The Blog

Budapest Through Photos: The Top Tourist Spots in a Party City

Tbh, I didn’t know much about Budapest before going, I had just heard it was a must. So I took three trains over 18 hours from Rome, and arrived in Budapest, Hungary. I didn’t know what there was to see, but I quickly learned that Budapest has a lot to offer information-hungry visitors (see what I did there? Hehe).

Budapest is definitely a party city. The buildings seem to transform from innocent structures by day to thriving, vibrant hubs of activity at night. So, if you traveled to Budapest to party, you definitely made the right choice… but make sure to plan at least a little time to see the city!

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The city, first of all, is so beautiful.

The buildings are all capped with clay and mint colored shingles. The Danube mightily flows through the center. The city is ripe with history and picturesque views.

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I did a free walking tour of the city the morning after I arrived with a couple girls from my hostel. We walked all through the Jewish Quarter and saw the synagogue, some traditional buildings, and the ruin pubs.

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The Danube is the major river that runs through the heart of Budapest, separating the Buda side from the Pest side (they used to be two separate cities!).

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I think Budapest is one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever been to. I use the word “interesting” here in its true sense–the city really is interesting. It’s full of wacky architecture, graffiti, ruins that have been transformed into hip pubs, and some really important history, especially with regard to World War II.

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Ruin pub by day. So cool by night–a must!

The beautiful Parliament building is also one of Budapest’s main tourist attractions. Impressive and intricate by day, yet strikingly luminescent by night, this magnificent building impressed me from both sides of the river and at all times of day.

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Parliament by day.
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Parliament by night.

Heroes’ Square, closing out Andrassy Avenue, is yet another tourist attraction Budapest has to offer. It contains many statues of famous Hungarian politicians, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. If you’re into history and museums, this is definitely something to check out!

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Heroes’ Square.

Budapest is also heavily laced with Holocaust connections. Like many other European cities, there’s a Jewish ghetto, which is absolutely brimming with delicious kosher restaurants and shops and synagogues.There are countless monuments to remember the victims, some marked and some unmarked. One of the most striking and heartbreaking monuments is pictured below. The Nazis would line up their victims on the banks of the Danube River, force them to strip naked, and shoot many of them, their bodies falling into the river. Those they did not shoot would then return to the Jewish ghetto, a mere three blocks away.

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The most heartbreaking bit was seeing the children’s shoes.

After soaking in all the fascinating history Budapest has to offer, you can soak away the afternoon in one of the many famous thermal baths! These babes are so, so awesome. It’s basically like sitting in a hot tub outside, with your skin absorbing all the good chemicals and minerals they have to offer.

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My friends and I visited the Szechenyi Bath, the most famous of the baths. Painted a traditional mustard yellow color, this bath is actually like twenty baths in one. The most picturesque, of course, is the outdoor bath. It’s similar to your local fitness club’s outdoor pool, probably. Picture teenage girls tanning, men standing around drinking beer, and moms dipping their legs in on the edges, gossiping…. and of course, everyone is Instagramming the whole affair! The building, however, also has plenty of indoor baths if chilling outside isn’t your thing. The pools range in temperature from 20-40 degrees Celsius (aka pretty chilly to pretty warm). There’s a bunch of saunas, as well, ranging in temperature, steaminess, visibility, and smells.

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Plan to spend a while at the baths–they’re so relaxing (and a great hangover cure).

And of course, how could we talk about Budapest without mentioning the incredible nightlife?

The girls I met at the hostel and I went on several pub crawls, a champagne boat party, and danced all night every night. Budapest isn’t a city you want to sleep in–it’s the city you go to afterwards where you’ll need a day or two (or a few) to catch up!

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Plus, my friend and I may have gotten matching tattoos after a particularly fun night 😉 What’s a backpacking trip without something crazy to commemorate it?!

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Budapest is a city with a massive heartbeat for fun, history, and intricate architecture. The rumors you’ve heard are right–it’s a must-see when traveling through Europe. I know I’ll be returning in the near future to experience the wonder of it all again.

tess (1)

HOW TO TRAVEL EUROPE FOR THE BEGINNING BACKPACKER: Your Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Europe

I’ve had message upon message about this topic, all saying the same thing: I want to travel Europe, but I’m clueless about how to get around! 

So, I’m here to tell you the unfiltered pros and cons of travel in Europe. I’ve lived through the ups and downs. I’ve slept on buses and trains. I’ve ran to catch a train two minutes before departure. I’ve missed connections. I’ve lost items, accidentally spent unnecessary money, and sweat through all my clothes after a 30+ hours of travel. SO, read on if all that sounds like fun! (Just kidding, mostly….)

