Virginian Abroad: July 2016

1 Month in Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece

With thirty days on the road, I had gained some newfound knowledge; a clear connection to writing and a comfort with being alone. I wrote during these times alone; yet, the hours spent on trains, couldn’t provide enough time to recount my days.

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BUDAPEST

I boarded the train to Budapest at 10:02 am, initially it was planned to depart at 9:52 am; this being a quick representation of the apparent difference between eastern and western train systems.  The train was expected in at 4:53 pm, which is now I believe going to be delayed an hour.  That being said I have too much to catch up on if I am able to write on this damn shaky train.  The first part of my train journey was occupied with games both individually with Dream League Soccer and Monopoly, played with Chris and Daniel.  Upon boarding it quickly became evident that finding a seat, let alone moving around the train would be difficult to say the least.  I turned my shoulder, stuck in one lane traffic hell with two different lanes rapidly moving to find empty seats.

Luckily I found this “reserved” train car, I asked to which none of them had reservations, so.  Soon I engaged in conversation with my train car mates, two of which are international English teachers now living in Prague!  I normally have difficulty with the British accent, however I could understand them clearly.  We all have one that may be difficult to comprehend, just encounter unfamiliar people from different regions & countries and the idea will be demolished.  After talking about a wide variety of topics; in particularly, European politics (fascinating!) then American politics (Hilary and Trump they spoke) we turned to Monopoly.

Playing on Daniels Ipad ate up some time on this long journey to Hungary; I soon bankrupted though and gladly resigned.  I gained interested instead in learning about their employment; teaching English abroad!  Instead of contemplating teaching in America, where it does not appear Valued and paid; why would I not consider teaching & living abroad after college.  Both of them, possibly old 20s-young 30s, seemed overjoyed with their option to travel the world; Chris is even going across the world to teach soon, to South Korea!

Now back to writing, I must return to my last days in Germany, and the two days in Prague; but first, I am in need of a caffeine, five hours of sleep the night before is making an impact on my sluggish mind.  To the first class train restaurant and the addition of hopeful A/C.  I also have now a table to write on and the ability to stretch my legs.  Prior to this backpacking journey, I had no use for coffee; now I see how crucial it can be to keeping me awake along my daily adventure; given that I do not sleep much and/or often very well.  Don’t think I would ever drink it first thing in the AM though, it is a drug; one that I do not want to be dependent upon!

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My first night in Budapest and last day alone, before meeting them at the airport.  This is now written from my more distant memory, so more of highlights, since I haven’t written in length for some days.

I arrived in Budapest from Prague on the most questionable train thus far, with seating being scare, so empty on seats many people were standing throughout this journey.  Luckily, I got a seat in a 6-seat car/train similar to the one I sit in now (maybe not as nice!.  From the train station I walked about 20minutes until I arrived at your Mom’s hostel, good location about 10 minute walk from Andrassy avenue (main st.) that connects to Heroes square and city park and also not far from the metro stop “Okotogon.”  After getting settled in the hostel, making my bed I headed out for the evening excited that the Germany Italy game.  After finding a nice spot, an Italian restaurant that was showing the pregame.  I sat down, ordered a glass of Hungarian red wine, ordered a plate of delicious tagliatelle al Salmon followed with a glass of Peroni.

In the height of the game, I would need an expresso to wake myself up, just to see Italy lose in Pks.  The night turned sour afterward as I walked home half upset, other half so tired that I was unaware of my surroundings due to needing sleep (having been awake since 5am).  I arrived home near midnight, quickly to fall asleep for the next morning.  I awoke with butterflies in my tummy, excitement, nervous together; how would I do now traveling with people?  I arrived to the airport at 950 am, waiting with families, tour companies and taxi drivers, 11 am almost two hours later, the two of them finally come through the doors.  Watching hundreds of people, being let down each time, made it so much sweeter.  We briefly caught up, before I was informed the home we will be staying in (Air BnB) is off Andrassy avenue.  I was happy to navigate, but had to remark laughingly that I just came from there.

Riding on the bus then metro (which was free to Mom’s surprise) we headed out on the metro stop; she still asking how the niece of the home owner and entered into our place, beautiful and large a welcome change from the no A/C hostel!  The location was great, the owner even provided two bicycles, we just needed one more.  That night we just walked around getting lunch the later groceries for breakfast at one of the many 0-24-hour market corner stores.  After being rung up for our food we asked for a bag (not having thought to brought one) she added that to the total.  Upon realizing that we told her no we can carry, she didn’t take kindly to that and started to yell at us.  We walked out, not going back to that place!  As I sit here on this train, drinking a bland coffee I find it difficult to recall each event on the given days.  That being said Budapest for each of us was the highlight of the trip, there never seemed to be a clear low light.  I quickly found their company to be joyous and invigorating although it took some time to adjust to having company, just as it has taken some time to adjust to being back on the road alone.

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The first full day (July Fourth) celebrated Independence Day in Hungary we rented a bike, to add to the other two.  We went out exploring both sides, Buda & Pest at full force, mostly riding on the streets since Mom didn’t like so many people of the sidewalks.  This provde to be the best way to explore Margaret Island, and both sides of her of the city.  We biked the pretty green island before hoping back on Margaret bridge, 1 of four that we biked that day.  It took us to the Buda side, known as the quieter local isde of the island with the Castel hill among many other attractions.  Biking down the Danube river we saw the parliament building, a glorious building that Michael Jackson & Freddie Mercury each tried to purchase; I overhead a torusit guide speak on it (I blended in!)

After eating one of my favorite meals both mine and trying moms dish (grilled chicken w/ vegetable crepes…Photo) and the grilled chicken w/ apple slices covered in honey mustard sauce with delicious dumplings (photo.) We headed over to the parliament and the shoes of the Danube memorial, honoring the Jews that died by the river by the Nazis.  I don’t know how to possibly write about this properly even 60 years later on.  How do you accept and speak about/let alone write of such a memorial dedicated to a group of people being forced to their knees before a river only to become part of it, as if a human being is a piece of trash floating down the river.

(Danube River, to the right—the Parliament building, Pest, and the Shoes Memorial)

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These shoes are bronzed and permanently fixed here as a reminder of our past, which is still very evident (along w/ communism) in most of Eastern European countries.  After these 2 must sees on the Pest side, we stumbled upon an underground memorial for the massacre of 1956 in October?  This memorial easily able to walk by gave the three of us are first insight on the atrocities of the Communist rule in Hungary.  This underground memorial/museum (very tiny) shows, video footage and has witness accounts of a massacre on friendly unarmed citizens in a main square by the Soviet soldiers along with Hungarian police/military.  The accounts speak of bullets spraying over a crowd of peaceful citizens, who were expecting to hear a political figure speak!  Soon tanks came to the square, to further the violence.  At the end of the videos, a message came up asking for people to come forward with any information on this tragedy.

