AmsterDAMNNNNN

You guys, I just got back from one of the most fun trips of my LIFE! I flew to Amsterdam last week and took full advantage of my short time there.

Some quick highlights:

Van Gogh & Rijksmuseum

I Amsterdam sign

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Vondelpark- I stayed right near this gorgeous place.

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Heineken Experience- this was a BLAST. Tour of the brewery, boat ride to A’Dam, interactive experiences, bottling your own beer, everything!

A’Dam Lookout- come onnnnn, more like AmsterDAMN.

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Over the Edge- because why not?

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Anne Frank House- Truly an eye-opening and overwhelming experience to tour this annex and learn about this incredible young woman’s life and how her words have impacted us.

Dutch Pancakes & Coffee

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Floating Market

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Canal Tour- By the way, 12,000-15,000 of these bad boys get pulled out of the canals every year!

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Light Festival- so, so beautiful! Photographs don’t do justice. From November 30-January 21st, so I definitely picked the right time to go!

(These are just Christmas lights- but still, how spectacular?!)

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Dam Square

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Here, you can see bubbles in front of the Grand Palace.

Jordaan/Leidseplein neighborhoods

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Red Light District

I made fast friends with these lovely lads from Ireland and we had an amazing night out!

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I also got to see the charming countryside of the Netherlands:

Zaandam-  Behind me is the only working mill in the world that still makes paint.

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Volendam

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Cheese tasting is awesome. Until you’re a solid ten minutes in…

I tried kibbeling here, too. Delicious!

Marken

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Wooden shoes, anyone?

And I’ll leave you all with this bathroom stall wisdom from Friday night:

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Catch you wildly beautiful people somewhere in the world next time!

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How I Travel

Oh, how I wish I had a dollar for every time anyone has ever asked/told me any of the following:

I’m so jealous, I wish I could do that!”
Ugh, if only I had the money!”
If I ever had the time, I’d go.”
Don’t you get scared/lonely/tired of traveling by yourself?”
“…yeah, but you’re young and a woman.”

Maybe you, reading this right now, have even thought the same thing about me. You see pictures on Instagram and posts on Facebook: Peru, Thailand, Aruba, etc. and think, how does she do it? The money, the days off work?

Let’s get one thing straight here: I am no different than the average person. I am not rich, “just lucky,” or any of that. And it would make me furious to hear how some people just assumed all of these things about me or the way I lived my life, simply because they didn’t know. I worked my ass off to get to where I am and for the things that I have accomplished. I work a full-time job, take writing classes, pay my school loans, struggle to maintain a social life, go to the gym, etc. and still get a decent night of sleep like everyone else. I am an ordinary girl, who just decided what she wanted and went out to get it.

While there are certainly traveling tips I’ve picked up over the years, nothing will get you there until you can understand and accomplish #1 on this list.

