlfriend’s fabulous wedding. Essentially, an entire week of joy and celebrations.

After that, I’ll be with family in a little Polish village. And then for my last two weeks, who knows? Maybe Mozart in Vienna, or maybe exploring Iceland. Maybe learning how to meditate with monks, or maybe working on my tan in Zakinthos. 

It’s been one incredible adventure, and it’s crazy to think there is only a month left. Let’s do this. 

Looking towards the future, how very deep.

Sevilla and Bull

Here I am in Seville, marveling at the Moor influenced architecture, hopping from one tapas bar to the next and touring the city by horse drawn carriage, with a glass of white wine in my hand.

My adventure seems to be never ending, which is a good thing, of course, because the idea of leaving Spain is quite daunting. I’m at the point where I prefer speaking Spanish over English, eating dinner any time before 10 p.m. seems odd and “vale,” the Spanish equivalent of “okay,” has become an integrated part of my vocabulary. I’m making the most of the time I have left in the land of red wine and siestas and exploring the rest of this spectacular country.

Sevilla is a special kind of city; it beats with passion, and breathes fire.

The former because it pulses with the sensual movements of flamenco, the strum of a Spanish guitar and the valor of a bullfighter. The latter, because it’s hot.

Real hot.

Today was about 106 degrees. That’s 41 degrees for any of my friends who don’t live in the five countries in this world that use Fahrenheit.

Regardless, my companions and I visited Plaza de Toro today, the oldest bullfighting ring in the world, where I discovered  the fascinating world of bullfighting.

Although controversial, bullfighting is an art form, as well as a magnificent display of Spanish culture.

Hemingway, my main man, once said, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

You see, a bullfighter enters the ring fully knowing that they may die that day. They put their lives in the hand of fate and say a quick prayer, which I assume goes a little like, “Dear God, please just not a major artery today.”

All jokes aside, fear is a fascinating topic. Are these bullfighters fearless, or are they fully afraid? 

To be fully afraid and to go in the direction of your fear is a very brave thing to do. I believe that being fearless is easy; when we acknowledge our fears and charge towards them like a matador against a bull, that’s the moment we discover our true courage.

Maybe we should all be a little more like bullfighters.  

Colors of Sevilla, beautifully reflected in the ring

 

Not Ours to Keep

I’ve made a lot of close friends on the Camino, which called for some hard goodbyes. It all seemed rather unfair, to be blessed with wonderful new friends, yet have to part with them after only a few weeks, fulling knowing some of us may never see each other again. But, truth is, that’s life and there is a lesson in that.

People will pass through our lives. Some linger for a moment like a neighbor dropping in for tea, some weave in and out like race cars through traffic, and some are always there quietly in the background like music in a cafe. The form their presence takes does not matter. The important thing is that they are in our lives in the precise moment they are suppose to be.

I’ve spent the last three weeks of the Camino being an adopted daughter to a retired Swiss man, who never had a child of his own, and confiding in a new big sister, an Australian yogi who sold all her things to travel the world. These were just two, among the many incredible people, who touched my life during the Camino, and for whom I will forever be grateful for.

There are certain things that simply aren’t ours to decide. Our mothers and fathers will pass on one day, our brothers and sisters may move away and our friends may become distant, engrossed in the direction of their own lives.

The people we love are here in this moment; they are not ours to keep. With that said, the best we can do is love the shit out of them right now.

Barcelona, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and USA!

When People Visit

Visitors are exhausting.

You walk around all day, spend more money than you normally would on entrance fees and metro passes and you eat constantly, and I mean constantly, just so that they can have the best possible experience in Barcelona.

Over the last few weeks, I have had three visitors. I have re-visited all of Barcelona’s major sights, from Sagrada Familia to Park Güell, I can recite Antoni Gaudí’s life story by heart and I have perfected a Barcelona sightseeing itinerary, which I am more than happy to share. Also, I have been to Brunch & Cake, a local bistro, four times this week with my visitors. That means I have eaten brunch four times in a week.

That is not okay.

Well maybe it is okay, because as tiring as it’s been, I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up my semester.

You see, visitors are actually the best.

They allow you to experience your city in a fresh way, as if you were discovering it for the first time.

Once you’ve been living somewhere awhile you tend to forget the city’s magic. You walk past the same things every day and they become mundane even if they are really special. Parisians walk past the Eiffel Tower daily, unfazed, and Romans apathetically speed past the Colosseum. And here I am, strolling down Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, absolutely oblivious to Gaudí’s Casa Batlló or Casa Milà because I see them practically every day.

The joy of  showing someone around is that you can actually look at what you’ve been seeing this whole time; you pause and you think,

“Whoa. How lucky am I to be surrounded by something this beautiful?”

Showing Kristi around Park Güell

Showing Kristi around Park Güell