This memorial was gripping, which gave me my first glimpse into the true terror of the Communist regime throughout the eastern bloc.  My insight was then heightened with our visit to the Terror museum, the next day while biking along Andrassy avenue.  Budapest does a wonderful job of representing its history, making locals and tourist aware of its past.  The museum is dedicated and created for the terrors of the Nazi party and the atrocities of the Communist regime from 1950s to the late 1980s.  Along with normal museum exhibits, it has rooms used by Nazis/Communist captains & higher-ranking officials and cells/prisons used by the Communist regime to torture and interrogate.

The basement floor showed all the types of rooms including: a wet room, a plank room, a room only long-wide enough for one to turn slightly but not to sit cross legged or lay down and then a low room preventing the prisoners from standing up straight.  These describes as torture rooms were used to house prisoners or people before interrogation for as long as a week.  The victims who were being interrogated would be forced to stay awake for multiple days in order for them to confess to something.  The house-basement located on Andrassy was the headquarters of both parties until liberation now used as part of the museum.

(Underground Exhibit, Budapest)

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This location is only 800 meters from the end of the Andrassy, heroes square/city park; which is probably my favorite attraction of Budapest.  This city park is large, green and attracts many visitors; whether for eating, drinking, sightseeing, active sports, dog walking, sunbathing, or of course, the main attraction, the baths (a must do while in Budapest!)  We enjoyed the baths, which include a laned lap pool (30 degrees), a warm pool (32 degrees), and the warmest/most popular the 37 degrees large pool.  The baths are nice, remains of the Roman empire, but two hours proved to be enough, however it was unique watching the Wales v. Portugal game on a large projection screen while in the water.  One day seemed to be enough for the Buda side, as we then biked across to visit the Castel hill area; overlooking the parliament building and the Danube!

The castle hill is in Budapest’s old town with a beautiful church, the royal palace, and a small older walled town.  Afterward, we ate another delicious meal at an Italian restaurant, a plenty here, perhaps better then in Italy?  The day in Buda was completed by climbing to the top of Gellert Hill to see the liberty statue which provided an incredible view of the Danube and of the whole Pest side.  Budapest is small enough to be accessible by bike, and thanks to Bubi (the city’s bikeshare) one can rent a bike for relatively cheap price; first thing I would advise to do once settling in here!)

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The highlight came when biking along the Danube at night with Julia and Mom.  All of the pretty lights, the parliament lit up at night and shining off the river!  One of the coolest moments and sights I’ve seen over these last 50 days!  I would undoubtedly return to Budapest above all other cities; Berlin & Prague come in second & third.

VIENNA

Vienna even for a short period seemed to take the least “cake”.  After the three of us waited from noon to 530 pm for entrance into the apartment (Air BnB) we decided to leave over the overall cleanliness; or lack thereof.  They met me at a nearby café, I remained there with Wifi, we then decided to board the train for Klagenfurt, in southern Austria.  After being advised upon visiting southern region by one of the employees at the café.  This proved to be wise council and a great decision, even now writing this I smile at how it all worked out!

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After about six hours in Vienna and experiencing the difficulties with our Air BnB host, Sin, we have changed course.  We are now to catch a train headed south to Klagenfurt and closer to our next destination, Slovenia!  We hope to see more of the expected Austrian topography!  Anyway, now to return to my earlier thoughts.

KLAGENFURT

The hotel we stayed at was a great location, in the middle of town, minutes from the main square!  Being in a hotel and not an AirBnB was not ideal, since we had no laundry, but it did have a mini fridge that we packed daily with yogurt drink (very popular here it appears), sandwich makings: deli meat (poli), cheese & veggies.  Julia showed her immense skill with a plastic knife, no cutting board and limited resources.  The one room hotel bonded us further together, as we shared a bathroom and all slept in a queen bed (2 singles pushed together)…it was a room for “2.”

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Thinking of this brings a smile to my face, those two days we lived simply but was surrounded by a beautiful region in a small cute city atmosphere!  It had a daily market starting at 5 am, near the main square which housed a dragon statue facing a man (conqueror of the dragon, the dragon slayer) with a club in his hands.  The legend supposedly goes on that the unknown man (to me) killed the dragon freeing the area from the dragon, and thus able to be settled!  Love the history, mythology of some European cities/regions. Aside from the close & great company, the highlight here came with visiting Lake Worthersee, about a 30 minute bike ride from the main square.  This lake, which we biked around most of and surrounding small villages rival lake bled and lake Bohinj, which I will dive into later on in this trip.  Lake Bled from Klagenfurt is about 60 kms, I have a hard time thinking of a more beautiful stretch and desirable destination for nature lovers.

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Lake worthersee, with see-through-blue water is magical, and nice to swim in although it was quite cool on this particular day!  Still if a shark or crocodile is gonna eat me, call me old fashion I’d like to look at him/her in the eyes!  After this delightful, small spontaneous stop in Klagenfurt we headed to the train station on July 9.  To catch a train connecting to Villach at 12:22 pm then on to the Slovenian capital, which was scheduled to arrive at 2:31 pm.  I can now look back on our first and only transportation mishap and laugh; we didn’t catch that ride.  Instead, we arrived in Ljubljana at 6:31 pm, funny story now; certainly not at the moment for me but with time, reflection and good company I soon got over it!  No harm came, thus “no problem.”

The reason, we decided to sit at a train station café and play rummy (card game we loved as kids but haven’t played in years, now being re-introduced and we’ve played religiously together since.)  Anyway, a mom, grandmother and son, sat down next to us; we started talking and legitimately watched our train just leave us as we kept yapping on with the friendly Austrians.  I pouted, acted poorly; took some time for me to understand that this did not hurt us!  Instead we got to play more rummy, however it did force Petra’s daughter and her boyfriend to wait longer!

LJUBLJANA

We arrived to the apartment, a beautiful, comfy apartment just large enough for the three of us.  We did realize once they left, we should have asked how to use the washing machine; a different make and naturally in Slovenian language.  The couple left for vacation and we then had the place to ourselves!  A good location, away from the “hustle & bustle”, relative of course since the city is small compared to the other European capitals we have come from!  It is only a 20mins to the city center and a 10minute walk to the nearest Mercado.  Ljublijana, due to being European and small in comparison is very easy to walk about.  Possibly the biggest draw is the central park (Tivoli) located in the middle of the city!  It includes acres of forest & fields, and provides many trails for runners, hikers, and horseback riders.  We would later find out that the park is a shortcut from the city center to our Air BnB.

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We spent all of our meals at home which was nice (a good change from relentless eating out for my first 32 days.) Who better to cook with and eat their meals than Julia & Mom?  I find myself learning something each time I am sharing the kitchen with them.  We made daily trips to the Mercator for food-dessert, prepared lunch and Julia was sure to have breakfast & coffee made then lunch packed before our departure from the apartment.  The first morning we had a coffee mishap, the Euro style mocha machine, it spilled all over the stovetop and floor; ultimately ruining a few of the provided white towels.  Aside from that, things ran smoothly at the apartment although the washer continued to be a challenge.  We needed to after we neglected the laundry in the previous two nights at the Klagenfurt hotel.  We decided after Julia & Mom slept in, since we stayed up late most nights until midnight or 1am, that the first day we would explore the city.  The second day then would be our more anticipated day, making it to the lakes (Bled & Bohenj).