  1. You have to want it bad enough.
    It seems so simple. Who doesn’t want to go on a vacation, explore somewhere new and fun, make memories seeing the world instead of being at work? But it’s more than that. You have to want it bad enough that you are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. You have to want it more than you fear the unknowns or what-ifs. More than you doubt yourself and your abilities. You have to want it more than you make excuses for the reasons you can’t do it. “I want to travel, but…” No. If you truly want it more than anything, you will find a way or make a way. This goes not only for traveling, but whatever you want in life. A degree, to get in shape, etc. You have the power. Mindset is everything.
  2. You have to be willing to sacrifice. 
    I get it. Money holds us back. Not once did my parents give me money to go on trips. I don’t come from a rich family. I’m still paying student loans (and probably always will be until I die). So what are you willing to give up? I worked a job I was miserable at for a year, but it allowed me to save up money to spend five months in Europe. I don’t get Starbucks every day. I recently sold my car. I don’t buy Michael Kors purses or go out drinking every weekend, because those things don’t bring me happiness. I’d rather spend my money on experiences. If you know that you can cut back somewhere- do it! I also didn’t stay in nice hotels when I went on my first solo international trips. I stayed in very cheap hostels, in dormitories, and ate bread and Nutella sandwiches, and carried a water bottle that I would refill at water fountains so I could have something to drink. I hardly ever went out to eat. Not glamorous, but that’s the truth. I wasn’t dirt poor, but I wanted to save my money for other things. Not eating out for every meal, every single day, allowed me to buy flights to Belgium and Switzerland. And believe me, I’d trade dinner at a restaurant for that kind of adventure any day of the week.
  3. You have to be flexible and open-minded.
    Maybe you’ve been dying to go to Chile, but flights are so expensive for the time you want to go. If you work, can you change your vacation days and go when flights are cheaper, in the off season? If not, can you look into other destinations that are more in your budget? Google Flights has an amazing tool that allows you to view the varying prices of flights over time, and also track when the price fluctuates. I went to Aruba over July 4th weekend. During the summer, my department gives us the option of working flex time (basically working 10 hours days four days a week, and then having a day off). I usually take Fridays off so I can have a long weekend, which is really convenient for traveling. Example: I worked that week Monday-Thursday, 10 hour days. Had Friday (my flex day) off. I left for Aruba Thursday night. Since July 4th was on a Tuesday, I only took off Monday, July 3rd. And there you have it! A five day vacation, only taking one day of PTO. I also was able to pay less for the flight, because I chose one with an overnight layover in Charlotte, where my best friend graciously allowed me to stay at her apartment. I was able to put up with longer travel time because of the payoff. I strategically planned it this way to my benefit. You just have to think outside the box, which leads me to my next point…
  4. You have to be smart and put the effort in. 
    This one goes hand-in-hand with being flexible and open-minded. Maybe you’ve seen an amazing Groupon for Italy, with airfare and everything included! Before you purchase it- consider the small details in print. Is your airport even listed as a departure point? If it isn’t, how much is it going to cost to travel to the next closest airport? How many meals are you really getting, if any? Look up the hotels they’ve listed. How much is the nightly rate, and how much is airfare for those dates? It might actually be less expensive to book it yourself, separately. Vacation packages are usually solely for the convenience of not having to plan it yourself, and if that’s why you want to go that route, then more power to ya! But, if finances are a factor, do your research. Can you stay at a more affordable hotel than the one they’ve pre-selected for you? Is the airfare cheaper if you leave the day before or come back the day after? When I travel solo, I try to be as economical as possible. Where some would normally take a taxi, I go on foot. I walk everywhere. It allows me to be among the locals more, to really get to experience a city and see more of it, and also is great exercise. I also really feel like I’ve earned it, in a way I can’t explain. But the same goes for excursions and tourist sites. Instead of going with a big group or private guided tour, can you pay the minimum of the entry fee, find a less costly way of arriving there, and explore the site yourself?
  5. You have to overcome your fear.
    People tell me I am “brave” or ask how I am not scared to travel alone. I’m never sure how to answer this. I was scared to death before I went on my first trip alone. I still get anxiety over so many things. As a woman traveling alone, I constantly have to have my guard up and be aware of my surroundings. People don’t see or understand that it isn’t fun 100% of the time. It can be so stressful and exhausting. But the reward is all in the rest of the experience. I refuse to be held back from the fear of “what if”. The risk of NOT taking the risk is a lot greater for me. Bad things can happen in the States (or whatever your home country) as well as South America, in any city, to anyone, at any time, whether they are alone or not. I don’t want to be on my deathbed regretting not following my dream because I was worried about what “might” happen. Traveling alone made me realize what I am made of, and to be comfortable with myself, which is something I had to learn. You’re going to be with yourself the rest of your life, might as well start getting to know who that person is. Do I wish sometimes that my family or friends could come with me? Of course. But they would never hold me back from going just because they couldn’t go. The reality is that if you wait for someone else to be ready, you may be waiting forever. It all comes back to #1, a single question: How bad do you want it?

Bottom line: Don’t spend your life waiting and wanting.

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P.S. Check out my article, What Keeps Us, if you want to learn more about getting out of your own way.                                                                           sig2

Part I: The Heart of Thailand

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016- I was ready to check Thailand off my bucket list and step foot on my 5th continent! I was not, however, ready for the 15 hour flight ahead of me or the dreaded jet lag.

CHIANG MAI

Two important things I instantly knew about Thailand: the people are INCREDIBLY friendly, and the death of their King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October has had a tremendous impact on the country. The mourning period is one year from the date of his death, though with the amount of Thai people you see dressed in black or adorned with black ribbons on their clothes, his memory will live on long after that. He was loved fiercely during his 70 years as King, and as I found out more about him, it’s not hard to understand why.

