People around the world feel more divided today than they did 10 years ago.
For U.S. News & World Report.
People around the world feel more divided today than they did 10 years ago.
For U.S. News & World Report.
These spots are so spectacular, intrepid travelers will want to see them all.
I’ve been in America for a little over a week now, even though it feels like I’ve been back for about two months already, and I’ve noticed some things I never have before and am learning to appreciate things I took for granted without even realizing it. I am missing Italy so much it hurts and laying around my house all day catching up on movies and TV shows can only satisfy me for so long until it gets old. I’m at that point now and am more than ready to go back to Italy.
Leaving the place you’ve lived your whole life opens your eyes and teaches you things, not only about the new place but also about the place you left. You learn to appreciate the people around you, the ease with which you can get anything in America (I quickly realized we are a bit spoiled in America) and the luxuries we have that not many other places have- just to name a few.
Things I’m glad I have back:
1. Garbage disposal
2. Clothes dryer
5. Not getting whistled at, cat called or having creepy Italians say creepy things to me in Italian
6. The availability of so many different types of food
Things I miss about Italy:
1. Basically everything else
2. The mindset and attitude of “Il dolce far niente” (The sweetness of doing nothing)
3. The Italian food
5. Not having to pay for public transportation
6. Speaking Italian
I most definitely had some culture shock upon returning to the homeland. I was surprised by quite a few things that were very different from Europe-
1. How huge the portions of food are
2. How quickly they rush you out of restaurants
3. I constantly convert everything to Euros
4. I forget that I have to tip here
5. How unhealthy America and its people are
6. How sloppy we all look compared to the always-fashionable Europeans.
Getting a taste for foreign places has definitely left me wanting more. The travel bug took a big bite and has left me with a desire to travel the world. With so many exotic places and far away lands we forget that America has so many gorgeous places of its own. Because I’m (extremely) short on money and obviously in debt to my parents (thank you!) some friends and I have decided to save up and travel more domestically this summer. The want to travel doesn’t go away just because I’m not in Rome anymore. I have to feed my need for travel and I am excited to discover what hidden treasures lay around the corner right in my own backyard.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”- Terry Pratchett
Hungary was not a place I ever saw myself going to; I never thought anything of it and didn’t know much about it. However, when I got to Rome my friends and people I met in some of my classes were all talking about going to Budapest. So I did some research and asked around and came to find that it was actually a cool place and kind of underrated. I then turned to my new favorite hobby, looking up flights on Kayak, and found that flights there were a little out of my price range; still my friends and I would check in every once in a while to see if anything had changed.
Then, one fateful Friday morning while I was sleeping at my friends’ apartment in Barcelona, Rachel called me and asked me to make a game time decision: roundtrip flights to Budapest, $152 dollars, leaves Thursday night, March 27 and comes home Sunday morning, March 30. Being a little tired and still feeling the effects of my late night, I spontaneously said yes. We booked it immediately and I was heading back to bed when I received yet another phone call from Rachel asking if I wanted to stay in a Retox, a party hostel in Budapest. We read articles and reviews and although it sounded a little crazy, we figured, you only Budapest once so why not?
When March 27 came around I couldn’t believe that our spur-of-the-moment trip was actually here. After stuffing my book bag full of a weekend’s worth of clothing (I am now a pro packer) we headed to the airport. Coincidentally, this weekend was a very popular weekend for Budapest and we ran into several people from my study abroad program on the plane and in the city. After the chaos that is WizzAir we finally boarded the flight and headed to Budapest! We knew that from the way we booked this trip, we would definitely be coming home with quite a few interesting stories.
We arrived later than expected and headed to the parking lot to meet the transfer bus to take us to Wombats, the hostel (or should I say palace compared to other places we have stayed) where we stayed the first night. Deliriously tired, we saw our bus come speeding around the corner blasting house music and we immediately turned to one another slightly confused and a little nervous. We got in the bus and while we were waiting for two other people from our flight to get there we bonded with our driver, with whom we became instant friends.
He showed us pictures of his motorcycles and cars and his outfits that he races them in. We learned that he speaks about seven languages, has a sister that drives a BMW (or a BMV as he called it) and hates his job. He laughed at us as we tried to pronounce funny Hungarian words and taught us some of the basics we needed. Never judge a book by its cover because you never know who you could become instant friends with, even for a short period of time. He dropped us off at our hostel and we immediately went to bed.
We woke up early for yet another walking tour of another new city. First we went to the ATM and felt extremely rich as we took out 20,000 Forints- about 100 USD. We then did our ritualistic grocery store stop for some breakfast and realized that Budapest is extremely inexpensive compared to every other place we had visited; we got a big breakfast for about $1.50 USD. Heading over to our walking tour we ran into some fellow study abroad students from our program and we embarked on our three hour tour of a city I knew nothing about.