(Beware: this post will be significantly longer than others, so feel free to skim to the parts you want to read!)

First things first, you need to know a couple things about backpacking.

1.) You can’t bring a lot with you.

Most planes, trains, buses, and boats have luggage restrictions. Sometimes the restrictions are STRICT–and I’m talking maybe a free personal item, but then there’s a $100 fee for even a carry-on. So: travel light.

2.) Be flexible.

Probably a little over half the time, my train/bus/taxi/plane is late. That means a lot of standing around, sometimes for hours in stations without heat or A/C or benches or anything to eat besides a Kinder bar from a vending machine. That means spending extra money on food while you wait because you get hungry. That means missing your connecting train/bus/etc and having to figure out how to get a refund with a company that doesn’t have an English-speaking representative in the city you’re in, or you don’t get an email response until over a month later, or sometimes you’re just fucked and there’s nothing you can do but buy a new ticket. That means using international calling rates to contact your hostel to let them know you’ll be later than your ETA. Essentially, expect the unexpected. So: be positive and be flexible.

OKAY, now that we have that out of the way….

The ultimate guide on how to get around Europe!

Each option listed below has pros and cons, like most things about travel. All have the possibility of delays, mechanical problems, and unforeseen issues. Before traveling, it’s necessary to have a feel for how much money you’re willing to spend, especially on things like comfort and length of time traveling. (For example: are you willing to sleep on a shitty reclining train seat for twelve hours with five other people sleeping up against you like sardines? Can you sit on a bus for over 24 hours? Yes, I’ve done the former, and I’m planning to do the latter.) So, buckle up, and let’s plan your trip!

 

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If you’re flexible, use the app GoEuro. I’ve never used it personally because I have a train pass, but this fantastic program searches the cheapest, quickest, and easiest routes between two cities. They search through buses, flights, and trains, and it’s a great resource, especially for budget travelers! Once my rail pass expires, I’ll definitely be using this fantastic app.

1.) Take the train.

This is probably the most popular among foreign travelers in Europe. For non-EU citizens, you would want to purchase a Eurail Pass (EU citizens can purchase the Interrail Pass). This is an economical option if you are planning to take more than 2-3 long-distance trains. Without the pass, tickets can be very expensive (my 30 euro ticket from Paris to London would’ve been 250).

The Eurail Pass has a lot of different options for purchase. You can buy 1-, 2-, or 3- month unlimited passes, you can buy a certain number of stops in a certain number of days, you can buy access to trains just one, two, or a few countries. Essentially, you want to have an idea of where you’ll probably be going.

I purchased 10 stops (aka 10 24-hour travel days) in 2 months, and I *really* wish I’d purchased the unlimited pass. I’m traveling a lot more than I anticipated, and I’m spending extra money on other modes of transportation. But live and learn, I suppose!

On my pass, I write the date I’m traveling and all the connections in between (ex: London –> Brussels –> Amsterdam counts as one travel day as long as you’re traveling within 24 hours, but you still have to write all the connections in between). Once I’m on the train, the train manager will come around and check everyone’s passes/tickets/etc and stamp them with the date.

The Pass also has first and second class. There are obvious differences between the two classes: first obviously has comfier, bigger seats; it’s probably quieter; sometimes there’s free Wifi if it’s not offered to the entire train; and sometimes there’s food/drink service for free or for discounted purchase. While I did consider purchasing a first class ticket because the prices aren’t that much higher, I’m glad I didn’t. My impression of first class is that it’s mostly for citizens traveling for business. I haven’t met any other backpackers who purchased the first class pass. Second class is just fine, and is actually pretty luxurious. (Especially to us Americans who have most likely never traveled via train before–I was surprised at the quality of most of the trains I’ve taken!) And remember: if you have the first class pass, you’ll also have to pay more for a first-class ticket on a train (unless you want to take second-class, which of course is allowed). Also, if you find others to travel with, it’s unlikely they’ll have the first-class pass.

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An example of a train in Eastern Europe.

I have the Rail Planner App that comes free with a Eurail purchase, and it’s so ridiculously easy to use. You just type in the city you’re departing from, the destination city, and the date/time you’re hoping to leave. The app will then spit out a range of different routes, connections, and times. It’ll tell you right there if a reservation is required and for what trains. It sounds complicated, but it’s so easy.

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An example of a Thalys train, a company that works in Western Europe.

Big train stations are a lot like airports, fully equipped with cafes and shopping centers and a board reading all the departure times and the platform number the train will be at, as well as the sops along the way (most of the time). If you get confused, there’s always an information desk or phone, where you can speak with someone about your train and get all the info. This makes train travel really accessible and comfortable, even for rail newbies.