 Tropical beaches, glittering temples, ancient ruins, royal palaces, rich culture, and not to mention the food- these were all reasons why I’d been wanting so badly to visit beautiful Thailand. On my first day, I woke up to a delicious breakfast-  Thai sweet blue sticky rice and mango, toast, juice, and coffee. One of the first things you’ll learn when you go to Thailand is etiquette- especially when it comes to taking off your shoes. I knew this to be true before entering temples, but also when entering homes and some businesses. It’s the same in hotels and hostels. Also, particularly in northern Thailand, it’s common to eat while seated on the floor (which I personally loved). As a girl who grew up in the country and would be barefoot 90% of the time if she could, I didn’t mind it one bit.  The reason for all this? The head is the top of the body and where the spirit resides, so it is thought to be the most important. Your feet are obviously furthest from the head, and therefore believed to be the lowest part of the body spiritually as well.  This also means you should be careful to not point your feet toward others, especially Buddhas and monks. No matter your beliefs, it is best to be polite and sensitive to the culture of the people and places where you are. Also, any attempt to speak the language is appreciated. A simple “sawadee ka” (for women) is a polite greeting and can get you far. Although Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles” and its people are friendly and forgiving, being respectful of the culture will not only set you apart from most tourists, but also help enhance your experience.

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Breakfast is served!

After eating, I set out to explore. Chiang Mai’s Old City is in the shape of a square, and is surrounded by a moat and walled with four gates. Although this seems simple, as I figured I’d just walk around the square, there is so much to see around every corner! I stumbled upon the Nong Buak Haad Park, where orchids sprawled across the green lawn, fish swam in the small lake, and many people were using the exercise equipment placed throughout the park . I wish I could describe the moment the first temple came into view. I had never seen anything like it! I saw many temples including Wat Phra Sing (near my hostel) Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan, Wat Chiang Man, Wat Pa Prao Nai, Wat Dab Pai, Wat Sumpow and countless others.  The temples were so incredible….not only stunning on the outside, but so peaceful in all their golden glory. You have to of course remove your shoes before entering, and be dressed modestly  to go inside. Shoulders and knees must be covered. (AKA: no shorts/tank tops, etc.) Many are open grounds where you can just walk around, and are free! These pictures are only quick snapshots and don’t do ANY of them justice.

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Sweet & sour chicken- my weakness.

Since I had the time, I figured I would visit Doi Suthep, which was recommended to me. This temple is atop the mountain of the same name, a national park that you won’t want to miss if you visit Chiang Mai. You can take the shared songthaew (taxi truck) up from the North Gate for about 50 baht each way.

The road up the mountain was very winding but not unpleasant. We stopped at a viewpoint for pictures and then at Huai Rap Sadet waterfall on the way down. The temple at the top of the mountain is actually named Wat Phra That Doi Suthep RatchaWarawihan (but often just called Doi Suthep). It was breathtaking- both in its beauty and the 300+ steps it takes to climb up to it!

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The city of Chiang Mai behind me.

 Wat Phra That Doi Suthep RatchaWarawihan

When I returned back to the heart of the city, I wanted to try khao soi, a soup-like dish with egg noodles and curry sauce, which I had heard so much about. It’s a dish that northern Thailand is known for. Very spicy but mouth-wateringly good. Note to travelers: although cards are accepted at many businesses, it is best to get out cash. Some businesses don’t accept cards, and (especially coming from the U.S.) things are so affordable that the minimum amount you need to charge won’t be met, anyway. Plus, it’s always good to have some Thai baht handy!

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Delicious khao soi

Remember how I said Old City is just a simple square? Well, it seems like there is still a lot I missed, and I haven’t even gone outside the gates yet! So off to explore more.

I found out that there is a Chiang Mai marathon on Sunday! Wish I was staying one extra day to run in it. Walked around and saw a couple more temples: Wat Chetawan, Wat Buppharam, Wat Upakhut. Crossed the Nawarat Bridge over the river to visit Wat Ket Karam. Saw two markets, the night bizarre, so so much stuff, lots of clothes and jewelry and street food.

Side note: my definition of being “close” in traffic has completely changed. Walking in this city is no joke as is driving or even being a passenger.  And EVERYONE and their mother has a motorbike. Many people wear masks for the pollution.

For dinner, I had red chicken curry with rice and a berry smoothie. As you can imagine, much of Thailand’s food is so spicy and delicious, but you also eat it praying that it doesn’t burn right through you. I walked through the park on my way back, and enjoyed entertainment from some street artists.

