Wanderlust 2017: Pasteled Perfection

We had the pleasure of spending the day in Cinque Terre, Italy. We village hopped on the coast from Manarola for pictures and swimming in the bay, Vernanzza for some yummy food with an impeccable view, and Monterossa for beach laying, ocean swimming, and sunbathing. Rather than rambling on and on about how gorgeous the water was and how much fun we had, I figured I’d keep this one short and let the pictures do the talking. Caio!

Wanderlust 2017: Tuscan Leather Smelling Like a Brick

Yes, once again, more Drake lyrics. I can’t be tamed…

After leaving Rome, I was ready for a smaller city, and Florence, Italy was the perfect solution. We had three days slated to be in Florence and I was going to take full advantage of this city. I had heard a lot about Florence because a lot of people I studied with at Marist College spent a semester abroad there, but I had no idea it would a place where I wish I had done the same.

THE CITY

Busy, busy, busy, but beautiful. When I say busy, I in no way am comparing it to Rome. It felt busy because there was always something going on. There were always people looking around at the beautiful architecture, statues, painting, small streets, and shops. The city buzzed at all hours.

And it was hot. Luckily, there are enough shaded areas, but when in the direct sunlight, you start to feel the burn.

My favorite part of the city was definitely Piazza della Signoria. There, you can find the Loggia dei Lanzi where a replica of Michaelangelo’s David, a statue of Perseus and the Head of Medusa, and many other mythical and historical figures are displayed. When you walk down the Uffizi Gallery towards the river, there are statues of the most important philosophical, mathematical, social, and governmental figures to have made an impact on Italy.

And the river! Oh my. Talk about a beautiful view. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which was the only bridge to not be destroyed during World War II. When you look down upon the Arno River and the quay, you see a couple restaurants that have been built in to the hills along the river, with outdoor areas where people were enjoying life.

This city is where you start to see the true relaxed European culture that’s mentioned when people return from a trip abroad. It’s quite inspiring, if I do say so. We as American are constantly on the go, driven by money and status, and we so often forget that life is so much more than climbing the financial ladder. This is definitely one of my favorite parts of this trip – people don’t take themselves too seriously (for the most part).

THE FOOD

As previously mentioned in my post about Rome, I went hard in the paint eating pasta, pasta, pasta! I tried a carbonara that was perfectly al dente and out of this world – I’m day dreaming about it now.

My favorite place to get my grub on was the Mercato Centrale food and goods market. On my “Treat Yo’ Self” night, I enjoyed a nice glass of wine, a big ole steak, and a tiramisu that was out of this world. I’m a huge Delmonico’s tiramisu fan and it put it to shame (so much so that I texted my mother about how we had been living a lie).

Finally, the pizza was delicious. Their personal pizzas were basically the size of the average eight-cut from the US, sans NYC. I tried a few different kinds, but mainly with proscuitto as a topper. Cured meat is EVERYWHERE in Italy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

THE HOSTEL

We stayed at the Plus Florence CB Hostel. The place had a pool, bar, rooftop, restaurant, laundry, and good sized rooms. Since the inception of our trip, this was the best place we had stayed. This place was so great that I plan on using Plus hostels on my future European Adventures.

After three days in Florence, I was sad to leave, but also extremely excited to continue our trek to Northern Italy. If you have a chance to see Florence, go for it; splurge! The city is wonderful and you’ll love the culture. Caio!

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Wanderlust 2017: When In Rome…

After an amazing week in Greece, it was hard to believe that I would spending the next nine or so days traveling through Italy. The first stop you ask? ROME!

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Going into this trip, I knew it would be tourist central – something that I am used to since I lived and worked in New York City for more than half a decade – and jammed packed with people from all different walks of life. However, I don’t think you can be completely prepared for this type of tourism. In NYC, we move FAST. In Rome, they move glacially slow. It was definitely a transition period for me, and prepared me for the rest of Italy.

…Experience the History Like the Romans Do

We had the pleasure of touring the Roman Colosseum and Roman Forum. This structure is immaculate and the second you walk in, you start to feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. You can almost hear the crowds, picture men and women sitting separately wearing white robes, waiting to be entertained.

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I did have a sad moment at the Colosseum. Turns out that when they brought the animals from other parts of Europe and the Middle East to fight against, they were starved and locked in pitch dark dungeons, so they never really had a fighting chance for their lives. I got over it very quickly, but it made me very upset.