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Train station in Budapest.

Pros:

  • Comfort. Trains have seats that are larger and more spacious than airplane seats, and sometimes there’s a little desk in front of you (not like airplane desks–this is like a little table, sort of).
  • You get to see the parts of Europe not always discovered–from the countryside to the Alps to the tiny train stations in the middle of nowhere.
  • Speed. Some trains are high-speed (Paris to London was 2.5 hours for 453 km), others are slow (my train from Budapest to Prague on Wednesday morning was be 6.5 hours for 525 km).
  • You can take overnight trains to avoid paying for accommodation for one night. I’ve done this a couple times! Just make sure you’re taking an overnight train (you can see this if you expand the details in the Rail Planner App). I once had a four-hour layover from 1-5 am, and I planned to sleep at the station… except the station closed from midnight to five am and I was stuck with either sleeping outside or paying for a hotel room.
  • Luggage: you can bring on two large bags and a personal item, I believe. I’ve never had an issue with my 40L backpack, duffle bag, and large purse.
  • There are often restaurants on trains to purchase food and drinks on long-haul trips.
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Seats in a Eurostar, a train company based in the UK. Photo credit: https://www.dezeen.com/2014/11/13/eurostar-launches-new-fleet-pininfarina-redesign-20th-anniversary/

Cons:

  • If you lose your physical pass, you’re fucked. You don’t get another one.
  • It’s the most expensive mode of transportation.
  • You still have to buy train tickets sometimes.
    • Your pass gives you a hefty discount (see above with my ticket from Paris to London), but sometimes you still have to pay a bit, especially with high-speed trains. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly how much train tickets cost without the pass, but I know the pass is worth it if you want to travel via train. I’ve paid anywhere from 356 Serbian diners (less than $4) and as much as 45 euros ($60).
    • You oftentimes have to make a reservation. You can do this on the Eurail app for some trains, and other trains must be reserved at the station. It’ll tell you on the app if you can make the reservation right there. If you’re planning more than like two months in advance, I believe you can call to reserve your train and they’ll send you a paper ticket in the mail, but I wouldn’t recommend this because it doesn’t give you the flexibility of just traveling on a whim. I extended my stay in Munich because I liked it, for example–I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I had planned so far in advance! I usually make a reservation anywhere from 4 days before I plan to take a train up until the day of, typically reserving it the day prior.
    • Many trains, especially in Eastern Europe, are free with the pass and you can just hop on without a reservation. I’ve taken plenty of trains like that.
  • Sometimes, you have to take like five trains over a period of like 18-24 hours. It’s just the way it is.
  • If you don’t leave your luggage by your seat, there’s the possibility that you could get robbed. This can easily be solved by purchasing a small lock for your zippers and a lock with a long neck to attach your items to the shelves they rest on, however.

2.) Fly.

To be honest, I haven’t flown in Europe, so this is all based on research and what other travelers have shared with me.

Flying by plane in Europe can be massively cheap. I’ve seen tickets for as low as 10 euros, and that’s not even really uncommon. A common airline is Ryanair (Europe’s version of Spirit Airlines, for my fellow Americans). I use the app Skyscanner when I want to find a cheap flight.

Pros:

  • Can be very cheap.
  • Quickest mode of transport, especially to countries that are a bit out of the way, like Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Greece, etc.
  • Familiarity. We are used to flying! It’s comfortable and we know how to do it easily, especially as foreigners.
  • There’s also almost always public transportation to airports, and many hostels will provide airport transport for a fee.
  • Employees of airlines and airports most likely speak English, so it’s a bit easier to get around.

Cons:

  • BAG RESTRICTIONS. You cannot fly with lots of luggage in Europe for cheap. It just can’t be done unless you have some kind of crazy miles racked up or something. On the flight, you might get a backpack for free. I’m talking like a literal backpack (not like a nice backpacking backpack, but like a school backpack). You must be a super-minimalist, stringent backpacker to fly through Europe, or you’ll be paying a lot at the gate.
  • While tickets to fly in Europe are cheat as dirt, you’re paying for basically nothing. When I flew from New York to Barcelona, I paid $189, but I didn’t even get water on the flight, and I was slapped with a $65 fee for a bag (see point above).
  • Sometimes if you don’t check-in online prior to arrival at the airport, you have to pay a fee just to check-in in person.

Basically, if you’re going to fly, you better be good at researching requirements prior to airport arrival and bag restrictions. Bring your own food and water onto the plane.

3.) Take buses.