So, have you ever seen photos of people who visited Thailand and rode elephants? Lots of my friends had gone and came back with the same amazing photos. What an experience, right? But after looking into how the elephants were treated, I decided it was unethical and I could never ride them.  At the last minute, however, I did decide to visit an elephant sanctuary where I fed, bathed, and played with the elephants. Guys, I can’t even tell you how incredible it was…  Once I got there, Miriam ( a volunteer from Germany, now a new friend) and I immediately started to feed them bananas. Doesn’t matter how much they eat, they’re always still hungry. (My spirit animal.) They were reaching deep into my pockets with their trunks and getting into my bag looking for more!  They were gentle giants, so incredibly beautiful. And lucky me, I had all four elephants to myself! I was a little apprehensive at first just because they’re so big and unfamiliar and I had never been this close to them.  Their caretaker is called a mahout, and they are bonded for life. It’s amazing to watch them interact.  We changed into the jean outfits shown below with our bathing suits underneath and went for a walk. Miriam showed me mimosa, a plant that closes up when you touch it. Then we walked further through the jungle along a river. I tried passion fruit straight from the vine. After our walk, we helped bathe the elephants in a watering hole. The water was so fun, splashing each other!  Then they got all dirty and sandy again, of course. (They put dirt on their backs for sun protection.) At the end, the oldest elephant lifted me up by the trunk, and I was given a kiss. And it was a kiss. Like a suction cup. (See bottom left photo.) The whole experience was truly surreal.

Maerim Elephant Sanctuary

Miriam and I changed out of our wet clothes and had a cup of tea. We made spicy Thai noodles- noodles, cabbage, soy beans, cilantro, garlic, ginger, then choice of protein, crushed peanuts, tomato paste, oil, etc. all delicious! Only cook for 10 seconds. (That’s a dinner I can get behind.) I had two big bowls and fresh watermelon for dessert. We talked a lot about our countries and education and travel. It was a refreshing conversation.

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Yum!

After I’d returned back to the hostel, I repacked my bag and prepared for my next stop- Bangkok!

Despite Chiang Mai being my first stop in Thailand, I already had a feeling it would be hard to beat…

BANGKOK

Once I touched down at Don Mueang  International airport and checked in to my hostel, I quickly found and walked down the famous Khao San road- a backpacker’s delight. It was already nighttime, and people were pouring through. I’d heard a lot about this area, and decided to see it for myself. Tons of hostels, street vendors (clothing, jewelry, food, Thai massages, etc.) lots of live music and also pop/techno party music blasting from the bars. People drinking out of buckets,  or workers advertising them with signs that said, “Very strong cocktails, and we don’t card you!” scorpions tourists pay to eat or photograph, etc. It was jam packed and wild, sweaty frat boys and drunk girls, people of all ages and races, so close together that you could barely walk through. Definitely a sight to see, but once was enough for me.

 

 

My goal while in Bangkok was to make it north to the ancient capital city Ayutthaya, and I did just that. My first stop was Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, one of the landmarks of Ayutthaya. Honestly such beautiful gardens and ruins, and a reclining buddha there as well. (See photos 3 & 7 in collage below.) Next Wat Mahathat- where flowers bloomed among the ruins (photo 8), stretching as far as my eyes could see, along with this famous Buddha face in the tree:

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Wat Mahathat

 

Then Wat Lokayasutharam- a white reclining Buddha on the outskirts of Ayutthaya (Photo 1).  I also made it to Wat Phu Khao Thong and Wat Phra Si Sanphet, some of my favorite sites that you can see in the photos below.

Important if you go by tuk tuk: be aware of the driver telling you temples are closed. Most likely they aren’t, and the driver is just trying to rip you off.

When I returned to Bangkok, I changed my shoes at the hostel and headed out to see the Grand Palace. Just crossing the intersection was terrifying. Not only because of the manic driving, but the heavy amount of traffic. Pro tip: Go in a crowd and act like you know what you’re doing. And at least that way you’re less likely to get run over in a crowd of people. But really.

I took the river ferry for 3.50 baht and saw Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). It was under construction, but I got there just as the sun was setting.  One of my personal favorites in Bangkok was the gorgeous Wat Pho/Temple of the Reclining Buddha (top left picture) that I managed to explore after the sun went down. (Photo 4)

The next morning, I set out to see the Grand Palace going the way I knew from the night before. There were so many Thai people are dressed in black mourning the King’s death. It was a spiritual silence that I could feel and resonate with, even as an outsider.  Important: Be exceptionally respectful of this mourning period and of the King. Do not speak ill of him, and if you want to talk about him, it’s best to ask the individual first if it’s okay.

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Dressed in black for the period of mourning.