Also, our tour guide told us that the Romans were not nearly as civilized as we seemed to have thought. Their main entertainment was going to the Colosseum to see death. They also held plays where instead of acting out deaths, they would legitimately kill the actors to get the full effect for their audience. They were quite barbaric.

We also went over to the Trevi Fountain, where if you throw three coins into the fountain, you wish (1) to return to Rome, (2) have a new love interest soon, and (3) get married at some point. I don’t buy into these silly stories, but just to be safe, I may have thrown three coins in the fountain. Here, you can see it was an extremely enthusiastic moment in my life:

We also went over to Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a fountain in the middle of Piazza Navona. Once again, gorgeous fountain, super crowded. But worth stopping over. I did get a chance to see it around 10am when the square was clear, and it was definitely worth seeing again.

The fountains were gorgeous. The city overall was gorgeous.

…Go to the Vatican Like the Romans Do

Those who now me know that I was raised Catholic, but have chosen to live a life sans religion – personal choice; I respect everyone’s beliefs. This however did not stop me from going to Vatican City.

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Vatican City lies in the middle of Rome, but is considered it’s own country – sorry boys, but that wall isn’t really fooling anyone. Also, if you go there, DO NOT get your passport stamped. When you get it stamped, you void your passport.

Anyways, the Vatican was beautiful. The city is perfectly maintained, the architecture has been created with such attention to detail, and the gardens are perfectly kept.

…Eat Like the Romans Do

As previously mentioned in the Athens post, I was no longer on a traveling adventure, but simply a food tour, and Rome did no disappoint. I chose to have pasta for every single meal except breakfast, and gelato at least once a day. And to be honest, the only reason I hadn’t eaten pasta for breakfast is because our hotel fed us each morning and I wasn’t about to turn down free food.

Let me put it this way, every pasta I tasted was delicious and above basically every pasta (I will say Ferarri’s in Schenectady does make a mean pasta and can hang with Italian-made pasta) I had ever tried. I found that the reason why the pasta is so delicious is because they keep the ingredients minimal and natural. They let meats and sauces marinade for a long time, they slow cook everything, and most of all, they put so much love into their food.

I decided to have “Terah Time” where I treated myself to a delicious meal alone at Ristorante Romantica – yes, I took myself there without realizing the name of the place until I had already eaten half of my meal. This is something that is completely necessary to maintain my sanity while traveling the same 30 people for a period of 35 days. I stopped over a quaint bistro, had a glass of the house white, ate an excessive amount of pasta in a creamy red sauce with salmon, then finished off with some Italian lemon cake. I was happy as a clam for treating myself.

…Make Pasta Like the Romans Do

One of the trip “add-ons” was a pasta making class in the middle of Rome through EF College Break. We taxied over to a fourth floor walk up and soon found ourselves sitting in a circle and testing olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited.

We then had a glass of Prosecco then headed to the rooftop terrace. There, we found a kitchen, then a shaded area with tables setup with cutting boards, flour, eggs, and everything else you would need to making pasta from scratch. The instructors were wonderful, the process of making pasta was easy, and most importantly, the food turned out to be delicious.

I had taken a pasta making class before at Brooklyn Kitchen, but it didn’t compare to being under the Italian sun, sipping bubbly, preparing a meal, then sitting down as a group and appreciating our hard work and our instructor’s skills. We ended with an espresso to get us through the rest of the day, since we were stuffed full.

Moral of the story, take a pasta making class at some point while staying in Italy – you will not regret it.

…Travel Like the Romans Do

Upon our departure, it was quite bittersweet. I was excited to leave the busy city to head to Florence, but I was sad to leave a place filled with such history. I would definitely go back for a couple days while touring Italy. My main gripe was how busy it was, but then again, it is summer and people take time off to travel (I’ll get over it).

Not Giving a Fuck is Easier Than You Think

My dear friend, Stella, who most of you know from our short stint of eating out and writing about our meals in the Dine n’ Dash section, sent me this awesome link of a Ted Talk called “The Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. This adds to my recent post, Routine is the Enemy of Time and how important it is to live your life the way you want.

Rather than me breaking it down for you, take the 12 minutes to watch the video. I cannot stress enough that everything she says is completely true and will help you live a happier and healthier life.

Enjoy!