After our very informative tour we followed our guide to get some traditional Hungarian food and I quickly found out that it was going to be very hard being a vegetarian in a place that has an extremely heavy meat-based diet. As our guide was explaining the menu to us Rachel and I noticed a rather large, rather sweaty Hungarian man sticking his fingers in the food, eating it and then sticking his fingers back into the food. We told our friends and we all quickly decided to go else where.
We found the Hungarian version of Chipotle and decided we were in desperate need of a Mexican food fix and had burrito bowls. I then of course sniffed out, with my extremely accurate talent to find anything sweet, a bakery where I got my mandatory chocolate chip cookie and an unbelievable vanilla macaroon.
Satisfied with our lunch and dessert, we headed over to Retox, the party hostel, to check in. Walking over Rachel and I were a little nervous about what to expect because it seemed like a pretty crazy place from all of the reviews full of tales of drinking, partying, hooking up and no sleeping. So we walked up to the front of the building and braced ourselves as we entered. Upon first entering we saw a bar downstairs and I quickly noticed all of the interesting murals on the walls, however, I immediately felt welcomed by both the staff and the other guests we quickly met in the common room. They were all very friendly and the staff was very helpful with things to see and do. We also got a disclaimer that Retox is a party hostel in every sense of the word so we should be prepared for just about anything. A staff member gave us our electronic bracelets used to get into the hostel and into our room and told us they were “waterproof, drunk proof and sex proof” so we wouldn’t lose them. We were then led to our room, nicknamed the hunting lodge (perfect for a vegetarian, right?), which had walls covered with interesting drawings of all different animals.
We wanted to continue to explore so we made our way over to Hero’s Square. While we were making the long trek back to our Hostel from the square we saw several beer bike tours happening with loud music and a lot of people that looked like they were having a blast. Someone from the beer bike tour waved at me and as I waved back he hopped off of the bike while it was still in motion and handed me a beer. We then recognized each other and realized we were both guests at Retox and I quickly realized how much I would come to love Retox and its guests. As we sipped on our beer, we searched for a restaurant with mojitos and hummus- two things we had been craving all day. We enjoyed our dinner at a table for two outside and then headed back to Retox. We arrived just in time to leave on a pub crawl with everyone in our hostel. We also ran into two Canadian tourists that we had previously met on our walking tour and they joined us on our adventure.
We met even more people staying at Retox and instantly became somewhat like a dysfunctional family, full of different characters and a lot of love. There was a person from every walk of life and it was so fun meeting new people from all over the world. A lot of the guys from our hostel were convinced that Rachel and I would not make it to the last bar because things like this get a little crazy sometimes and after all we’re just little sorority girls. However, they underestimated us and we made it to the end. It wasn’t until the way home that we found out why it’s called a Pub Crawl. Along the way to each pub we continued to meet new people and decided that this was one of the most fun nights we have had since being abroad and that our decision to stay at Retox was the best one yet.
We slept in Saturday and finally struggled to get up as we were hurting just a little bit from the night before. Unfortunately, we had to check out of Retox because we had a seven a.m. bus to catch the next day and our other hostel was closer to the bus stop. However, that was not the last time we would see our Retox family. Once we got back to Wombats we took a much needed nap and then went to explore the markets of Budapest. It was especially sunny that day, which was very much welcomed coming from the rainy weather of Rome, so we threw on our tank tops and maxi skirts and walked towards the water. I enjoyed an amazing seafood falafel, some sour candy and finally a much-desired Pina colada overlooking the water as the sun went down at an outdoor restaurant. Although we didn’t want to move from our temporary paradise, we needed to walk home to take another nap in order to prepare for an amazing night at a Sparty.
After our nap we slipped into our bikinis for a Sparty. Budapest is known for their large heated public baths, something influenced by the Turkish, and on certain Saturday nights these baths become a giant party with dozens of people, drinks and music. Wasn’t it fate that one of these Saturday nights was when we were there? We were going to go with all of our friends from Retox, but were a tad late so we made our way over to the Lukacs baths to meet them.
The events that occurred over the next seven hours were absurd and the most fun I have ever experienced. Being reunited with our Retox friends made the sparty that much more amazing, reassuring us yet again that Retox was the right decision.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was all over and we sadly said our goodbyes to our new best friends and were sad to leave them and this amazing city. We got back to our hostel around 4:30-5 a.m., slept for about an hour and then attempted to find the bus stop where we were being picked up for the airport. I say attempted because we got lost several times and wound up missing it. Struggling extremely hard, we freaked out and went into a hotel where they thankfully called us a van service to take us to the airport.