LAKE BLED & BOHENJ

After Austria, we entered Slovenia in route to Ljubljana.  Those two days were eventful, if I could change one thing, I would have stayed longer to explore the rich nature of Slovenia!  I believe I never finished explaining my time in this small Slovenian capital, particularly our day trip to Lake Bled & Bohenj.  The smaller and yet more touristy Lake Bled is surrounded by hotels, boasts a castle atop a hill and of course the church in the middle island.  We couldn’t make it there, since rowing a broken & old paddle-boat is quite the challenge!  Instead we choose to heed the advice of locals and spend more of our time at the larger lake.  After 2 ½ hours at Bled we caught the bus for Bohenj around noon.  The moment we arrived, we recognized that it was the right choice.  The area is a nature lovers dream, offering plenty of water sports, sandy beaches, and hiking!  Oh, and the lake is surrounded by the Julian Alps, they are imposing!  We decided to take a cable car 1500 meters up to see the breathtaking view.  There are countless hiking routes, but time was not on our side.  Mount Vogel was our stop, PHOTO below!  Even being the middle of July, it was chilly most likely due to the altitude?  Young campers and families were spread across the shores; school had just recessed for the summer.  It was a wonderful ending to a special two days with them; again, a place I’d like to return!

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My previous two days with them in Slovenia were truly unforgettable.  Arriving into Ljublijana at 7 PM after our initial plan of arriving in at 2-3 pm did not end up, why?  It was tough to accept for me.  Like with anything it seems ridiculous now to be upset but at the time.  After being in the Klagenfurt train station in Klagenfurt in anticipation for our ride to Villach in time to catch one to Ljublijana.  While waiting, we began a conversation with an Austrian family, mom, son, and grandmother in a café.  The conversation continued even when the train arrived, I did not get them quick enough and it passed away.  It became tougher to accept when realizing the next train will be 4:20 pm, effectively losing four hours in Slovenia.

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The city center is separated into 2 parts, as the case in many European cities…divided by the river(s).  I found this to be especially cool as the bridges are unique; the Dragon Bridge, with a dragon on each corner and the glass-see through bridge.  It was strange to see the boats crossing underneath us, naturally I have the photos/videos to provide proof.  I cannot deny that in this, I am a true tourist, pulling out my phone constantly to get all the shots.  After walking about the colorful center, we headed up to the castle (Mom’s first castle visit!)  Side Note: possibly the most gratifying experience, seeing mom encounter Europe for the first time!  She made some serious gains since first arriving into Budapest.  In a span of eleven days, she would encounter four different countries with various languages/cultures and currencies.  I will get more in depth of this wonderful occurrence/truth later!

Finally arriving to the apartment; after needing to be retrieved at the station and four hours late, we soon forgot our problems.  It was delightful, located in a beautiful green area about 15 minutes from the city center.  Most importantly the ride was very informative, or that the driver that is; discussing the commonalities of our two political parties/figures.  There seemed to be an unfortunate truth he explained, our shared is trump(s).  The city appeared quiet but active especially with the bike lanes, and the massive central park-Tivoli.  The next day, in the city center we were amazed with the green initiative and display!  (Euro 2016 Green City?)

This morning we had a scare with getting to the train station!  After attempting to call for a taxi numerous times between 7:25-7:35 it seemed as if we were out of options, after Uber proved to be non-cooperative.  We then considered walking but with the heavy luggage, distance (3.1 KM) and 8:25 deadline that seemed risky.  We walked out of the apartment with the hope of hailing a taxi (never done that) while on the way walking to the train station, but then Julia using my phone was finally able to connect with the taxi!  It was now 8:01 am, the taxi arrived, picked us up and before too long we were looking at the train station.  (8:15 am) The driver was good, saving time with a different route and even hitting lights, switching gears (some F&F stuff!)  Unfortunately, due to the language barrier our words couldn’t properly express our sincerest gratitude, but I imagine our body language & expressions might have! Crisis averted and now to Zagreb, arriving into the Croatian capital at 10:46 am to catch a plane at 1:50 pm to Dubrovnik.

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DUBROVNIK

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The next morning was a travel day, taking to train from Ljubliana to Zagreb; the capital of Croatia.  We arrived in a stressed state; at least I did!  Thankfully, we were put in good position and navigated the train station quickly.  All of the stress was alleviated the moment we saw the train station just 400 meters; at that point I wanted to jump outta the taxi and make a run for it.  Mr. Taxi driver may have taken 15 minutes to arrive at Petra’s apartment, but he then made up for it by driving with aggression and speed!  The train ride to Zagreb by western standards; what I experienced in Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, & Germany was questionable at best; naturally the eastern European train systems is drastically lesser than that of its western counterparts; considerably slower too.

We stayed In Zagreb just long enough for me to confirm my suspicion that I the capital would be of little interest; if you’re traveling to the Balkan coastline countries; the inland area is probably of little interest, there are exceptions, but I would be confirmed later.  I will remember the flight to southern Croatia for one reason alone, it was hot without a/c.  In fact, one teenager female passenger kept complaining of how hot it was, western world problems!  It seemed to be uncomfortable for everyone, I turned inward and reminded myself of the 95 degrees Celsius sauna about 20 days prior; thank you Norbad, Dresden.  Upon arrival, an airport bus took us to the center of the old town; the ride provided stunning coastal views of the Adriatic and once we departed the bus, we understood the commotion.  Despite the tourists; seriously plaguing the area, the twenty-minute walk about was something else.

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TREBINJE

As I dive deeper into my trip, on a bus to a city and country I never planned for, (without research or intent to visit), I am facing a new challenge even after 45 days.  Sitting in a relatively dark 18-seat small bus/van filled to the brim with 10 people from around the world; two guys from England, some Bosnians naturally, and two women found S. Korea (I believe); and of course, a lone American!  The bus keeps taking on more passengers, since we have empty seats, but is stuffed with two sheets of ½ inch drywall, a half folded large mattress, removing any view of what’s behind us and a rolled-up mattress in the back, then peoples luggage.

As we leave I can now recount my last three days in Croatia, mostly in Dubrovnik and twelve days prior to that spent with Julia and Mom.  We traveled through Hungary-Austria-Slovenia to get here.  It is getting difficult to write, luckily I know, I can catch up on the impending eleven hour train ride from Montenegro (Podgorica-Belgrade) to Serbia.  While stopped at the border checkpoint, I am able to try to write legibly; what an uneasy feeling, handing away my passport, but it didn’t appear I had another option.  We just picked up a mother, daughter, and son (locals) to bring them across the border.  All of us are sitting in this damp, smelly, closed in van waiting for the driver to return with our crucial documents…success!  This is now turning out to be an interesting experience, every time I cross a border!