Wanderlust 2017: Make Me a Hercules

A decision I made once I decided I was going to quit my job, move, and go back to school was before I became a broke college “kid” again, I was going to go on an adventure. Originally, I wanted to drive around North America and potentially parts of South America for a few months to a year, depending on how the trip went. Then, while visiting my dear friend Riley up near Boston in February, an ad popped up on her Facebook for the EF College Break travel agency. She sent me the link and we joked about me going on an “Ultimate Europe” trip which spanned the course of 35 days with group of random people ranging from 18-28 years old. Two days later, I put a deposit on the trip and never looked back. Four months later, I took a flight to Athens from New York City.

THE ARRIVAL

The flight takes about nine hours. November 2016, when I flew to Warsaw, I had a layover in Zurich, which broke up the eight hour flight into a five and a half hour flight, then a two and a half hour flight. My flight to Athens was an over night direct service on Delta with solid meal choices, as comfortable of seats as possible for coach, and a decent amount of leg room (keep in mind, I’m 5’10” and leg room can get tight on flights).

As we landed in Athens, I met up with the group of people with whom I would be spending the entire trip. Everyone was exhausted, I was in a very weird mood, and the combination can be hard meeting 29 other people for the first time. I think the only thing that saved us from grumpiness was the fact that we were in Greece.

THE SITES AND HISTORY

As you know (hopefully), Greece is rich with history that is still apart of every day life in Athens. The city is relatively touristy, but it’s to be expected when you have structures such as the Parthenon, Acropolis, Olympic Stadium, as well as dozens of other historical locations.

The first day, we did a walking tour of the main areas in Athens where you could buy knick knacks and food. The area was swarming with street vendors chasing you around to buy bracelets and other useless goods. The first thing Mayra, our tour director warned us of was the fact that you could easily be pick pocketed if you’re not careful. I think this instilled a lot of fear into the others who are on vacation with me, but living in NYC for six and a half years, you tend to be a little more comfortable in busy areas and don’t necessarily dwell on the idea of being robbed. However, safety is important and gypsies are everywhere.

On day two, we woke up bright and early and headed straight for the Acropolis. When I say this was one of the most amazing things I have seen, I’m not exaggerating. From the Acropolis, you can see the Parthenon, Dionysus Theater, Athena’s Structure, and a breathtaking view of Greece — from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

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We also went to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of historical artifacts and works of art can be found that date back to the inception of the founding of Greece. Some of the made-up names of the structures did crack me up. When you have a head of an artifact and one small piece of their body, how can you possible name it “Young Warrior Who Rode a Horse”? WHERE IS THE HORSE? HE’S NOT EVEN PRESENT! As you can imagine, I found the need to read the name out loud of most structures to simply entertain myself. Soon enough, the couple of people I had visited the museum with was soon questioning the names of each statue. Needless to day, it was a great bonding experience.

After the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum, we decided to go for a stroll through a beautiful park to see the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first ever Olympics were held in 776 BC. The structure is massive and extremely fun to look at. You start to imagine olympians running in their full armour, barefoot running laps around the stadium and competing to be the first ever Olympian.

At the end of day two, we all took a hike up a hill to watch the sunset over Athens. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nay, talk about the perfecting ending to our last full day in Athens.

The next day, we took a ferry to Paros to continue “Greeking out”.

THE FOOD

The first night, we had an orientation dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overseeing the Parthenon. I cannot exaggerate how important it is to have at least one nice meal when in Athens. Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines — I’m pretty sure it’s what kept in in Astoria, Queens for the five and a half years I lived there. Feta, tomatoes, olives, kebab, gyro, tzatziki, octopus, and the list goes on. Everything was fresh. Everything was cooked to perfection. Everything made me extremely happy. And the food I’m talking about wasn’t only at the nice restaurants, it was also in the small little hole in the walls you find on the side streets, the more generic locations, and the bakeries!

Speaking of the bakeries, if you have a chance to get a ham and cheese pastry for breakfast, do it. It’s very European, it’s very messy, but at the same time, very satisfying.

The final thing I will say that I loved about Athens is that the wine is always flowing. There is a different perspective on life there. You work and you work hard, but you also enjoy life. You don’t spend a ton of money on your home or material possessions. You spend money on food and drink that brings people together. Everywhere, people are happy, deep in conversation, sipping wine, indulging in their meal, and happy. Coming from NYC you very rarely see this type of relaxed lifestyle and happiness.

I was so happy with the food that I texted my mother and told her I was no longer on a traveling adventure to see new things, but I was simply on a food tour. She found it to be hilarious, but I wasn’t kidding at all.

