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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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Tour de Europe

A bit belated, but I wanted to share some photos and tid-bits from my travels around Europe for Spring Break early this month. By clicking the name of each city described, you will be directed to my Picasa album of photos I took while visiting.

I kicked my trip off in Paris. What more can be said about Paris? It’s a fantastically beautiful city, of course. The highlight, for me, was my visit to the Sacre Coeur. The 300-step climb to the top is totally worth it for some breathtaking views of the city 🙂 One thing that was a new and difficult situation for me was the intense language barrier. The only foreign countries I had been to up to that point were Spanish-speaking countries, and I was at least minimally prepared enough to get myself around. It was my experience in Paris that not many people spoke much English, and I was not expecting that nor prepared to deal with it. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life! I hope to return someday during a warmer time of year, and when I am more prepared for the language barrier.

The Eiffel Tower at night

Enjoying a Nutella crepe in Paris

I spent just over one day in the land of my ancestors: Germany. My time there was cut short by a missed flight in Paris. Instead of going to Cologne for a day, I spent a day sleeping on a bench in the Paris airport (fail.) The day I did spend was in Düsseldorf. I can’t say that it was at the top of my list of cities to see in Germany, but it was pretty feasible to cover most of the city in one day, so it turned out to be a good thing. The language barrier there was much less intense due to my friend Mitch’s German expertise. We drank some good German beer, explored the city and even got to watch a storm at a bird’s eye view from atop the Rheinturm tower. Cool stuff. The most heartbreaking part of my spring break adventures was that I wasn’t able to spend more time in Germany. I shall return.

A beautiful flower in Germany

The Rheinturm in Düsseldorf

I fell in love with Amsterdam within the first hour of my arrival. I had no idea the city would be so aesthetically pleasing. Walking along the endless canals by quaint waterfront houses with their signature forward-leaning façades makes you feel like you’re living in a postcard. Another impressive aspect of the city is the number of bikes. I promise that, unless you’ve been there, you can’t even imagine a city with this many bikes. My amazement at this is evidenced by my taking photo after photo of heaps of bikes, people biking, and even a 3-story parking garage for BIKES at Central Station. The highlight of my stay in Amsterdam was the fulfillment of  an item that has long been on my bucket list: visiting Anne Frank’s secret annexe. It was amazingly surreal. Overall, I think Amsterdam gets the award for being my favorite city on my spring break tour, and I never would have expected that before leaving on the trip.

Amsterdam

I spent three proper days in charming London. I imagine that the way I felt in there is a fraction of what I will feel upon returning to the States this summer– there was so much familiarity from my “former life” there–products, businesses, people speaking English, etc. Perhaps I am so far removed from the American way of life that I couldn’t tell how distinctly different it was from home, but at the time I felt like it could have just as well been New York City except that the people spoke funny and drove on the “wrong” side of the road. Thanks to my wonderful tour guide and long-time friend, Xandra, I saw most of the city in my short time there. Since I stayed with her and her Spanish friends, we even managed to have a botellón in the middle of London. ¡Qué loco!

Xandra and I with a gaurd in London

Frolicking in front of Big Ben

My last stop was bellisíma Barcelona. It really was so great to be back to Spain…back to my café con leche, vino tinto, tapas, paella. Back to a culture where I know (most of) the “rules.” On the other hand, as Lonely Planet describes, Barcelona is perhaps the most “un-Spanish” city in Spain. I suppose this is due, in part, to Gaudi’s splashes of very modern architecture, and perhaps simply the fact that the city is crawling with tourists. It was definitely a bit touristy for my taste, but the number of tourists also indicates that it is a place a lot of people want to see, and there is certainly a reason for that. It’s just beautiful. My friends and I had some great bird’s eye views of the city; first from Montjuic and another day from Park Guell. We took part in the rambunctious night life by way of a “pub crawl” which really turned out to be a “club crawl.”  We ate paella and more paella…and really, what more do you need?

Maddy, Bri and I enjoying some cava on top of Montjuic in Barcelona

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. Extremely exhausting, but I know how fortunate I am to have covered so many major cities in such a short time. I’ve increased my willingness to try new things, I have learned the value of packing light (I did not) and the intensity of language barriers,  and much more. As the mural in our Barcelona hostel told us, “Traveling is the best university.”

🙂

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Tid-bits of Travel Tips

I am back! ¡Por fin! The neglect of my blog over the past couple of weeks is shameful, but you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve been trotting across the continent seeing great sights. I could not afford to take time to sit down to the computer! It’s a bit overwhelming to cover 4 of the world’s most famous cities in 2 weeks. I am working relentlessly to upload all of the pictures and videos from my trip, so those (plus a blog post about my adventures) will be up very soon!

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some  travel advice I have collected, mostly from learning the hard way. This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything you need to know to travel. This is simply a consolidation of the lessons I’ve learned in the first few “backpacking-esque” trips of my life. Sure, you can google “backpacking travel tips” and find some items similar to what I have here, but isn’t it more entertaining to read this knowing that most of what is here are things I’ve failed miserably at? Let me help you not fail.