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Ulcinj

After leaving Trebinje this morning (11AM); I first bused to Bar, to wait at the City Cafe, then to catch a train to Podgorica; the capital of Montenegro.) The action was against the advice of Milos, a volunteer with deep traveling knowledge and experience, working for the hostel Polanko.  The next day I’d get another chance to continue my thoughts onto paper; from a pier/concert slab that extends from the beach some 300 meters.

First, a long bike ride that started at 9 AM, heading to Ada Bojana; roughly 16 kilometers away.  After leaving the FKK community (a nudist resort & beach), I did my best to explore the 13 km stretch, known as Long Beach.  This stretch of coastline is unique as the road that I biked, is parallel to the coastline, separated only by a thick and green woods.

I enjoyed the long bike ride back as I visited the beaches: Copacabana, White beach, Haverani, Copa, Safari, Florida, MCM, all on the way to eventually finding this gem!  Every beach I came across after the first, FKK, charged for the usage of a chair/umbrella, and I am unfortunately too cheap for that, but also without a beach towel.  After leaving every beach unsatisfied, I sit here now content, further our than any of those beaches would allow.  Along with that, my chair and table are free of charge, offering a great view and atmosphere of young and older locals diving in from the slab.  The sun today beats down on me but the breeze and the cool water (I jumped in once) make it bearable.

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I do not understand how people can suntan & layout without enjoying the salty, refreshing Adriatic sea!  As I enjoy my first full day in Ulcinj, I can’t help but think about my impending return to the states.  Tomorrow, the 19, will spend a day in Kotor before hoping on the train (the twentieth) from Bar to Belgrade; the dreaded whole day travel!  From everything I have read, though, it will be a beautiful ride through northern Montenegro & southern Serbia.  From there I will spend two nights in the Serbian capital before flying to Athens for a night alone…then Dad arrives on the 23!

With seemingly so little time left, all I can do is enjoy my time, and be grateful of my time between the cities and the many people I have come across, in the time that has preceeded today.  Luckily, I will have plenty of time to reflect and write while I enjoy the scenery from the train window.

KOTOR

Things worked out well starting with catching the bus.  After booking the flight from Belgrade to Athens and after several phone conversations with Dad, I have decided to stay the night alone not at a hostel but at the booked Air BnB.  That being said there is still no wood on this bus, and as life is a rollercoaster, I will probably fall down the mountain that I hike today to get the Kotor View!  I hope I prepared well enough on my frugal budget: 2 yogurt drinks, 1 egg sandwich & 1 meat sandwich (prepped the morning of), 1 pack of sunflower seeds, 1 banana, and a pack of six waffles w/ honey!  It is very difficult to prepare for an entire day (7 AM-1130 PM) of food for me. Oh and 1.5 liters of H20, no gas; which I’ve noticed is more normal than the Western European countries, which seems to mostly to drink carbonated drinks (damn Munich and the carbonated water & apple juice-back to back days!)

Then in Berlin’s HBF, I paid 2.20 Euro in dire need of water after an exhausting day filled with biking and running to the train station, for carbonated water (not refreshing!)  I write today, July 19, in a restaurant by the Bay of Kotor looking up to the fortress and the Dinari Alps?  It was a nice day in Kotor, although I am glad I only spent a day here.  Arriving at 10 this morning and will attempt to catch the 6:40 bus back to Ulcinj.  I can’t see one spending too much time here with no beach, swimming area and a very little to do besides the “tourist sites”.

The old town, the fortress, and bay itself (again good to look at!)  The walls are cool but coastal cities in Dubrovnik and Montengro have them, both of which being more more eventful and prettier.  I did do (my opinion) the best thing while in Kotor, the ladder of Cattaro; a 3hour hike up to Locven Road?

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This was enjoyable as it provided to be a vigorous climb up an ancient caravan trail, the trail ascended over the fortress which provided an incredible view of the city, mountain and the bay (I will walk-hike quite a way for stunning views.)  Other than the walk, which left me exhausted and dead legged, I didn’t feel the need to do as much; as I walked old town Kotor in an hour.  I originally planned to catch the 9:27 bus back to Ulcinj; but feel satisfied with my Kotor day and now give myself more time to pack/prepare for the long train ride tomorrow.  After today’s hike and yesterday’s bike I’m sure my legs could use the rest of sitting tomorrow, although I will get anxy?  Sitting for that long, heading back to Ulcinj is faster (1-hr, 57 min) compared to 2-hr, 30 min.

cafe.JPGToday or this morning came early!  Waking up at 6:15 to finish packing up my bags and prepare for the train meals that I will eat today (both sandwiches).  I am always worried about missing my transportation which is why I caught a bus that arrived to Bar at 7:55 am but does not board until 8:50; better safe than sorry!  I need this coffee this morning, not normally a drinker of it in the morning, but with not going to bed until 12:30!  I enjoyed the conversation with Daciana (volunteer from Romania), sitting out on the porch of the hostel, drinking and talking.  I learn so much from the older, more experienced travelers, all it requires is one to listen which I am good at!

Again, I’m told to learn one of the Slavic languages, I should first learn Russian’ so add another language: Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, Slavic, German, Polish, or Portuguese?  French and Russian appear to be the most beneficial.  I’m sure I have written this before, certainly have said it multiple times, I hate the idea that I can’t communicate with parts of the world due to a language barrier, or worse I can’t explore parts of the world due to not being able to communicate with the people of that region; particularly I can imagine Asia.

Conversely, I can communicate with people of U.S.A. and the United Kingdom, but do not have a burning desire to visit those areas; particularly the “fly over states” Nebraska, Oklahoma, etc.  I told Daciana of my three year plan, to finish school in the states and exit en-route to somewhere abroad; also told her this summer was my first scouting like recon of Europe and traveling.  So far I have learned a lot of what I desire and do not want in the future home, but the beauty of Europe is once over here it al is travelable.  I want an active, clean city of medium size (particularly Barcelona too large!)  I never thought the smaller cities of Torino, Heidelberg, Potsdam, Dresden, Klagenfurt, Ljubljana and Trebinje would make such an impact on me!

I learnt large metropolitan cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin and heavy tourist spots: Barcelona(again), Munich, Dubrovnik would be too taxing for me.  I am now on the train, in a first class 6-seat room. Have a good view looking out either window and looking across the other in sunglasses (no offense women in the middle, between them, she seems nice and shoes got a crossword puzzle book!)  We are now passing Lake Skador, a large pretty lake surrounded by mountains as much of the country seems to be.  It has been 3 ½ hours with the current stoppage and heightened security check my guess we are now in Serbia, and I have become tired of being sedimentary and stagnant.  My hostel dorm-mate from Czech, the last few nights in Ulcinj warned me of this train ride.  I explained I was aware of the distance, then said with the random stops in Serbia and slow train in speed to expect an additional 3 hours.  This will give me plenty of time to write.  Yes my passport was checked crossing the border.