THE DEPARTURE

We ended up extending our trip in Paros, which got us back to Athens very late the night before our flight from Athens to Rome. It was very sad. I felt at home in Greece — I really do think has a lot to do with my tenure in Astoria. I know Athens is a place I will be visiting again. I will probably spend more time in the islands or out in the country side, but a stop in the busy city of Athens is a must!

Wanderlust 2017: She Dreamed of Paros, Paros, Paro-dise

Yes, that is a play on Coldplay’s “Paradise“.  I know it’s weird that it’s not a Drake song, but y’all will get over it. Fun fact: I was listening to “Paradise” when I decided to make some moves with my life, so it’s only fair that I give it a shout out. Anyway…

The Cyclades Islands were a dream. We took a four and a half hour beautiful ferry ride across the Mediterranean Sea from Athens to the island of Paros (don’t worry, my post on Athens is coming soon!). Paros was exactly what I imagined Greece to be…but even more stunning. No picture could truly portray its beautiful.

We quickly dropped our bags off at the hotel, then went straight to the beach for lunch and drinks. I have never seen water so crystal clear; so perfect – not to mention, it was nice and warm.

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We first ate freshly caught fish with feta, tzatziki, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pork. I was in heaven. We then grabbed drinks and enjoyed the sun and the sea.

Over the next two days, we toured all of Paros, including Naxos. The people were extremely friendly, the shops were beautiful, the food was fresh, and the bars were fun – what else could you possibly need?

On our last day in the Greek Islands, we went on a booze and BBQ boat ride around the islands. This was hands down the most amazing thing I have experienced. We started with climbing a huge rock/cliff in the middle of the sea where an abandoned church had been built. I was terrified but so proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone.

The next stop, we swam through caverns. The second we entered into the first cavern, all I could think about was the scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, where Dumbledore and Harry go into a cavern to find one of the horcruxes. Naturally, my mind went a little wild and I scared myself a bit – imagine if one of those zombie-esq creatures that crawled out of the water dragged me under!! Obviously, I was being dramatic and went back to enjoying the beautifully clear turquoise water. It was incredible and at the same time, this is when I felt as if our group of 30 people started to really bond.

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This was taken in Paros, but, you know, we cute 😉

After that, we went to a small beach on Antiparos and the boat crew barbecued chicken and pork kebabs, made fresh Greek salad, and gave us lots of wine. It was the definition of paradise. I wanted to be left there forever.

We had to eventually head back to Paros. We were all sad, but exhausted from the perfect weather, swimming, wine, and overall excitement. It was very clear, the Greek Islands were the best part of Greece. We are all talking about going back already, but trust me when I tell you, I WILL BE BACK SOONER THAN YOU THINK!

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P.S., this is my hysterically entertaining roomie on my trip, Lynn. She’s pretty rad. Y’all should follow her on Instagram: @lynni_cha

Routine is the Enemy of Time

Three weeks ago, I quit my comfortable job, discontinued my lease, picked up my life in New York, and moved to Florida. Then, a week ago, I left for a 35-day European trip. As I’m sure you can imagine, there has been a ton of stress and anxiety over the past couple months while I’ve decided to make these big changes.

You must be asking yourself why? To be honest, I was too comfortable living a life that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Do not get me wrong, I have afforded myself the opportunities to travel, live independently, spend time with friends, and experience new things – and I am extremely grateful for these opportunities. But my day-to-day, between weekends and vacations were becoming tortuous. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I was auto-piloting through a life I didn’t want, where I sat at a desk staring at a computer Monday to Friday, 8AM to 5PM and stressing out constantly about things I didn’t necessarily care about. I felt trapped by the money and benefits; trapped by this feeling of needing to stay because that’s what society expects of a person my age; trapped by the idea that if I quit my job I will never make as much money as I do now.

You know what, I’d rather give it all up than look back in 20 years and have an overwhelming senses of regret. I never want to live a “I wonder what would’ve happened if I…” or “If only I had…” life.

Once I accepted the fact that if I stayed, I would most likely never feel truly alive. Once I accepted that “failure” is a part of life and that if it doesn’t work out moving south AT LEAST I TRIED…and I can always go back.

