Fun fact: Budapest is actually split into two parts, Buda (to the west) and Pest (to the east). On a bridge, right between the two, is where I ran into whom I like to call the “Argentine version of me!” Both of us were holding SLR cameras, traveling alone, and interning for media companies abroad – her in Spain, I in London. We agreed to grab dinner together and after that met up with my AirBNB host who showed us around the city’s best “ruin bars.” Probably one of the most memorable experiences, though, was Széchenyi Thermal Bath – think speedo-wearing, leather-skinned old men… lots of them! I grasped the edge of the deep end of the pool and kicked gently… not really moving anywhere; just swimming in thoughts… I was nearing the end of my two-week-long solo backpacking trip and my six-month stint in London. I knew then I had achieved something special. But as time goes on, it only becomes clearer just how important traveling through Europe was (and continues to be) on just about every aspect of my life. I promised myself then, in that pool, that I would never stop traveling… well, so far, so good!
Vienna was beyond beautiful and by far my favorite stop in Eastern Europe. I was nearing the end of my two-week-long solo backpacking trip. Vienna was the perfect respite for a restless traveler. I leisurely strolled along the Danube river, had entirely too much Viennese coffee and streusel, and spent hours wandering the gardens of Belvedere Palace… admiring its foliage and enjoying the music of the trombone players.
Prague was the sixth stop on my two-week-long solo backpacking trip. It was my first stop in Eastern Europe. My Fritz-Kola friend who I’d met in Berlin introduced me to his friend who was also traveling through Prague. We wandered through the bustling cobblestone squares at Prague’s center and sipped on pint after pint of Czech beer. We crossed the famed Charles Bridge at dusk. My favorite parts of Prague, though, were the quiet spots overlooking the city, including Prague Castle and Petřín Hill.
Coming out at the foot of Petrin Hill, that great green mound rising up in the middle of Prague, she was surprised to find it devoid of people. This was strange, because at other times half of Prague seemed to be milling about. It made her anxious. But the hill was so quiet and the quiet so comforting that she yielded fully to its embrace. On her way up, she paused several times to look back: below her she saw the towers and bridges; the saints were shaking their fists and lifting their stone eyes to the clouds. It was the most beautiful city in the world.
- Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Of the 18 different countries I traveled to while living in London, Germany was definitely a favorite. Berlin was the perfect combination of art, food and history. I spent four days in the city — not nearly enough time to see everything, but just enough to get a taste of Berlin life. I cheered on Germany’s Euro Cup team from a biergarten, walked along the Berlin Wall, and shared my Turkish market finds — roasted pepper and feta spread, large slabs of fresh-baked pita and a box of mangoes (the latter earning me the name “Mango girl” among my new friends). It was hard to imagine that duress had griped this city more than once in the past century. The wall of artistic restraint has fallen; now the city is fertile ground for some of the most prolific innovators of art and culture. Berlin truly has a vibe like no other.
“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting any smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger … and they go looking for an easier story.”
“Once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.“
–Donald Miller, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”
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Amsterdam was the half-way point on my two-week-long backpacking trip. Exhaustion was beginning to set in, which, admittedly, may have colored my view of the city — that and the fact that it rained most of the two days I was there. It wasn’t my favorite stop, but I liked it enough. It’s a city full of graphic artists which you can very much feel in the city’s architecture, and in the ambiance of its independent cafes and shops. Overrated? Maybe. But Amsterdam is definitely a place you’ve gotta stop if you’re traveling through Europe!
This was my first experience using AirBNB so I knew I was in for something new, but nothing could have prepared me for this unique experience. My host Deva — yoga instructor extraordinaire — picked me up from the train station on his motorcycle. Minutes later I found myself straddling this near stranger as we zoomed around town, dismounting at each of the city’s biggest landmarks. After the tour, Deva taught me how to make curry and naan from scratch. Our dinner guests: a shaman and a yogie. My time in Antwerp was one of physical and spiritual growth — being exposed to new things is what travel is all about!