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BELGRADE

Spent the day, since 11 am, with Stefani & Kristina, my new friends from Bulgaria; I will get to that but I still am in need of catching up! Back to Slovenia & my thoughts. From Klagenfurt or Villach, it took only an hour and 45mins to get the Slovenia capital.  The train ride passing through Lesce Bled was stunning; the train station is small & easy to navigate which would later help us ultimately when leaving Ljublijana! When we arrived we were picked up by the Air BnB host’s (Petra) daughter & her boyfriend! I could not suggest her highly enough or the app Air BnB (as long as one does their researching of the reviews!)  We rode in the car with the two of them, the boyfriend appeared to be more comfortable speaking English, which led him to introducing us more to the city, culture, history (pertaining to Yugoslavia) and ultimately…politics; he even claimed that Slovenia has their own Trump!  The history is fascinating in the Balkan region, as war raged on until 1994. In 1991 Slovenia, Croatia, & Montenegro first broke off from the Balkan-Communist conglomerate.  We of course exchanged customs and politics, as it seems that everyone is curious about America’s shit, mostly politics (Hilary v Trump) and police shootings of African Americans. After he spoke of corrupt politicians in Slovenia, my mom had to reassure me that every country has their own problems.  This I am very aware of but have noticed there is not a fear of the police/”civil servants/protectors” in these European nations I have experienced!

Today I left Home Sweet Home (HSH), the name is fitting.  By far one the best hostels I have stayed in on this 2 month expedition…and sadly the last hostel I will stay in.  The situation could not have worked out better, ironic didn’t plan it at all (came into a new city, Belgrade, at 9pm without lodging!)  I accompanied Kristina & Stefani into the city, although they had a destination; Home Sweet Home, their hostel.  Although I did not get a room at their lodging, I was directed elsewhere.  The receptionist made a call and within ten minutes I was booked at the nearby hostel, Bongo.  The next night I would move to HSH, and unfortunately leave my crush, the receptionist Daniella.  After walking through the door, soon to check in the second day into HSH and who do I see?  expectedly the two Bulgarians, but also Ervin.  We last saw each other in Trebinje; now nearly a week later we’re in the same dorm room.  Kristina & Stefani had booked a night train back to Sofia, the capital of Sofia and their home; about 8 hours away.

This gave us half of the together, we spent the previous night from 1030 pm until about 130 am, although I feel asleep, prompting the end of the night.  The restaurant we found served delicious home cooked assorted meats and various sides.  We then found a café after walking about the dim city, with a great atmosphere and wine.  We seated outside in an open area filled with music and dancing people.  Seriously…foodie here…the food in Belgrade was something else, arguably my favorite regarding the food I tried.  Kristina found a restaurant, Zavicaj and acted quickly since closing time (1130 pm) was approaching.  We perhaps kept them open, but were friendly to us.  After checking-in and showering, and filling Daniella’s ears with nonsense, I joined them after ordering; Kristina did a phenomenal job!  The table was set with a bottle of white wine and three side salads, one which had hot peppers; something we all tried.  Their reactions were entertaining!  Then the waiter brought three large, juice filled sausages, a massive burger steak filled with peppers, cheese, and possibly other meat?  It seems that Serbian meat is often stuffed, a grand idea and joy to my pallet.  For this brief period, I found my heaven, or cloud 9; I found the rest of my Serbian food was just as pleasurable.

Despite the vibrant atmosphere, by 130 am I was fading, fighting off sleep.  The day was long, a travel day first beginning at 630 am; in addition I was not able to sleep on the train.

Back to the second day starting at hostel Bongo.  I left at 10am, met a fellow America (Chris) from Las Vegas, first native of Las Vegas I’ve met.  He responded prematurely to my question, “Yes I am from LV, I am often asked about this.” We discussed our travels over breakfast waffles and Euro-cream and cookies.  I enjoyed the former, while slightly disturbed about his meal choice.  After talking for a while we bid each other adieu and made my voyage to the ATM. While out I came across a woman with a stroller, really I was just one of many of the sidewalk.  In Serbian, she turned her attention in my direction addressed me.  After staying mute, but clearly showing a confused look; she I presume asked again?  The second time, I responded in English; which then received a response…”oh well I have to walk up these stairs can you help me with the stroller please.”  “Of course, I can help”, I responded.  This was adjuring she sounded so aggressive and yet when she switched to English I was at ease.  I guess the language, like Russian, being Slavic is just heard as such.  The Bulgarians provided me insight with this truth, offering helpful teacher-like explanations of the Slavic languages, as Croatian, Slovenia, Serbian, and Bulgarian all share similar words.  Examples: Lepa (Beautiful), Dobre (it’s good), I would use that a lot out of shear fun, and most importantly, Hvall (Thank you) a word that a traveler should always know in the respective country!  In return I was able to provide some clarity and further understanding of some English, although I have much I need to improve about my own language skills, it did give me my first opportunity to practice being an English Teacher.  I have previously been in company with many non-native English speakers during this trip, which has increasingly given me confidence to offer my help; particularly thinking about Michal & Tomas, the two Polish brothers that I met in Berlin.

I enjoy this company, learning/teaching collectively, in this case learning bits about the Balkan culture and Slavic language, and naturally in return, speaking on American culture.  This brings a fun-unique dynamic into a newly formed friendship that I imagine seeking out in future travels.  The closest comparison to this is the WVU friend group where we all collectively learned from each other’s cities-states & cultures.  With each represented a different city/culture: Irish-Pittsburgh, Euro Mutt-VA, African American-Philly, Puerto Rican & Dominican-Chester (NY), Jew-Jersey, Italian American-Long Island, etc.

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Later we trekked out into the city, making our way to the Belgrade fortress, along the Sava & Danube river intersection, it is a large park, very nice view to relax & enjoy; although we did not do much relaxing!  Afterward we crossed the city toward the Nikola Tesla Museum, I’d say more hiked since it was drowsy from a lack of sleep, five hours is not enough! (2am-730am) I was certainly at my normal energetic, fast pace; since I was with them, we more so strolled!  Also, Belgrade is Hot and dry in July, making it difficult to be a true tourist during the prime midday hours! The Tesla museum was phenomenal, damn Edison! I learned more about the monumental scientist, first from the Science museum in Valencia and now from this fascinating museum.

He devoted his life to science, to better mankind but at the time was seen crazier and not as revolutionary. I find it funny how people & society, can so easily dismiss Genius just because he operated differently, proposing something (alternate current) that was not accepted or understood at the time. One of the many reasons why I do not care for what the general perception of me is, most people will never understand, thus instead criticize out of ignorance!  I have enjoyed every day here in Europe, able to act as strange as I want; exploring cities while singing, dancing, laughing, tripping or even striking myself if necessary.  He clearly did not care about thoughts of others, which led him on his mission that was so great for him to devote all his time to his purpose. He neglected his family (wife/kids/girlfriends) because he knew that would only get him so far.

