Tag Archives: Europe
Video

Our Prague hostel video

21 Mar

Found the video that shows what I meant in this post. This video is priceless. My only advice is this. It’s really cheap to stay in nice places in Prague, so just do it.

Advertisements

“My final tip is to spend your money (but do it wisely)!” -Rachel

20 Mar
Remember how I told you about my awesome friend, Rachel, that I met in a crazy hostel in Prague? Well, she’s had some amazing travel experiences, and offers great advice in the post below. Enjoy!
Image
Favorite place to travel and why: This one is a difficult one, since my one complaint always seems to be, “I want to go somewhere” (even when, like now, I’m living in Australia – the wanderlust bug has bitten me quite effectively!) and also, “I want to go everywhere.” I would have to say, though, that in my travels, Europe holds a special soft spot, particularly the entire country of Italy, and Berlin, Germany. Italy, because I am Italian, and there is an inescapable feeling of family while I’m there. Whether it’s the incredible food, the boys who all tell you you are beautiful, no matter what you look like, or the history of the place that just smacks you in the face as soon as you walk off the plane. I’m currently living in Sydney, Australia, and have found refuge in a local cafe run by a sweet-talking Roman who makes me feel closer to my home in NYC than anyone else here has. Also, in Italy, you can get a delicious bottle of wine for about 7 euros, and that, my friends, is amazing.
Berlin, on the other hand, is the sum of my teenage dreams, realized. I am a theatre geek, and Cabaret, set in a nightclub in Berlin before and during the rise of the Nazis and WWII, is my favorite show of all time. I visited Berlin for the first time as a senior in high school, and then again 4 years later as a college graduate. The city is incredible. It’s a bit gritty, a bit artsy and quite a bit filled with the history that has shaped, devastated and triumphed it throughout the years. What I love about Berlin is that it is a city that refuses to be beaten down. It’s faced awful times – WWII and the atrocities of the Nazis, Soviet domination, a separation of free and unfree that divided families and tore lives apart. And yet, there is beauty. The Berliner Dom Cathedral, monuments that will bring tears to your eyes and a vibrant bohemian artist scene prove that Berlin is here to stay. That, and it is just so cool. It’s the one city, aside from New York, where I currently live, where I could see myself slipping seamlessly into a life that is totally worth living.
What is your best travel memory? My best travel memory isn’t so much one particular memory, but rather the memory of my experience traveling. OK, I know that doesn’t really make sense. I am extremely Type-A, scheduled and not at all spontaneous. When I graduated from University, I was faced with the age-old yuppie dilemma: What am I going to do with my life?? While many people would say, “Get a job,” I knew that I wasn’t quite ready, and so I decided, a bit on a whim, to venture out on my own for the first time and travel a little bit throughout Europe.
Now, what I did is hardly extraordinary or unique (check out any European or Australian – they have gap years and are notorious for spending 3 months to 5 years globetrotting), but for me, throwing out the rule book and just doing something was a feat in and of itself. I went without a plan – 6 weeks of being by myself and making my way through Europe, using an LLBean bookbag (not a backpackers bag) and carrying 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 3 dresses and some underwear, as well as my passport and the common sense I’d gathered while attending University in the Bronx is hardly something the Rachel my friends know and love would do – and sent emails replying to my mom’s urgent requests of “WHAT COUNTRY ARE YOU IN” when I was able to scam some free internet from whichever hostel was providing my bed that night. The places I went weren’t exotic. I stuck to the major western European big cities, but the memories are permanent, and I learned that I can indeed be pushed to share a room with amorous Swedes, drunk Irishmen and loud, opinionated Americans, as well as read a map, explore on my own and make new friends, no matter what the language or culture barrier. My travels throughout Europe proved to me that I can go places by myself and be self-sufficient. They also fed my growing need to go as many places as possible, and see as much as possible. They also opened me up to new friendships and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. A five day stay in Barcelona hooked me up with a Canadian who housed me when I went to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and just this past December, we met up on her first trip to New York City. I still email sporadically with a Swedish heavy metal rocker, and I am sometimes asked to talk about myself on the blog of a girl I met one night in a bed-bug infested hostel set up in the gymnasium of a Prague high school. It’s helped shape who I am today, and has given me the confidence to go and see what there is to see.