Why am I sharing this with you? Well, to be honest, this is a really long introduction to this amazing video called The Thousand Year Journey: Oregon to Patagonia where a young man, Jedediah quits his job and travels from Oregon to the southern tip of South America. This is something I would love to do, but I would not do alone. However, if you listen to what Jedediah says, including the title of this blog, “routine is the enemy of time,” I think it will be easier to understand why so many people my age are quitting their comfortable jobs to travel, to go back to school, to create their own businesses, to take time off from a routine life, and/or to create art. I think this video can help some people start to understand that happiness cannot be quantified by a dollar value, but more of an inner peace with what they choose to do with their lives that make them feel truly alive. Enjoy!

My First Euro Trip (Part 2: Prague, Czech Republic)

Sitting on my flight to Athens, I can’t help but feel as if I need to close out my last European trip before I start the next one. As I mentioned in my last post, in addition to going to Warsaw over Thanksgiving, I also did a quick two-day stop in Prague. My favorite part about this trip is that I truly did this independently – from the booking everything and seeking out information, to traveling solo – and it’s a trip not only will I always remember, but one where I grew a lot as a person.

To set the scene, I decided to take a painfully early flight from Warsaw Chopin Airport to Václav Havel Airport Prague. You may be asking me what made me choose Prague? Well, honestly, I was looking for a cheap flight and city where I could see beautiful architecture, greenery, and eat great food – I’m relatively easy to please and Prague seemed right up my alley.

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THE HOSTEL

Upon arriving in Prague, I immediately checked into my hostel, Sir Toby’s in Praha 7. I didn’t spend much time here, but the time I spent was very pleasant. The staff were extremely helpful and gave me some “inside” advice on seeing some sites that tend to be off the beaten path.

The hostel had a bar area that was more than welcoming. Everyone spending time there were sociable, but not overbearing or overwhelming. The server was a lot of fun to talk to because she had a ton of stories about her travels and moving around Europe. I think talking to someone like that can be an eye opener that we are not meant to stay in once place our whole lives.

THE CITY

After checking into the hostel, I took the trolley to walk through New Town to see what lay on the outskirts of the famous Old Town. As you walk into the area, you notice that the architecture is gorgeous; colorful with incredible designs. The trees grow in all shapes and sizes, yet they fit into area’s uniqueness.

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When you walk up to the city circle, the Astronomical Clock draws your immediate attention. The gold clock on the immaculate structure is intimidating; to see to the top, you have to look up so high, you feel as if you’re looking at a New York City skyscraper.

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Once you get over how gorgeous the clock tower is, you start to notice the other architecture around you. You notice that every store and restaurant front is different. You notice that you are somehow in this maze.

Upon realizing there is much more than the circle, you start to follow the maze. Now, we’re not talking a corn maze, but simply size streets with back roads with more side streets and structures that are built to lead you to other parts of the city. It’s quite beautiful. You feel lost, but safe at the same time.

THE FOOD AND BOOZE

It’s pretty safe to say, I ate my fair share of food in Prague. I, of course, had to go for the schnitzel on a couple occasions because, well, when in Rome (or Prague). I also enjoyed some borscht. Like I said, when in Rome.

But, my favorite “discovery” was mulled wine. For those of you who do not know what this it (I had never tried or really heard of it), mulled wine is warm wine with cinnamon, anise, and orange peel. You can sweeten it like coffee or tea with sugar, if you like – I prefer it with one brown sugar packet. This discover lead to quite the hangover, but it was worth it.

There are also a ton of great home brews in Prague, which end up being around $1.34 per pint. Please don’t ask me which ones I tried, I tried as many as I could to ensure I experienced “all” that Prague had to offer.

THE CHARLES BRIDGE

My favorite part of the trip, hands down, was waking up extremely (unnecessarily?) early and walking across the Charles Bridge. As you walk across, there are statues of biblical figures and tales; including all the saints and Jesus Christ. I easily took over one hundred pictures on this bridge, because not only is the architecture amazing, but it overlooks the Vltava River and the towns that exist up and down the river. These towns have houses and buildings in pastel colors that are extremely vibrant, even on the gloomiest of days. This is where I fell in love with Prague.

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Finally, when you get to the Praha 1 side of the bridge, there are picturesque locks with notes carved or painted on them attached to the fence. I couldn’t help but walk along and read as many of the locks as my attention span could hold – for the record, I lasted way longer reading through the locks than I thought I would because they were all so interesting and uniquely beautiful.

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THE ST. VITUS CATHEDRAL

I took 30 minutes to venture into the St. Vitus Cathedral, and it was worth every penny. According to the pamphlet, St. Vitus Cathedral is the most important and largest temple in Prague because coronation of the King and Queen occur there. The Cathedral is also the burial location of several patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen, and archbishops.