That amazes me, I often wonder two things; first, if only I would have never felt a woman’s touch, what would I being instead. Second, in the future could I abandon my duties or desires attached to a woman to instead follow my mission?  We left Tesla’s museum enlightened, but very hungry; a common theme for me on the road!  We were excited to have another opportunity to enjoy the food!  We came across an open outdoor eating area shared by many restaurants; we chose an Italian restaurant; no matter the city, they are everywhere!  I ordered a dry Serbian wine that I read about, Tamjanika; which prompted them to each order a glass.  I have gained an appreciation for wine, particularly, red & dry!  The tagliatelle with salmon and asparagus, delicious but a different spin than what I previously had in Budapest that had red sauce.

The ladies ordered mushroom/mozzarella risotto, which was tasty since Kristina could not finish her large portion!  We were able to shockingly split the bill, an uncommon practice in Europe, especially paying with card!  I would later find out that night, how uncommon the act is!  After a filling lunch we returned to the Home Sweet Home hostel to enjoy much needed relaxation, away from the sun.  We stayed in, each of them reading, while I wrote until it was time from them to depart & for me to meet up with Ervin at the Cantina de Frida, providing a beautiful view outside of the Sava river.  It was difficult to say goodbye to my new friends, never easy but I keep hope that will can cross paths again!  The restaurant is not actually far from the fortress, where I was earlier in the day; although it would of course be difficult for me to find.

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As I walked through Republik Square, the main square and throughout the streets of the city, I reflected upon how truly amazing these brief relationships are.  We all share the traveler spirit, open minded.  To think I boarded a train car not looking forward to the ridiculously long eleven-hour ride.  Within three hours, Stefani diagonal from me offered me a cookie, I naturally took it and boom.  She would soon ask where I was from and then the conversation and exchange of goods would flow!  We talked-joked-drank and discussed my writings and superlatives, they found them to be particularly interesting!  The next eight hours seemed to go quick, Kristina slept most of it, recovering from partying in Budva, yet when she was conscious, she was social

So now here I am walking to a restaurant reflecting on a friendship that was created in a third of a day and which lasted 48 hours; now to another friendship that was created in a span of two days in Trenbinje.  This is one of the most amazing things coming from traveling, let alone actually experiencing the various places & people in the respective areas.  I have found a love for the Balkans, and the people which are so friendly!  I explained to Kristina and Stefani that my qualifications for living somewhere are…good weather; like Goldy locks & the bears (not to hot/cold or rainy, but just right!), good topography (I need mountains, and a lot of blue & green!), good friendly people, tasty food, attractive women, and there must be something eventful, either with the city or nature!  I’m sure ill be able to find more about myself as I continue to travel!  The Balkans thus far check majority, if not all those boxes.

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ATHENS

I sit down today to write not knowing when to expect my father, who’s flying in at 10:30am at the Air BnB.  As soon as I wrote Athens above, the intercom rings. I jumped to unlock the door and move swiftly to see the taxi driver and him standing outside the apartment; I am reunited with Dad!  Now I sit in the exact place as I did seven hours ago.  Due to a much-needed nap from him, I can now continue my writing from the previous stint.  We started to explore soon after he got settled in, of course I had to inform him of the quirks of this apartment, European style naturally.  Many of these places have slight differences which make doing laundry, taking a shower, or anything in the kitchen a little more difficult.  For instance, this apartment requires one to turn the breaker for the hot water on before using the shower/tub, roughly a 10-20-minute process.  Little things that are easy enough to adjust, especially keeping in mind how long I have dreamed in being in this historic city!  To get started it is wonderful being around dad again, nice to have family again, since departing my sister & mother about nine days ago.  Family can always bring me in, like Julia and Mom, Dad provides that reassurance along with giving me confidence of being with an experienced traveler.

I think it is safe to say that I am following in his wanderlust spirit, thanks to him I have already visited more countries than my mom, who can now add the cities of Budapest, Vienna-Klagenfurt, Ljublijana, Lake Bled-Bohenj, Zagreb-Dubrovnik. The two of them then flew to Belgrade to return to the states.  They have their own story about that one evening experience!  Since they only stayed near the Tesla airport, about 30mins outside of the city, they described the city as depressing; understandable since that area is bleak!  Anyway my dad & I set off to explore around 12:30pm, already feeling the harsh sun we tried to walk in the shade whenever possible.  Being both foodies and/or garbage disposals, we ate before doing some serious sightseeing.  Walking past a busy pedestrian street, we were pulled in by the sales pitchers.  The restaurant workers come up to people, trying to find a relationship between us; for me I was wearing the Michigan hat, he called out “Michigan? Spartan or Wolverine?”  I responded with him now in close proximity.  He opened the menu and started to pitch for God’s restaurant!  Really after talking a but we left only to return about 20 minutes later, Dad was hungry!

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We naturally we recruited to the various other surrounding restaurants while we continued our exploration.  Upon seeing us return, his face lit up; I presume due to getting his commission!  We ordered two beers (Mythos) and grilled calamari for appetizer, although it was too chewy, the picture is more appealing than the taste below.  The octopus I ordered and the pork, dad’s was much better then the unwanted watermelon, something they bring automatically for dessert.  Now we had energy-fuel for sightseeing to start with Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olymian Zeus.  Amazing to be in the presence of history dating back to 500 BC.  No need to question plenty of pictures provided, although embarrassingly enough…it took 52 days for to find out how to zoom on my Iphone camera!  I was blown away, now I can truly become the professional photographer that I am capable of being!

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(Acropolis, Athens)

First practice, zooming in on the Acropolis, which is a steep hike; especially with this oppressive heat!  It is truly imposing, looking over the city; it includes the Theater of Dionysus, Herodeon, the Erechtheilon and something referred to as the Parthenon…naturally we looked over that building on insignificance!  I have to include humor in this, as my pure writing style will never attract the readers without my true voice.  I can’t properly describe the Acropolis, luckily I have pictures, so I will just add that it is a collection of large stone buildings and appear to be over two centuries old.  The most excitement comes from a nearby frozen lemonade shop that resides along the bottom of the hill directly underneath the Acropolis!  That is the true gem of Athens, I enjoyed the strawberry but would also try the orange.  From there we walked past the Areopagus hill, the big rock formation raised high enough to offer a good panorama view of the city out to the sea.  Naturally I went up while dad remained on the ground level. Saw the Ancient Agora, heart of the public life many many years ago, our next destination!