What is your worst travel memory? I think, for sanity’s sake, I’ve tried to block out horrid memories of traveling, but some bad ones have happened. On my overnight bus from Paris to London, a boy named Matt started chatting with me. At first, in the traveler state of mind, I was into it – we chatted about where we were from, where we were going, and were generally having a good time. Then he started to make me worry. He asked specific questions about where I was staying, was I staying alone, and how much money I kept with me. Later, when I dozed off, I woke to find him leaning over me, to “see if I needed a blanket.” The vibe quickly turned from friendly to strange, and being a young girl alone, with no phone, on a bus from France where no one spoke English, I saw a horror movie begin to play in my head. I was on high-alert, and spent the next five hours or so furiously writing in my journal all of the details I could see about him, with the hope that, if my mutilated body was found, they’d have a way of finding this creep. It was scary, and I felt so very alone and vulnerable. Luckily, I moved seats to sit near a family, and when we got off the bus in the morning, I was able to quickly get to the tube and to my hostel, but I was left on hyper-alert for the rest of my trip, no longer feeling invincible and ready to meet just anyone.
Do you have any tips/tricks for others traveling to (choose area of interest).  My main tip or trick is to be open. If you see a place that sparks your fancy, get there. I have this desire to go to all 7 continents (5 down, 2 to go!) and while Antarctica is a bit of a haul (and an expensive one at that), there is no doubt in my mind that I will one day have to find a way there. If you can’t get someone to go somewhere with you, don’t be afraid to do it by yourself. You will learn so much about yourself, as well as meet other incredible people – it will make you stronger and more well-rounded, I promise. My final tip is to spend your money (but do it wisely). There is no need to throw money away, but, if you’re in a place you may never be again, and there’s a concert, or an activity or a museum that you may never see again, take a moment and think about, in 40 years, will you be happy to have saved that money, or that you went bungee-jumping, or saw the opera at the Opera House in Sydney, or that you climbed to the top of Notre Dame. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Experience it!
That being said, please don’t feel bad if you just have no desire to do something that everyone says you “just have to do.” No you don’t. If going to the top of the Eiffel Tower seems dumb to you, by all means, skip it. Just don’t skip out on something you’ve been dreaming of becuase it costs 10 euro more than you were hoping.
What is your favorite piece of travel gear–something you wouldn’t leave home without. There are two, and they are important: A lock. DO NOT TRAVEL WITHOUT A LOCK. Sometimes, hostels will have lockers that lock. Sometimes they won’t have anything. Sometimes they will have lockers, but no locks. Bring a lock. It can mean the difference between leaving a city with all of your things or spending lots of time at the American Embassy replacing your stolen traveler’s cheques. Also, they are cheap, and will provide you peace of mind when you’re trekking through museums and ancient relics. Also, bring a journal. I, for one, have one and almost always forget to write in it, but when I remember, I am so, so glad. It’s a great way to jot down places you’ve been, restaurants you’ve enjoyed/hated and places to stay. It also makes you look like a smarty pants when your friends travel and you can make actual recommendations to them, becuase you WILL NOT remember the name of that tiny restaurant in Florence that you ate at every day while you stayed there. Trust me (it was so good, and I would totally recommend it to you here IF I COULD REMEMBER IT). If you can use it to jot down some memories as well, all the better, but as a file of things to hit or miss, it’s an invaluable tool (espeically since guide books are pretty much all going to tell you the same things).
With this, I leave you with the suggestion: If you’re ever in Sydney, Australia, make sure to grab a nutella coffee at Bruschetteria 102 on Albion Street. It’s delicious, and the staff are incredible.
Australia

Prague, Prague, Prague: You get what you pay for!

19 Mar

Before posting my next guest post, I thought it only appropriate to introduce how I met the next contributor.