Let me start out by saying that I am not religious, in fact, I don’t believe in religion, but this Gothic cathedral could make you believe. There were so many amazing paintings, statues, and carvings that felt so real. You could feel the presence of every story being told in each art instillation, almost as if each structure were alive.

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THE CEMETERIES

One of the recommendations that the hostel host suggested for a quiet long stroll was the Vysehrad Cemetery in Praha 2. It was a very cool and gloomy day, but once again, that didn’t take away from the beauty you find in Prague. The cemetery was more of a garden with headstones and shrines to certain families. All I could think of while there was that this must be a part of The Secret Garden’s movie set. I also thought how cool it would be to be buried in such an impressive place.

The nice thing about the cemetery is that it was surrounded by more gardens inside a park, so I took a nice hike along the Vltava River.

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THE AMERICANS IN PRAGUE

On my last night, I met an American at The Fat Cat bar in Praha 1. We decided to keep hanging out and we went on a bar crawl (pretty sure it was the first bar crawl I had attended since college), where there were a ton other Americans, as well as Australians. I never expected to meet anyone in Prague, and even less likely would I think that it would be an American. After doing some research, I found that a lot of college students study abroad in Prague for its rich history and the inexpensive cost it takes to live there, compared to the United States. I would recommend anyone looking for an “off the beaten path” country in which to study abroad, I would highly recommend Prague.

Additionally, almost everyone I met/approached/spoke to in Prague spoke English. There was one woman who was walking her dog at the ass crack of dawn, who I approached asking for directions to the trolley. She was the ONLY person who didn’t speak English. Let me be clear about something – I did not expect anyone to speak English; I thought I would have to use Google Translate to communicate the entire time. But, it was so comforting to know that there were people who could understand me if I needed help.

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THE DEPARTURE

I can honestly say, I’ve never taken a flight as hungover as I was when I left Prague to head back to Warsaw. I was completely in love with the city. I couldn’t wait to go back. The image of the Vltava River from the Charles Bridge while staring at the amazing architecture will never leave my memory.

For me, one of the best parts about my second European Adventure, which I just embarked on, is that I will be going back to Prague. I love the idea that I will already have a little piece of this city with me. I love that, for the first time, I will not be completely lost in Europe.

Until the middle of the month, when I can see you again, here’s to you, Prague, thank you for the amazing memories.

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My First Euro Trip (Part 1: Warsaw, Poland)

Growing up, I had always dreamed of visiting Europe. Specifically in the late spring/early summer, probably the south of France, wind in my hair, having an enlightening moment while looking off into the sunset. So, when I booked my first trip to Europe for the end of November, I knew my initial vision of Europe was a bit off.
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The idea of spending over eight hours traveling to a destination for one week kind of blew my mind. I’m not the best with flights because I am unable to fall asleep on any moving vehicle without drugging myself; especially a plane seated next to some rando who is a bit pushy about the middle arm rest. Nonetheless, in order to get to Europe, I had to suck it up, buttercup and ZzzQuil it up.
I had decided to visit my dear friend, Margaux in Warsaw over the week of Thanksgiving.  I had decided that during the eleven day trip, three of those days would be spent in Prague, Czech Republic because Margaux would be working and I wanted to experience as much as possible.

THE ARRIVAL

When I got to Warsaw, I noticed the smog, fog, rain, and clouds. But, it felt very familiar. It was cold. The kind of cold that chills your bones. The kind of cold where your toes, fingers, and nose are completely numb to the touch. It didn’t matter. I was in Europe, solo, visiting a friend, traveling the world, and living out one of my dreams.
I became a complete tourist the second I got there. I hadn’t looked up how to say anything in Polish (or Czech for that matter), I had no idea where I was, I wasn’t sure what to start with, and once I saw the city, I wasn’t sure if there was enough for me to see in five days. Thank the stars for Margaux. She spoke an alarming amount of Polish, she took control of my schedule for the five days – even when she was at work, and I had plenty to see… I’m forever grateful.
Naturally, the first night we did was go out to a nightclub and celebrate my arrival. Clubs in Poland are different. There aren’t bars like in the states, so the nightclub is king. Very techno-y, very slicked back hair, button down shiny shirt, tight jeans-esq., if you’re picking up what I’m throwing down… not necessarily my scene but a ton of fun. We danced all night, then in true American fashion, housed some McDonald’s at 4am.
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THE HISTORY