Packing….

Lightly:

Prior to my European excursions, packing light was, to me, a very elusive concept. “Packing light? You mean like…only 4 of the 8 pairs of shoes I was going to bring? And having to choose between a straightener OR a curling iron!? Preposterous.” Packing light is an ART that, when mastered, brings happiness. The only word to describe having everything you own in one, compact pack is: FREEDOM. I say this, but I still struggle with it on every trip; I am still learning. I will say very simply that I have never, ever been on a trip and thought “Gee, I wish I would have brought MORE than this!” The people you’ll be traveling with are probably in the same boat, so you can all apologize to each other for the fact that you will be wearing one of 3 outfits for the next week or so, and then you can all get over it. As a general rule, bring: 1. An outfit that can get ruined 2. An outfit that can be worn for activity or casual gatherings 3. A slightly nicer outfit for less casual settings. The type of clothing obviously varies greatly depending on where you’re going and what your intentions are. As they say, lay out everything you want to bring, halve it, and bring twice the money you planned on.


Wear your bulkiest items, pack the more compact ones (jeans, boots/tennies, jackets). This may result in you looking a bit ridiculous on the plane or train (i.e. wearing a sweatshirt, a jacket AND four scarves…been there…) or being completely overdressed for the climate (sweatshirt/jacket combo in the Canary Islands? Wasn’t cool.) but it’s your best option for packing light.

Systematically:

Finally, a part of life where OCD tendencies come in handy. Put everything in its place, and put it back (exactly) where it was when you’re done using it. Even if you do just have a backpack, having to take everything out to get at something that ended up on the bottom can be a real drag. Think about what you’ll need to access most often, and put it in an accessible location. If everything has a specific place, it will also be easier to notice if you’ve forgotten something or, God forbid, had something stolen. Invest in a passport-holder that has extra pockets for plane/bus/train tickets, extra money and credit cards (shout-out to my relatives in AZ–best Christmas gift idea ever!)

Essentials: Tide travel packets, umbrella, cheap flip flops for showers, Starbucks VIA (if you’re an addict like me…), waterproof sleeve for all important documents (copies of personal documents, e-Tickets, hostel booking confirmation emails, etc.)

The very stylish Chewbacca backpack

Safety….

We’ve all heard plenty of travel safety trips, but until you have to put them into action they’re hard to recall. I will summarize my safety advice to you, which comes almost 100% from experience, into three main points:

1. Look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Thieves have you pegged in your backpack and hooded sweatshirt, holding a map. You’re a tourist, and it is written all over you. Your best defense sometimes is confidence because, just like animals, they’ll prey on you if you show signs of weakness or struggle. So keep your chin up, don’t  avoid eye contact, and pretend you aren’t lost, starving and in desperate need of a shower.

2. Be keenly aware of your belongs, at all times. Everything you own should be in your line of sight and physically attached to you at all times that it isn’t locked up in your hostel, or you can consider it gone. I can’t even count the times I’ve had waiters at outdoor cafes come up to me, take my purse off the table and put it in my lap or tie it to my chair. Clearly, purse-stealing is pretty routine if the waiters are trained to help their clients this way.

3. Don’t be Mr. Nice Guy. Pocket-pickers aren’t stupid. They have their craft perfected with lots of creative ways to distract or confuse you while they help themselves to your valuables. Some examples I’ve heard of or experienced: offering a high five and then using it to put you in a hold while they grab your money, asking you for directions on their map while their partner in crime takes your stuff (lots of “teamwork” examples similar to this), asking to help you with your bags (which they will kindly run off with if you accept). So….just be aware! You have to be slightly rude and unfriendly sometimes to err on the side of caution, but it’s better than losing a camera or all your money!

Various other tid-bits:

Do as much research as possible about the places you’ll visit before you’ll get there. Knowing why those old buildings are so significant makes them so much more worthwhile to visit. It’s always hard to make time for this, so I recommend investing in a travel guide, such as Lonely Planet ,whose authors have done a lot of the information-sorting for you.

Ask anyone you know who lives/has lived there for advice on things to see, etc. What might seem like simple, routine info to them could save you a lot of time and money and make your trip more worthwhile.

Write EVERYTHING down. Hotel address, street names, phone numbers, landmarks, metro stops, etc.

Use the metro. My friends and I have decided that once you figure out one big-city metro, you can navigate on any of them. It’s cheap and quick–what more could you want?

Sacrifice comfort for a short time for the awesomeness of traveling cheaply.

Keep an open mind and a light heart. Things can go wrong and probably will, but with the right attitude almost all of your experiences, both bad and good, will be looked back upon fondly.

I hope you’ve taken at least a couple of helpful things from this post. Check back in a few days for an update on my European sabbatical!

Hasta luego 🙂