My dear friend, Jeni, and I took an amazing trip to Europe, and visited Prague while we were there. Having recently graduated from graduate school, we were poor as beans. In order to save money, we decided to stay at a hostel that costed $9.00/night.

Bad idea.

It was probably one of the nastiest, and weirdest, places in existence.

Gross hostel in Prague

Seriously, look at it. Ew!

Basically, it was an old school gym with about 60 bed-bug infested, military-style bunk beds all in the open. It was like having a sleep over with 59 random strangers. I also happened to step in a pile of barf, and had to shower in a wide open area for all to see. We also came back to the hostel one night from exploring the town and everyone was having a costume party. In July. Super confusing. Anyway, that’s when we met a lovely fellow traveler–Rachel. She was traveling all by herself and rocking at it. We had a great time getting to know her, and she has since been traveling all over the world. Look for a post about her experiences in the next few days. In the meantime, some pictures from our Prague adventure.

Prague

Prague and Ashley

Image

Church at the top of the hill

Image

Bone church near Prague. This place is crazy cool and creepy. Everything is made out of bones.

Image

Jewish cemetery in Prague

“Carry Less, Blend In, See More”

8 Mar
Enjoy the awesome pointers from this interview with world traveler, Nathan Green.
Camping in Europe
What is your favorite place to travel and why?
 
I would say anywhere I haven’t been yet.  Going back to the same place is fine, but there is such a huge world out there to explore.  If I have to pick a place…Can I say anywhere overseas? The ability to hop from country-to-country is so easy and cheap.  In two weeks, you could hit up 4-5 different countries.
What is your best travel memory?
 
Backpacking Scotland, England and Northern Ireland with friends.  No one ever talks about Northern Ireland when they talk about Ireland, but it is an amazing place.  Visiting the Giants Causeway was spectacular.  Setting up camp wherever you could find space for a tent was also great.  We were able to see so much of the local culture by walking everywhere and sleeping in tents.  Not to mention 7 days of backpacking cost us $100 each.
Backpacking in England
backpacking in Ireland

What is your worst travel memory?
 
That same trip, it got down to about 33° one night and we had freezing rain up in the mountains.  I only had a 45° sleeping bag with me and froze all night.  I was wearing every layer I brought and I was miserable.  Perfect weather the other 9 days and for some reason it just dropped that night.

Do you have any tips/tricks for others traveling to (choose area of interest).
 
I’m probably a bit jaded on this one since I usually camp if I’m traveling, but if it doesn’t fit in carry-on with you, you don’t need it.  I don’t care how long you’re going to be somewhere, it can all fit in a 40L backpack.  This weeds out what you really don’t need and allows for quick movement, be it through the airport to catch a connecting flight, or through public transport without being a royal pain to others around you.  And nothing says tourist like three rolling suitcases.  Carry less, blend in, see more.
flower

What is your favorite piece of travel gear–something you wouldn’t leave home without.
 
I would never leave for a trip without my camera.  I don’t take a lot of pictures with me in them or friends in them.  I try and sell my photos so I focus on the landscapes, the buildings, the interesting facial features of people in a different environment than the one I am used to.  On a recent trip to Singapore, I found my Peak Design Capture system invaluable.  It’s basically a metal piece that you can wear on a backpack strap, belt, sling strap, etc and your camera wears the mating piece.  It slides in and locks in place.  When you want your camera again you simply press a quick release button and it slides back out.  Not having to hold the camera constantly is a lifesaver.  And not looking like a tourist with a camera hanging around your neck is just a bonus!
travel to Singapore

Hello Nashville! Hello Music City!

19 Nov

Some highlights of my recent trip to Nashville.

1. CMAs – Woo woo! Country music is a new thing for me, and I mean v. new. I’ve never been big into country music, but I figure if I’m looking to move to music city, and since my husband drums in a country band, I should probably check out the country music scene. Turns out, I like it. Carry Underwood. Miranda Lambert. Little Big Town. Taylor Swift. The Civil Wars. Oh yeah. I can do this.