After more struggles through security we just about crawled up to a counter at KFC and ordered a big bucket of french fries as the man working there laughed at us. I thoroughly enjoyed the said huge bucket of french fries and then proceeded to fall asleep on a couch in the terminal.
There was more chaos with WizzAir and I could not wait to get on the plane, take a quick cat nap and get home to my bed for some much-needed sleep. Multiple forms of transportation later I finally plopped down on my bed and slept for the next six hours. My fatigue and long-lasting headache were completely worth it.
This weekend was by far the best one I have had in Europe. Not only were the bars and the city amazing, but the people were what made this trip what it was. The best thing about traveling is meeting new people and learning about their lives. There are so many interesting people out there with their own stories and tales to tell and when you take a minute to realize that and open your heart to them, they can change you and your perspective and opinions. This weekend taught me not to judge a book by its cover, a hostel by its murals or a person by their tattoos. It is the people we meet, even if it is for such a short amount of time, that make things fun, interesting and even a little crazy. The worst thing about traveling is having to say goodbye, especially after only being able to know these people for such short periods of time. They come in and out of your life and impact you in different ways. You are the best of friends for a weekend and then, most likely, you will never see them again. My mind wanders sometimes as I think of what all of the people I have met are doing at this exact moment. Traveling opens your eyes and your heart to the best things in this world, and the best things in this world are the people that make it go round.
I hope to make it back to Budapest one day and stay in my favorite hostel again and meet a new batch of people. I never thought a city or a little hostel could make such an impression on me, but Budapest and Retox have left footprints on my heart- thank you.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” -Anais Nin
After a week in Rome with my sister and her fiancé, we were off once again to a new city. This time to a foreign land where none of us spoke the language. A sorority sister of mine, Rachel, studying with me in Rome joined us for this adventure, which began at 4 a.m. on Valentine’s Day. Our flight was at 6 a.m. so we needed to be up at an ungodly hour. The trip was relatively uneventful and we arrived in Amsterdam around 9 a.m.. One of the first things I immediately noticed besides the strangeness that is the Dutch language, is the way people greet each other in The Netherlands/Holland (I was never quite sure what to actually call it). Instead of the two-cheek kiss that is normal in most European countries, the Dutch greet each other with three kisses. Right, left and right again. Although looking like a lot of work at first, I began to absolutely love this tradition and kind of wish Americans were that excited to see each other.
Upon leaving the airport we attempted to navigate our way around the trains that we had to take in order to get the center of the city. Thank goodness for the fact that many people in Amsterdam speak English and a special shout out to the very sweet lady who told us how to work the tickets for the train. Once on the very crowded train, which reminded me of the trains going in and out of Penn Station in NYC, I was seated next to very nice people from Whales. We chatted about England and my Spring break plans to visit and I decided that I would love to live in a little English countryside; if only there was more time to travel the world and see everything.
Once we got to the city center, we were immediately lost. I never mind being lost, I think being lost leads to the very best adventures you can have and often to the very best memories and stories.
“It feels good to be lost in the right direction.”- Unknown
Armed with our suitcases and maps we attempted to find our hotel. Out on the streets and immediately captivated by the city’s beauty and adorable architecture, we learned very quickly that many people here travel on bikes in bike-specified lanes on the streets. Not even ten minutes into our vacation, Rachel was nearly run over by a biker and then consequently told off in Dutch by said biker. After that we paid extra attention to where we were walking.
We arrived at our hotel, which according to business magazines, is one of the best hotels in Amsterdam. Looking around at all of the families and business people, we realized that we stuck out like sore thumbs. We quickly checked in, dropped our stuff off and went to explore. Good thing I like getting lost because 50 percent of our time in Amsterdam was spent looking at maps and street signs seemingly spelt out in hieroglyphics. However, the explorer in me did not mind because we wound up seeing the cutest parts of the city.
We immediately looked for a place to eat and found a quaint little restaurant where I enjoyed an amazing lunch and an unforgettable cup of hot chocolate. After lunch it was more wandering, where we continued to see dozens and dozens of houseboats stretched across the city’s many canals. Rachel and I quickly decided that we were buying a houseboat and a bike with an adorable bell and basket and moving to Amsterdam. After making future life plans we took a trip to the Anne Frank House. While waiting on line for admission to the house, we completely randomly ran into my cousins from New Jersey. If that isn’t proof of a small world then I don’t know what is.
Once inside the Anne Frank House I was captivated by the history and information I was being fed. It is unbelievable what happened in this house and what the people inside had to endure. It truly was an eye-opener and one of the most inspiring displays of courage I have ever seen.
