vienna, austria

Arriving at the Vienna International Airport with only the street and hostel name of my destination, I found myself less than prepared. I ended up buying a ticket (I had no idea if it was the right ticket) for a tram that went to the city center, hoping that my hostel would be near by.

It wasn’t, no one knew the road it was on, I couldn’t find a map anywhere, and there appeared to be only one tourist information stop. Extremely frustrated, I found much relief walking through the revolving doors of the information center a few hours later. Exhausted, but able to set my bags down, the lady handed me a map, circled my location and told me which metro to take.

Unlike in the rest of the countries, where a 24 hour metro ticket costs about one euro, this ticket machine demanded nearly two euros for a one time ticket! Ouch.

I got on and off the metro, finally walking to my hostel, checking in, showering, and setting out. I went back to the city center where I was greeted by men dressed in white wigs and mozart-esque clothes asking if I would like to go see the Opera. Masses of people walking in and out of stores, sitting in the grass and the plazas, drinking coffee, or eating food. I was startled by the shopping, it seemed the center was made up of stores and restaurants only. This could be alright, if the stores were of great variety and affordable (for me) costs, but instead each block was dominated by Zaras, H&M, Palmers, McCafe, and all sorts of exactly identical souvenir shops.

I watched people. I sat in the grass with my delicious bread bought at Spars, cheese, and tomatoes and watched people pass. I would do this only until people would start approaching me or watching me, before I would relocate. Today- I wanted to watch.

This went on for most of the day and I went back to the hostel pretty early on, making conversation with my roommates as I made my bed. I went out for coffee late into the night, and went to bed ready to check out in the morning to find my new host.

Ruth picked me up at the metro station and we went to her dorm room. Most of the students have single rooms and their own bathrooms, not to mention an incredible location. We spent the next few days walking through town, going out for coffee, drinks, and dinner, and such. One night, her friend who was hosting another couchsurfer from Hawaii, made us all dinner before we went out to a pub quiz which brutally slayed us.

The next night we went to a school function where each different Scandinavian language  class had to get up and sing a song or two, before everyone was provided with free drinks and snacks. We stood in the courtyard talking for a long time, and I was lucky enough to have some really great conversation with a few of Ruth’s friends before we went out to a club to dance. We sat outside while a friend played guitar and sang, and met up with many more students, before 5am somehow arrived, and I found myself without my host. Fortunately, I was with one of her friends who continued calling her until she returned, and the two of us walked home to while watching the sun rise on the city.

The next day we visited a huge flea market with a friend of hers before I headed-AGAIN-to the airport for my evening for the final flight of my three-week-mostly-eastern-europe-solo-backpacking-trip.



June 17, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

budapest, hungary

I had never felt so unsafe until I arrived in Budapest. The bus station was fine, for I made friends on the bus and went with them to their hostel. It happened to be right down the street from the house I would be staying in, but I felt better walking with a group of girls down the unknown roads in the dark. The next few days I explored the city. I walked around a lot on my own, and was startled by the fact that you could find yourself alone on a long road in the middle of the day-although I was not right in the city center. The buildings looked like they were falling apart and many windows were broken.

It wasn’t until I walked inside one of these run down buildings, and into the beautiful apartment of Orsi-my host-that I began to really see Budapest from a different angle. She walks the streets alone at all hours of night-it’s actually an extremely safe city, and the buildings that look unkept and sometimes abandoned, are simply old-like the city. The doors and the buildings go right up to the sidewalk, but once you walk inside an apartment building, you are greeted with a large courtyard. Sometimes green and vegetated, sometimes mostly concrete where people are hanging clothes to dry, but a courtyard which allows the people within the building to see each other and watch what is going on inside. While walking on the sometimes extremely empty roads, I soon noticed that there was constant activity above the streets. From the windows and balconies above the streets of the city, people stirred. I loved this, but getting used to the idea that people could see you even if you thought no one else was on the road was extremely interesting, and a bit reassuring.

My host, Orsi, was much quieter than the last few. She lived alone in a beautiful apartment consisting of a huge bathroom, lovely kitchen, bedroom with two beds and a library, and a main room with closets, a table, and two futons. All the windows were large, and I slept in a bed! I found myself constantly locked out of her house, however, and her wild neighbors would watch me for twenty minutes, attempting to unlock her door, before they would come and try to help-mostly unsuccessfully. This led me back to the depressing hostel I stayed in the first night, until she would come and retrieve me there.