Image

A pic of Little Big Town taken from our seats 100 miles away!

2. Country Music Hall of Fame – This was an awesome museum. If you’re into music, you gotta come check out the scene. If you’re poor, consider going after 4:00, because tickets are 1/2 off, and it’s easy to see the whole museum in an hour.

Image

Country Music Hall of Fame

Image

Gold and Platinum records. B’s record will be here someday soon!

3. Frist — Into art? Check out the exhibits at the Frist in downtown Nashville. Right now, they are featuring Carrie Mae Weems and Brian Aflred. Not only is the art great, but they have a great center to learn how to produce art. Take your kids, or enjoy it yourself. It’s fun. Brandon and I went crazy learning all about art.

Image

Frist Museum in Nashville

Image

Art workshop at the Frist!

4. Grand Ole Opry – So, we happened to go to the Grand Ole Opry on the day it was closed. Yeah, super bummer, but the good news is it’s not closed forever. Mark it down for future fun.

Image

Playing the guitar at the Grand Ole Opry.

5. Broadway! Check out Broadway for fun local music.

Image

Brandon playing with a band at the Honky Tonk on Broadway.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Oh Berlin, I’ll see you again soon!

20 Aug

I can clearly remember my first urge to travel abroad. For whatever reason, I’ve been obsessed with Germany since I was a little kid. It may have to do with the fact that I had two German Au Pairs when I was a kid. Maybe it has to do with my candy obsession and a secret desire to be Gretel, and shove the witch in the oven and eat her delicious candy house all up. I’m not sure exactly why I was obsessed with Germany, but it prompted me to take German all throughout Junior high, high school and college (only to move to Russia and learn Russian instead), and to dream of going there some day.

Well, I finally got the chance to go on the European trip of a lifetime and to see the city I’d been waiting for so long to see–Berlin. Oh yeah. Berlin. My Au Pairs would be so proud. Frau Bills (Jr. High German teacher, and favorite teach of life, consequently) would be so proud. Ashley was living her perfect dream of seeing Berlin. And this is how it went.

First things first. I was really hoping to whip out my German skills and solidify years and years of book study with impressive dialogue. Basically, this is what happened.

Attempt One

Me: “Wo ist…wo ist…die Bushaltestelle?”

German Lady: Blank stare. “I speak English. If you get off at this stop and turn right, you’ll see the bus station.”

Attempt Two

Me (best German accent I can produce): Ich mochte Bratwurst, bitte.

Waiter: Great! I’ll bring it out to you, and what would your friend like to eat?

Friend: I’ll have one too.

Unfortunately, I realized that everyone pretty much speaks English, and that my attempts to speak German only prompted people to speak back to me in English. Well, except for the people who work at the hospital…

Image

By day .5 of being in Berlin, I got uber (high five self for using a German word) sick. I’m talking stuck in the hostel for 2 days straight sick, busy thinking of ways to put myself out of my misery sick, instead of waltzing around Berlin getting my passport stamped at Checkpoint Charlie, and taking pictures by the Berlin wall. Finally, my friend, Jeni, made me go to the hospital which is where I learned socialized medicine is actually kind of a bummer, especially when you’re a foreigner, and I also learned that my German isn’t all that good.

I went to the ER and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited (insert the word waited for about 2 hours more of reading) for someone to help me. Once I FINALLY got someone to help me, I realized that unlike everyone I had encountered before, the hospital Germans didn’t speak English. Turns out that playing “Ich spreche Deutsch ” is not as fun when you’re bleeding out your ears (side note: that was a drastic over exaggeration…I do that when I’m sick, and I’ll continue to do it till I have the right blanket, the right amount of attention, and chicken noodle soup, okay? I’m a bit of a diva when I’m sick).

Anway, try two went like this:

Me: Ich bin krank…

Dr.: Germangerman german krank?

Me: Ich habe Halsschmerzen. Ich fühle mich nicht gut…Um, do you speak English? Does anyone speak English? I don’t know how to explain what is wrong with me, other than Ich bin krank.