After getting our dose of reality it was back to vacation with a walk down little streets in an effort to find some places to enjoy the local delicacies of Amsterdam. Disclaimer: although many tourists come to Amsterdam to enjoy this, the city is so much more than that and I am glad I was able to travel here and realize that.
Finished with our coffee shop stop, we were stuck in the rain, lost once again in an attempt to find the Heineken factory. After some deliberation and loss of patience we decided to call it a day, go back to the hotel, grab some food and if the weather permitted check out the infamous red light district.
Living in Rome and indulging in Italian food everyday is great, however, you come to a point where you just miss all other cuisine. With that being said, when we passed a Chinese restaurant we were beyond excited and couldn’t wait to have some dumplings and lo mein.
Once the rain finally stopped we headed on over to Dam Square and then made our way to the red light district. This place is definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever encountered in my life. I was born a very curious soul and when I can’t fathom something I ask about a million questions, most of them repeats because I just really can’t comprehend it.
The red light district takes window shopping to a whole new level. There are barely-dressed women standing in window after window on street after street beckoning you in. I couldn’t help but stare- not out of judgment but out of complete curiosity. Some windows had curtains drawn, which I thought meant the rooms were being occupied. Other windows had women sitting, standing, dancing, pointing, eating and texting. I was surprised to see that many of the women were sitting there, looking bored and on their cell phones. Others were chatting with each other or doing their hair or make up in what looked like personal bedrooms and bathrooms the way they were set up.
I was beckoned by many pretty ladies as I couldn’t help but linger and wonder and stare. I was also beckoned by a few men trying to get us to go into what I could only determine from the signs were “for ladies eyes only” shows. However, after about an hour wandering and asking every question I could think of, we returned to our hotel.
Not only was our hotel unbelievable looking, the bed was something sent directly from heaven. This was the most comfortable thing I have ever slept on. The fluffiness of the comforter was matched by the cloud-like texture and feel of the sheets and pillows. I don’t think any of us have ever fallen asleep faster.
After taking advantage of the scalding hot shower the next day I was beyond excited to go to the breakfast place across the street from our hotel. Bagels are by far the thing I miss the most about NY and when I saw signs for a bagel cafe I cried with joy. I was able to enjoy yet another cup of hot chocolate and an absolutely delicious warm bagel with cream cheese.
After breakfast we headed over to one of the most famous- and largest- markets in Europe. My favorite thing about this market was all of the food. Rachel and I bought the most amazing artichoke and tomato dips with a fresh loaf of warm bread. Not being able to wait to eat it, we enjoyed it on the go while we walked to the Heineken factory. On our way to which we were told it was closed because everyone was off celebrating its 150th anniversary. Extremely disappointed we decided to walk past it anyway and were pleasantly surprised when we found it to be not only open but free to the public in honor of its anniversary!
Not only was it free, but they gave you two tokens for free beer and a token for a free glass from the gift shop. This day taught me about being in the right place at the right time. After we went through the factory and made personalized Heineken bottles, we were greeted with a party, complete with a DJ and free food. After enjoying our two free beers, we were making plans for our next move when someone came up to us and offered us their free beer tokens.
Not only did this happen once, it happened two more times as well. Clearly enjoying ourselves, we indulged in the free food and made friends with the DJ. We also were given a coupon for 18 euros to use in the gift shop and bought ourselves some very authentic Heineken bottle openers- another perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.
After sadly having to tear ourselves away from the best place ever, we made our way over the iconic I Amsterdam sign. We were like kids in a park- climbing all over the letters and taking about 100 pictures. It definitely was the icing on the cake to a perfect day.
Again, we enjoyed some of our favorite foods, nachos and French fries and ended the night with Nutella-covered hot waffles. The night was made even more perfect by ending it in the heavenly bed I was bound to miss the most when we had to leave the next day.
I truly think that by the end of this semester Amsterdam will still be one of my favorite cities, with its hidden charm and unexpected culture and history. This is definitely a place I will return to again and again. Feel free to visit me in my houseboat, just look for the girl on the bright yellow bike ringing her bell down the street.
“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson
I’ve always kept a blog but now I guess it’s time to do the obligatory college student goes abroad to Rome for a semester and writes about the food she eats, the wine she drinks, the men she meets and the culture shock she endures when she realizes that no one in Europe wears Uggs and she sticks out like a sore thumb. Well I didn’t even pack my Uggs so here’s to four months of discovery- discovery of food, friends, wine, the world and its inhabitants and myself.
“One of the advantages of travelling the world is that you get to know the world broadly. And one of the advantages of staying in one place is that you get to know the world deeply.”- Alan Moore.