We walked down a few quaint city streets, passing taverns and shops until we came upon the Monastiraki square.  The square has many streets that feed into it, all of which are lined with cute touristy shops, along with cafes & bistros.  The flea market is nearby, although as one would expect the items are of a lesser quality, and unfortunately not very authentically Greek!  Instead there are Biggie & NWA shirts.  We soon got a Taxi to return to the Air BnB, since Dad did not favor walking back; however, per Tripadvisor: taking a Taxi in Athens is number 4 on the list to-do!  Only behind such world attractions of the Acropolis museum, the Acropolis and the Parthenon!  I have a difficult time accepting this, but we have now completed the top four!

IMG_2871.PNGLeaving Athens is tough; it was a fun and hot two ½ days filled with tourist sites during the day.  The night called for more nightlife-company, thanks to Rita and then Kristina!  I am confident I will be back to Greece, more particularly Athens one day; its helps to remind myself this when I leave needing to still experience & see so much.  It would be great to see the sisters again, thanks to Tracy for connecting us to them, which offered a local experience!  Athens and the surrounding areas have too much to offer before we even mention the one thousand plus islands?!

The first night Dad arrived right as I began my first writing, July 23.  We met Rita shortly after that evening, she picked us up in her two-door car and took us for drinks and food!  The three of us sat in a quaint-authentic Greek area, thankfully able to avoid the plague!  In the spirit of Greece and Europe, we shared five-six dishes; Fava, Zucchini fitters, Dolmades, Greek salad, mini-burgers and Tzatziki, all good naturally.  We included five bottles of white wine; Rita is something else!  We ate-drank-talked from 10pm until 1230am.  The wine kept coming and flowing, towards the end we were brought Greek Yogurt with honey and raisins then literally the greatest chocolate cake I have ever had in my life.

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We came home exhausted after a long day and evening, returning at 3:15 am!  Looking forward to much needed rest we crashed!  I awoke at 9:30 am, Dad 11:30 am to start it up again.  My goal was to catch the fifty-man changing of the guards, unfortunately I got lost and missed it.  I was able to see the small, three man change which was unique from what I’ve seen before (photo below!)  With the spectacle I saw in front of the Parliament building and the tomb of the unknown soldier, I can’t imagine the 50-man one, wow!  Of course, there was too many people standing their ground, filming and taking photos; tourist really do ruin everything!

Afterward I then walked to meet Dad in Plaka, not far from the BnB and underneath the Acropolis!  While I was waiting for about 15 minutes, I met a nice French girl, Chartes.  We exchanged fun traveler jokes and stories, what we’ve each experienced along with each of our hometowns.  She complained that she was having to wait for a friend, and how she couldn’t do everything she wanted to because of her company; I exclaimed how great solo travel is for that very reason.  Dad came upon us sitting on the bench, to which I bade farewell to her.  He soon explained to me that he was going to let us have some time; I laughed and told him it’s not like that, just invaluable to have the exchanges; certainly, don’t desire anything from it.  By 1 pm it was oppressive heat, but none the less sights needed to be seen, starting with the Hadrians library.  A large archeological site nearby the grand Acropolis, boasts columns made of marble, many steps that remain, very worn, which are simply incredible to walk on.

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SANTORINI

This morning was surprisingly peaceful, despite being a travel day.  Dad & I ate our breakfast in the airport, each of us remarking how incredible an island Santorini is!  Seemingly everywhere we went, we were met with incredible views-sunsets, food and entertainment; although the two of us alone can be enough.  Truly a wonderful finish and send-off for my Europe backpacking trip; I only hope the beginning of my travels!

Dad made two great decisions, costly I can imagine but helped to make our stay in Pygros.  First, booking a cave house in an area less touristy, instead more local families in the hilliest point of the island.  The second, which enabled us to explore a different corner of the island each day, was renting a car.  We drove to Kamari beach, ExoGonia, Akotiri coast, Perissa beach, mistakenly (!) and Fira.  Each region offered something unique, even the many beaches.  Our favorite beach was the black and white sand beaches of Akotiri, although the black beaches of Perissa was stunning; showing off, red, black and gold cliffs surrounding the beach and cove Faa.JPG

Akotiri boasts red sand beaches (photo below) and the archaeological site of ancient Thira.  My barefoot walk on the rock terrain was interestingly criticized by dad and then he slipped with his sandals; I chose wisely.  The water was warm enough to calmly swim; each of us taking turns to cool off from the hot beating sun.  The only concern was the taxi boat which forced swimmers to beware away to not be caught.  The taxi man would arrive and yell “red beach, white beach, black beach” which was a highlight of the trip!  Tourist would load in and then they would tour the coastline which offered the three different colored beaches.  In Perissa there were chairs and umbrellas available to rest in and the water, like the other side of the island was warm.  Like Akotiri, we were given a nice view of an overlooking cliff (photo below.)  This beach, reminding me more of an American beach had a boardwalk and restaurants, a rare sight for a European beach.  Arriving in the smart Car, we mistakenly happened upon this quiet beach, deciding to stay due to exhaustion of driving in that tiny thing.  The car however, I don’t think could have been any bigger since Dad had to, impressively, navigate through narrow streets and tight turns.  He looked so funny in that machine (photo below!)

Afterward we visited the lighthouse, located about only 20 minutes away.  Naturally it provided an incredible 360 view, the caldera (sea) and other islands in sight gave us plenty of pictures.  Fira, the capital was tight and too buys for either of our liking.  It was however necessary to board our cruise heading to the volcano island, hot springs and the fisherman’s island, roughly only having a population of 300 people!  The cruise around the island was relaxing, packed but there was plenty of fun and peace to be had.  More entertaining besides joining I believe either Aussies or Kiwis in the underwater clay makeshift spa, was dad jumping into the water!  The reddish-orange clay was warm obviously, since it was the hot springs.  Both islands were uniquely different, I was able to run parts of the volcano island; separating from the tour group and then just sit by the water at the fisherman’s port, enjoying a Greek seafood feast.  It is truly peaceful to be by the water, not much compares to sizing us the power of the oceans and seas; either by physical activity or just by sight.

(Red Beach, Santorini)

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The trek to the old port for the cruise however was a journey, certainly more than what we expected.  One of the greatest workouts during my two-month period; understandably people prefer to either spend five euros for the cable car or take a donkey ride (photo below)!  I’m sure the donkey riders, however strange or empowered they felt, thought me to be crazy for running down then up that cobblestone trail.  The run included 20 plus switchbacks, careful having to step over the massive quantity of donkey dung.  We initially were concerned about missing the cruise, leaving at 1030am; at least scheduled for it!  After my sprinting down, a serious exercise, I arrived at 1025am only to learn that we wouldn’t leave until 11ish.  This gave dad ample time.  The return, I ran, dad utilized the cable car; ignoring his fear of heights.  I’m still feeling that run, why didn’t I stretch?  That experienced together with the cruise was certainly a highlight of Santorini along with the Santo Winery, time with dad (certo!) and the FOOD (photos!); I even gained an appreciation of white wines.