Dr.: Germangermangerman Warten Sie hier, bitte. Germangermangerrmangerman…Wir haben einen Arzt, der Englisch spricht. Warten Sie hier. germangerman. blahhhhhh. ?!?!?!!?????????!!!!!!!!

Anyway, I paid 150 Euros and waited for 6 hours to finally get a doctor that spoke English, only to find out I had a viral infection that was only treatable by Root Beer medicine. Now I get why Germans don’t like Root Beer.

The unsweetened Root Beer they gave me made me feel good enough to go wander the streets for a day, or two and I got to see some amazing things including: The Berlin Wall, East Germany, Check Point Charlie, Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, and I saw some really cool underground art. I’ll have to blog about that separately.

Image

I’m sick and happy. And, I don’t know what I’m wearing either.

Image

Berlin Wall, sick Ashley, nasty outfit, happy girl!

Needless to say, as sick as I was, Berlin was still a dream, especially because I was walking around in a daze most of the time. I’m excited to return and will drink all the Root Beer in the world to prepare immune system for German diseases, so I don’t get sick.

Image

Outfit was better and I was feeling better too.

For real, though, when you travel, make sure you bring some familiar medicine from home and make sure not to get in the way of anyone else’s germs!

Need a place to stay for free on your trip? Try the awesomeness of couchsurfing.org.

9 Aug

I decided to backpack across Europe right after the movie “Taken” was released. As a result, everyone I knew chastised me and told me to be careful to not get kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. I promised them that I would be smart and safe and reassured them that even if I was captured, my father, who is a very talented and successful graphic designer, would come rescue me for sure. Thanks, Dad. Big card for you on Father’s Day! That being said, I utilized a service that may sound nuts, but happened to be the most awesome thing of life. I urge everyone who likes traveling to give it a whirl.

Instead of paying to stay in hotels and hostels in my favorite destinations, I used couchsurfing.org. Couchsurfing.org is an organization that connects other travels. Basically, you sign up and create a profile, and offer your couch for travelers.  In return, people in cool locations offer their couch to you. I cannot begin to tell you about the awesomeness of this service.

First, it is a great way to meet new friends who also love traveling. I met great people in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and I also met people from other countries who were staying with us at the same time. It was fun to talk about travel and hear about the best places to go from other avid travelers.

Couchsurfing.org is also unique in that you are staying with people who live in the area. That means you have a primary source on where to go, what to do, and what to eat.  I saved a ton of time I would have wasted researching on the internet and looking at maps by just asking my kind host. I also had some great experiences with food, which is sort of my specialty. Get this. One of my Italian hosts invited his chef friend over, and he cooked the most amazing Italian meal. It was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Straight up delicious. I also attended a wonderful picnic in France on Bastille Day.  I saw fireworks erupt all over Paris—an experience, I wouldn’t have had if I’d been left to my own devices.

While couchsurfing.org is amazing, there are a few good things to know/do.

  1. Make sure to bring a cool treat for your host. They are offering their house, time and energy to host you, so bring something special and unique to share with them.
  2. Learn how to make something delicious. A great way to bond and to show your appreciation is to cook an amazing meal for them.
  3. Make sure to read recommendations on their profile. Staying with a stranger can be nerve wracking, but couchsurfing.org offers recommendations. This means, people who have stayed there before write a little review on the host. This way you can guarantee a personality fit and your safety. Don’t stay with anyone who has negative reviews, or no reviews. Simple as that.
  4. Travel with a friend if you can. Traveling with a friend is a lot more fun, and also safer.
  5. Make sure to open your house to travelers as well.

If you have plans to stay somewhere else, you can also use couchsurfing.org for recommendations and to just meet cool people. When I was in Berlin, I met up with a couple people from couchsurfing.org, and they showed me a bunch of cool outsider art, graffiti and an underground culture that only Berliner’s typically visit.

Next time you are traveling, consider using couchsurfing.org to met new friends and find a great place to stay.

If you have any cool travel tips, I would love to publish a post about them. Here’s how to submit. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.