In the midst of the hangovers and rush of excitement, I was able to experience so much of what Warsaw represents. Let me first say, the people are lovely (and extremely patient!). The architecture is straight out of a history book. The environment, despite the cold climate, is very warm and welcoming. I see why Margaux has chosen to live there.
Margaux made sure to bring me to Warsaw’s Old Town and The Warsaw Rising Museum.
Warsaw’s Old Town is absolutely adorable, but at the same time, scary with the history of what Warsaw has gone through since WWII. We walked around Old Town Market, but because of the weather, there weren’t many vendors up and running. We did see the Mermaid of Warsaw fountain in the middle of the square, which is when I started to realize that the mermaid was the coat of arms for Warsaw (to be honestly, it doesn’t make sense to me. Warsaw has a few rivers, but they aren’t on a large body of water. Poland, to the north lies against the Baltic Sea. MAYBE if it was the Polish Mermaid, I’d be on board. Who knows, I’m probably over thinking this). We also took a stop over to see the Presidential Palace which was probably the most well kept and pampered piece of property in Warsaw.
Then there was The Warsaw Rising Museum. Growing up in the United States, you obviously learn about WWII. But, what we don’t really learn is how it affected other countries and to what extent. We don’t realize that some countries, like Poland, were destroyed to a point where you wonder if it’s even worth rebuilding. What this museum shows is that it is worth rebuilding and fighting for your independence. The museum guides you through the stages of the Rising and holds Germany and their allies accountable for the damage that has been done to Poland. Still to this day, when you walk around Warsaw, on one side of the street, there are brand new buildings, across the way, it looks like a war took place – because it had. This place is a must see and a reality check on what actually happens in the world.
Another prevalent driver throughout Poland is religion. 87.2% of Polish people are Roman Catholic, and you can tell by the architecture and vast number of churches throughout the city (and I’m assuming country). Though I am not a religious person, you cannot help but admire these churches. I think the statues, paintings, and overall environment of these structures could convert some people to believers because it feels real for everyone who lives there. Religion runs the majority of their lives and a lot of their government. I had the pleasure of peeping into a few of the churches, and trust me when I tell you, you will see some of the most beautiful works of art hidden among the pews.

THE FOOD

When I say Margaux and I threw down in the restaurants, do not take this lightly.  I didn’t think it was possible to eat as many perogies as I had during that week. There are so many flavor options! Potato, cabbage, cheese, pork and cheese, potato and spinach, duck and cranberry, cheese and olives – I could go on for days. Basically take any two delicious items and shove it into a pasta shell and you can get it in Warsaw. You can imagine how happy I was with every meal. We also ate a good amount of Bigos and my new favorite, kopytka!
I did make one huge mistake with food in Poland. APPARENTLY, a coffee in Poland means an espresso. I ordered a large coffee, and after I drank half of it, I had realized what I had done. NO ONE WARNED ME (I don’t want to hear a word about how I should’ve researched more before going on this trip) and I was up for many many hours, I wouldn’t shut up – worse than usual – and I thought Margaux was going to murder me. We got through it, but mixing that at the wrong hour with jet lag – I will never make a mistake like that again.
I also found that for breakfast, the Polish eat what I consider a lunchtime sandwich. I didn’t hate it. There are bakeries everywhere and they put turkey or ham in the breakfast roll (without egg – maybe that’s why I found it to be odd). The breads were delicious. We also at one point grabbed some fresh made soy milk ice cream which was very delicious and COLD! Yes, we had ice cream in November in Poland – I have no idea what we were thinking other than the fact that every time we hang out, we must have ice cream!
THANKSGIVING
My favorite part of the trip was the day I got back from Prague: Thanksgiving. We went to an “Americans Living in Warsaw” dinner at a local hotel and it was exactly what I needed for my first Thanksgiving away from home. The people, all from different parts of the United States, had their own interesting stories of what brought them to Warsaw, and of course, what keeps them there. Some found love, mostly others found money, and a few found their dream. It was such an eye opening experience. To see so many different people have one place in common, and a thousand different stories that brought them there.
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The moral of the story, Warsaw is pretty amazing. I really want to go back, but most likely in the warmer months. If you’re looking for an affordable Eastern European trip, I highly recommend Warsaw. And it’s only an hour flight to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Berlin.
Plan your trip to take on Warsaw – you won’t regret it!