 

A look inside the Grand Palace:

 

 

 

After a long and eventful morning, I decided it was time for some R&R. I hung out at the pool for an hour to soak up some sun before heading back to the airport.

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Although I’ll admit that I didn’t have the highest expectations for Bangkok after hearing it was like other big cities (crowded, dirty, etc.), I’m still glad I chose to explore its hidden gems. Next stop, Phuket! And then, a surprise destination…stay tuned!

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On to the Next One

After two years of not traveling, I vowed that this year I would rid myself of excuses and make traveling a priority again. And I did: Dominican Republic, Peru and Bolivia, Iceland. And now, as 2016 draws to a close, I am excited to announce I’ll be squeezing in one last international trip. I am heading to a place that’s been on my list for a while: Asia. Specifically, I’ll be flying solo in Thailand and then visit my brother in South Korea for Christmas.

Those who know me know that I love to travel, but four international trips in one year (all while working full time, taking classes, and running marathons) is a LOT. I’ve been playing catch up on the last couple years, and while it’s been nothing short of incredible, I’m sure that I won’t continue to travel as much in this capacity as I have been. Moving forward into 2017, I would like to balance it out to one international trip a year.

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Furthermore, (and no doubt a contributing factor to this decision) I decided that I need to throw myself back into my passion- writing. It’s what I love, and in just this first full year of Madwomen classes, I have grown so much as a writer. I’ve dug deeper to find my poetic voice again, have been attending readings, gave a reading of my own, mentored with an incredible poet and teacher, and made connections to other writers in the Pittsburgh community and beyond. This year alone, I have had approximately thirteen pieces published in anthologies, literary magazines, and journals. And that’s with not even dedicating time to mass submissions. So why not keep the momentum going? I’m excited to announce that for the spring semester, I will be doubling up on Madwomen classes.

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Whew. What’s next in 2017- more publications? An MFA? Tackling another marathon? Exploring a new country? I’m not really sure just yet. All I know is that I have come so far in a year, and it’s inspired me to push myself even further to see all that I can be.

But first, some much needed relaxation and celebrating the upcoming holiday with family.

 

P.S. Have you been to Thailand? Would love to hear your recommendations!

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Belgium Under Bright Lights

Remember when I quit my job and bought a ticket to Spain in 2013? Where’d we leave off on that story of European adventures? Ah, yes. Ibiza & Paris.

It’s been three years since I existed in these photographs. Three years since I traveled to Belgium by myself. Three years since I met some of the closest people to my heart.

One thing I love about solo travel is that not only does it allow for self-exploration, but it also is how I’ve met the most incredible individuals. People always think that traveling alone has to be so lonely. And yes, sometimes, it can be. But it’s all in how you look at it. When you travel with a group of friends, you tend to stick with that group of friends. You talk among yourselves, go everywhere together, etc. However, when you are alone, it’s easier to be approached and more likely that you’ll approach others. Of course, this depends on whether or not you can put your fears (or pride) aside.

I can promise you right now that what stuck with me from this particular part of the trip is not the Renaissance architecture , the taste of chocolate, or the country itself, but the wonderful friends I made while exploring its cities.

Read my journal entries for yourself.

BELGIUM (BRUSSELS)

Tuesday September 10, 2013-  Here I am, about to board my flight to Brussels. I wish I would’ve booked this trip better. I still have to figure out what I will do when I get there, and pick which part of the country I am going to explore. I’m overwhelmed but so excited.

Okay, so I loved flying on Brussels airlines. They served a small roll with cheese and sauce, and orange juice, and a small chocolate. Loved it! Basically I just love food. Brussels airport was confusing. Ugh it was rough, but then even though my taxi ride was 60 euro, it was worth it because I had the sweetest old man as my driver and he showed me a lot of the sights of the city as we drove past. I checked into my hostel, a bunk bed in a private part of housing up the street that is just for females. My roommate hadn’t arrived yet. I charged my iPad a bit, researched some tours, and finally decided on Ghent and Bruges trip …took off on foot toward the city and of course it poured down rain. The map of Brussels I’d been given was awesome, really helpful. I went to see the Use It center and saw a girl with bright red hair and an infectious smile. It was there I made a friend- Radka.

She’s from Prague. We traveled in the heart of the city together and talked nonstop, she’s just lovely and so much better with direction than I am.

We set our sights on waffles- I mean, you can’t be in Belgium and NOT get them! Mine was tomato and ham and then with Belgian chocolate for dessert. (Yep- definitely got two. Told ya, I LOVE to eat.)