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AirCanada to Toronto

We left Athens today at 1:05 pm, using Air Canada which is expected to arrive at 5:20 am.  The seven-hour time difference needs to be stated to understand that we are on this plane for eleven hours!  The east coast time will soon come back into prevalence, but for now I am still on Athens time, which is seven hours forward!  I have to admit it feels very strange to be heading back to the homeland, I have unexpectedly become accustom to the nomad life, even if just for two months!  It is a never-ending range of emotions, from irritation, annoyance, discomfort yet exiting and thrilling at any moment.  I go back to my first encounters with Europe, Lisbon as a timid, nervous American abroad.  From this first day to now, I can clearly track the progressive, which is by far the most encouraging truth from this journey.  I am now an avid believer that a person grows most from being outside their comfort zone.  Reminding me of the quote from Into the Wild, “the core of a man’s spirit comes from new experiences.”  This experience was most certainly new for me and I feel that a big part of me has been unearthed and awaken!

I arrived in the Lisbon airport without a clue of what to do, all I knew was I needed to switch my US dollars into Euros.  Unable to find my luggage, the currency changer and even find my route to the hostel, I tried calling my parents to no avail; I was in a frightful despair!  Well, I got my backpack from the luggage claim after asking a fellow passenger, however then it would take me a few hours to find the hostel, although I was within a half mile of it after departing the bus.  I have learned so many new things since that first day.  Use what is at your disposal, so first my phone which I was fearful of using, due to international charges, for the first week!  More importantly trust and believe in yourself, and when that fails; which it will since I am just one man, accept the help of people around me.

Many habits and interests that I once thought to be of crucial importance to me, have now truly taken a backseat.  Almost appearing of little interest, for example: being without television for nearly two months has put that habit in perspective!  Smoking, a daily habit back home of living in a cloud, now has been reduced to an occasional activity.  Some relationships, I imagine, back home I look forward to but many I now realize I can do without.  I am excited to return home to begin school at VCU and to move to Richmond!  Family, friends, school and the continuation of my maturation are all awaiting me!  Perhaps most exciting, I will be able to return to basketball; something I have not truly played in two months!  It will be nice to return to the comfort of my own home country-state-city; knowing the people, customs and language will allow things to be a little less stressful.  I do imagine missing the excitement of the backpacker-vagabond lifestyle, the never-ending daily challenges have forced me to grow which I am ready to apply to my new life in Richmond.  I have learned throughout this short summer, from fifteen different countries all of which have something great to offer but none are admittedly the United States; for good or bad!

It couldn’t be a better time for me to return home, the summer Olympics begins in a week!  School also starts in three weeks.  I feel removed from American politics, missing both the DNC & RNC, along with many other important American events, social eruptions.  Although I am joyous to create my life in Richmond, it was difficult to leave Greece; what pride in their culture and history.  In the conversation for my favorite country, considering Athens and Santorini provide such drastic complements of each other; the beaches, sights, etc.

It’s an empowering feeling, becoming more comfortable visiting a new foreign country, where of course I am not able to speak the native language.  Lisbon was a great city to begin the trip; beautiful landscapes, friendly people and incredible food!  Portugal is on the top of my list to return.  Spain was everything and more of what I expected, surprisingly of the three main destinations, Madrid was my favorite.  It offers great food, again gorgeous sights, and a proud rich culture!  It is enchanting, despite not being along the coast.  I hope to return to Spain, although would aim to visit the south and north of the country, the areas I haven’t yet explored; especially the former Moorish south and Gibraltar!

I trained through France, quickly learning I must have a grasp of the French language if I am to navigate around the country.  The national pride is strongly evident, whether it be the food, landscape or language!  Taking the train from Barcelona to Valence, then up to Paris then only to return south to Dijon was exhausting and stressful, but I finally made my way into Milan at 5 am; it was a sobering experience!  I thankfully choose Torino instead of the fashion hub of Europe, the right choice due to the authenticity of the capital of Lombardy.  I need to improve my Italian in hope of returning to Italy, even at the university I had a difficult time finding an English speaker to help me with ordering food.  Seriously, too many students and employees there could not offer help; I believe it to be the lack of confidence, not the disinterest in helping.  There is so much to see in Italy, aside from the tourist hubs of Roma, Firenze and Venezia, which we first visited in 2010 for Julia’s HS Graduation present.

Germany was next, particularly Munchen, the capital of Bavaria!  From Munich I went west to Heidelberg, then north to Hamburg, east slightly to Berlin then finally southeast to Dresden.  Each train travel and city offered different landscapes, mentalities, cultures, histories, etc.  The southern Bavaria region showed up with universities; heavy student populations!  Each city provided a drastically different experience, from southern values to northern liberalism; mirroring the U.S. east coast, ranging from modernity in Berlin & Hamburg to cobblestone streets of Dresden and Heidelberg.  I liked every city, even my day trips to Potsdam, Dachau, A…  In Potsdam I was able to blend in on the bike with a backpack, appearing to be just another university student on campus.

After Dresden I headed to Prague, my favorite city to that date!  I unfortunately only stayed two nights; the city offers great beer, friendly people, and the contrasting old and new towns!  The Czech capital was then upstaged by Budapest, my destination that paired the terrible turds together!  Understandably their presence made, I imagine, the true difference between the two cities; along with more time and we biked…nonstop!  We stayed at the AirBnB for four nights, yet I left feeling that there was much to still do and see; a true indication of how great a city/country is.  If I leave with the accomplished feeling of completing a city, then why would I return?  We had a blast biking alongside the Danube, to Margaret Island, and to either side of the river, Buda and Pest.  Their company was wonderful, reviving and providing me with the best entertainment, after all I am able to be my true self with them.

Although the journey continued with the idea of what’s next and the trend of each destination being better than the last, I hold Budapest dear to me; accepting it atop the pedestal.  Which now brings me to Klagenfurt in the south of Austria. Memories riding our bikes on their highway; unknowingly, until we soon were incessantly honked and yelled at (we didn’t understand any of them!) It took a while to get past, and Mom even freaked out with tears in her eyes, thinking something happened to me, since I took longer than they did. Something did, I just stopped due to irritation, feeling like a public outcast, to say the least, but after Lake Worthesee, our close time together at the hotel-sharing a simple dinner from a convenient store. Also, the early morning market that Julia and I attended! I can undoubtedly say that brought us three closer!

Plane to Washington D.C.

After a night in the nearby Quality Inn Suites we are on our way to Reagan National Airport; soon I will return to a place that I consider my partial home.  Toronto’s airport is very organized, we must have gone through seven security checks and yet everyone of them were quick and smooth.  A nice change from the Greek airports of Athens and Santorini!  Now many thoughts run through my head, construct a to-do list; most notably prepare for the move to Richmond.  I’m very excited to see Mom, Mitchell, the rest of the family; but let’s be real…this is about the RIO Olympics, swimming, basketball, track & field, etc; it’s all grand!  The three of us will be gathered around the TV in our tight, cozy family room. It seems that so much must be done before school begins on August 24.

(Europe in two months)

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