At this hostel I met and spoke with someone who worked at a feedlot in the United States, which was interesting. I had never met anyone, only read books, about these places, so we spoke one evening, and I flipped through his poultry and dairy magazines filled with products to make your animals bigger and advice on how to maintain your “dead bird pit”. When I finally ventured to the city center, or towards it, I was blown away. Every turn you made revealed incredible sights, and the river and bridges were spectacular. I walked all the way up and over to Margrit Island, where everyone goes to jog and relax. I sat and drank tea for a few hours while I caught up with my journal and watched people pass. Orsi was right, the Buda side of the river was very hilly and the Pest side, flat. Orsi took me out to a wonderful vegan restaurant and a few really nice bars which were made from old schools or abandoned buildings. We also cooked a bit, and would sit at her table with dinner and a glass of wine-or breakfast and a cup of coffee, talking before we would either go our own ways or head out the door together.

Invited to a vegetarian dinner, the two of us ventured across a southern bridge to the Pest side where we were greeted by a girl throwing the party. Expecting to be with a group of people our own age, we were thoroughly surprised to find our dinner party made up of a high school girl, her father, and her 52 year old friend. We ate off their china dishes and had a five course meal that was of Indian origin. Interesting evening, to say the least.

I left Budapest at 4 in the morning, taking a bus to the airport tram and the tram to the airport where I was pushed to the very end of a huge mass of people, angry and stressed out, trying to get checked in and onto their flight which was about to leave. After waiting for about an hour, I was sent downstairs, where I was told the news. The news that the airplane ticket which I bought, had somehow morphed into an airport shuttle ticket, instead of boarding a plane to Vienna, I would be boarding a van.

One man drove me to Vienna. I was super upset for a long time, until I laid across the backseat and slept for a few hours. When I awoke, I was surrounded by green fields hosting massive windmills. Looking out the window on my right, the sky was sunny with white billowy clouds, but to the left it truly looked like doomsday. We drove drove drove until we pulled up to the Austrian International Airport and I stood on the curb and waved goodbye.

June 17, 2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

olomouc, czech republic

I have no idea how I heard about Olomouc, but I had read that it is similar to Prague in beauty and scale, but much less tourists. As far as I could tell this was pretty true, although as for a night life Prague is definitely the place to go. This town was much quieter but equally beautiful. I saw few tourists (a nice change from the square in Prague where I felt like it was Christmas at the mall), and the buildings and roads were incredible. All stone streets and churches everywhere. There was one huge gothic style church, incredible, yet I never understood why they would make a church, a place one is supposed to find refuge, so frightening.

I got on a bus in Prague headed for Olomouc and was simply hoping that my new host would pick me up. I had emailed a girl named Bojana who would host me while in town, and I had told her about when I should be arriving, but had never heard back. My concern grew with each mile, that when I arrived, I would be alone and completely lost. I hoped it would be like the city center of Prague and I could easily find an internet cafe (HA-HA).

I got off the bus and was in the middle of nowhere. It was cold and raining and I had no idea where the center was or how I would talk to anyone in attempts to find out (the people I asked spoke no English). I sat on the bench for 20 minutes and hoped (i hoped really hard) that a girl would arrive to meet me.

And-she did-thank god.

We got on the tram as we headed back for her dorm. All smiles and extremely welcoming, we walked up to her dorm where I met her roommate, another girl from Bosnia. The three of us spent three days and nights together. They had a lot of friends from Bosnia, so many conversations, me and their other non-bosnian friend would fight about smartphones.

Bojana has this strange habit of cooking an incredible dinner each night for herself and her roommate, which I was lucky enough to take part in. The three of us would set   out on their desks and eat side by side. We went out a few nights, once for beer, once for tea, and during the day we would explore the town. We spent some time in the library so she could work and I could write and we went looking in churches and through parks. The weather was pretty terrible, so the outdoor activities were a bit out of the question, unfortunately.

I also got the best courses on Bosnian culture one could imagine-in the form of a performance.

The town was incredible, quiet, and inexpensive. Walking to the library would reveal a beautiful stone street, breath-taking churches, and spectacular buildings. Olomouc is underrated-but I think ‘ what makes it so wonderful, the fact that its still under the radar.

In appreciation for hosting me and being so wonderful, I thought I should cook them a dish. What “American” dish could I prepare these girls without an oven for dessert?

No Bakes? I had no idea if they were really American but no one in the dorm had ever heard of them so I figured that made them so.

From Olomouc, I grabbed a bus to Brno and then to Budapest, but I would be arriving in the middle of the night at an unfamiliar bus stop in a different country with a different language and currency and public transportation system… I was a bit concerned.

June 15, 2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.