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We saw Manneken Pis ( a famous 1618  bronze statue of a little boy pissing into a fountain) which is pretty small in person. We took several funny pictures, walked on and stood in awe at the Grand Place (Grote Markt) and Royal Palace (official palace of the King and Queen). Stopped at Cafe Bizon, which reminded me of a small Irish pub, and I got Gueze Boon and Kriek Boon (hint of cherry flavor) and the easiest sour one to start with, Radka informed me.

It was so good to finally have some girl talk. We talked about relationships and travel, life and love, things we wanted to do in the future. And we laughed and laughed. It was hard not to be happy around her!

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I thought I was funny.

I was very tired at this point from a long day with little sleep. We decided to call it a night, and got cat called in Chinatown on the way back to our hostel. We laughed it off, but I think secretly pat ourselves on the back. We felt so alive and beautiful.

It was hard to say goodbye. Radka and I made possible plans for me to travel to Prague soon. I don’t know if it will work out, but I sincerely hope it does. She has been a blessing to have.

BELGIUM (BRUGES)

Wednesday September 11, 2013- I woke up early for my trip to Bruges. I  hurried to get ready, and grabbed a piece of bread with jam and called a cab to meet at a hotel for the departing spot. I was so late.  Luckily the receptionist called for me and I’m now on the bus, so stressful. Made a mental note to not let that happen again.

So I just met two people on the bus that became very dear to my heart very fast…Kathy and John from California. I can’t remember what got us talking, but once we did, we didn’t stop! They are incredibly kind people and I’m feeling very lucky that I chose this tour, so that our paths could cross. We started off in Ghent, which was a small and cute town.  We explored St. Bavo’s Cathedral when we got off the bus and then roamed as we pleased. It was pouring out and cold, so I tried to find some warmer clothes but they didn’t have too much, and it was more than I wanted to pay. [I started this trip off in June and in Spain, so I packed almost all summer clothes, with only a couple pairs of leggings and long sleeve shirts. At this point in my trip, I’m trying to be very careful about money, because I don’t know how things will work out or how long I’ll stay overseas.]

We also saw the Castle of the Counts of Flanders/Gravensteen Castle and drove through the countryside.

Upon arriving in Bruges, Kathy, John, and I walked the cobbled streets around one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever stepped foot in. We saw Minnewater (Lake of Love) and paused for some photographs. From there, we explored City Hall, the Market Square, and even more incredible sights.

We stopped to have lunch at a really nice restaurant…which normally I wouldn’t have done and stuck to my bread and Nutella sandwiches or got a cheap sandwich from a street vendor, but I technically did have the money and I really wanted to eat with them. We had cheese croquettes, beef stew in a beer sauce, and then chocolate mousse for dessert. It was the most I’ve treated myself on this trip. John got mussels and let me try some when he found out I’d never had them before. We had delicious white wine and shared fries.

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They reminded me so much of my parents back in the States who I missed so much, and I nearly broke down and cried when they insisted on paying for the bill…It was such an unexpected and kind gesture. They didn’t know how much it helped. They told me all about their children and how they met. Her daughter was getting married in two weeks so she bought a lace handkerchief for her and some chocolates…They took an interest in my life, asking about my travels and experiences, applauded the journey I was on. We devoured orange chocolate sticks and stopped for a beer since the weather was quite awful and we chose not to go on the boat in Bruges. The natural conversation and company more than made up for it! I’ve never felt so connected so instantly. Age didn’t make a difference, we felt like longtime friends. Kathy and I exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to stay in touch. I miss them and the comfort of their presence already.

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Gloomy day, but still beautiful!

Thursday September 12- I showered this morning, packed up, checked out of the hostel and printed my boarding passes, then scarfed down breakfast. Headed out to find the Nord station and to the vintage shops, hoping to find some warmer clothes. One had everything for four euros and if I didn’t have to carry my luggage on my back and was the old me, I would have bought so many clothes. It’s funny how you realize you don’t need all these excess material things. The other was small but had a jackpot- an outdoor raincoat. The lady said she’d take it for 14 euros but I only had twelve on me and she gave it to me. I FINALLY HAVE A JACKET. This time, I did cry. I had something to wear in this rain and colder temperatures, but the kindness of strangers, and the friends that I have made here, have been the sunshine that’s been missing the past couple days. Somehow, I know I’ll be seeing them again soon.  I grabbed my luggage, feeling completely rejuvenated, and walked to the Nord train station, ready for whatever was next.

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