I’ve done this a few times now, and I plan to keep doing it! A very popular company used by locals and backpackers alike is called Flixbus. They go all over (excluding islands–obviously–and a few select countries). I use their app to quickly see connections, and I’ve been pretty pleased so far. Flixbus is also an eco-conscious company, and when booking a ticket, you have the option to help pay for the CO2 emissions.

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The view from my Flixbus from Florence to Rome, taken on my iPhone.

Pros:

  • Similar to trains: you can see the countryside! When I took a Flixbus from Florence to Rome, we drove through the hills of Tuscany at sunset and it was literally. breathtaking.
  • I find them more comfortable than trains, but I’m also small. Trains have more legroom, but Flixbus seats themselves are more designed for the human body, imo.
  • Price. Flixbuses (and buses in general) are hella cheap. The longest bus I’ve taken so far was around 8.5 hours, and I believe I paid 12 euros. I’ve seen more expensive prices (anywhere from 40-100 euros) only on long buses over 12ish+ hours.
  • Ease of booking: you can book your bus right on the free app, and you can save your e-ticket to your smartphone wallet or iBooks, if you have an iPhone.
  • Luggage: I can easily store my duffle bag and backpack under the bus, and bring on my large purse with me. Once, when traveling to Serbia, I had to pay 1 euro for my bags (God forbid!).
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The bathroom on a Flixbus.

Cons:

  • Obviously, you’ll be on a bus for several hours at once. While the bus stops every few hours at a convenience store to allow time for stretching, use of bathroom (although there is one on every bus), you’re still on a cramped bus for several hours.
  • On a train, if it’s loud in your car, you can go sit in another one if there are empty seats. Trains also often have designated cars for families (i.e. screaming babies and children bored out of their minds). On a bus, you’re stuck with the screaming baby and bored-shitless children.

4.) Rent a car.

I’ve also never done this, mostly because of my age (21) and the price (similar to other options listed above). I’ve met a couple people who did rent cars either internationally or domestically in one country, to provide them with more freedom. Many cities have cheap car rentals for 12 or 24 hours, but if you fancy having your own car for the duration of your trip, here are some things to consider (research sources: The Savvy Backpacker, stories I’ve heard while traveling).

Pros:

  • Freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. Everything is on your own schedule.
  • American licenses often work to rent a car in Europe.
  • More luggage space.
  • Privacy! You don’t have to share your space with people, and it’s as loud or as quiet as you want.
  • There’s also the rosy idea of road-tripping that somehow makes long car rides worth it, ya know?

Cons:

  • You have to find hostels or hotels with parking (I’ve only stayed in one hostel with parking, and I was pretty far out of the city centre).
  • You have to pay for parking and gas, not to mention tolls, in addition to the cost of renting the car.
  • You have to be at least 25 years old to rent a car without additional fees (as it is in the US, as well).
  • Driving in Europe varies as much as it does in the States with regard to aggression, traffic laws, etc. Also, remember: sometimes people drive on the other side of the road in certain countries!

Like I said above, I’ve never rented a car, in America or abroad. I’m not yet 25 years old, I want to meet people, it’s not environmental-friendly, etc. However, this might be a great option for you! If you are interested in learning more about this, here are some great resources:

The Savvy Backpacker

Rick Stevens

The Budget-Minded Traveler

AutoEurope

OKAY, we’ve covered all the ways to get around Europe like a pro! While it might seem a bit complicated, I promise you: it’s not. Most of the time. There are English-speakers pretty much everywhere, especially the employees of train stations. Other passengers are always willing to help you.

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Happy backpacking!!

tess (1)

Rome During Easter: The Pope, the Colosseum, and (Most Importantly) Gelato

While Italy itself hasn’t always been a dream of mine, the city of Rome has always intrigued me. The birthplace of so many modern technologies, Rome is an ancient city bustling with life, invention, and forward-thinking. I had planned to be in Rome for Easter to witness some of the most widely-known events today. Although I am not Catholic, I wanted to experience the spiritual weekend for itself, in one of the most important cities to Christianity.

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The bus from Florence to Rome was also only 3.5 hours, and this was probably, like, the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. We drove through the green hills of Tuscany at sunset, the vineyards stretching for miles and the sand-colored houses dotting the hills like you’d imagine they would in postcards. Even though I was on a 10-euro, 4-hour-long *bus*, the views really took my breath away.

Rome was so unlike Venice and Florence, it was shocking. It’s much more cosmopolitan and city-like, with its wide streets and noisy neighborhoods, especially contrasted with the narrow sidewalks and quiet, smaller side streets of Venice and Florence. Rome is bigger, brighter, busier.

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Easter in Rome was really something special. It was really magical to be in such a historic, religious place during an important holiday such as Easter. While we weren’t able to see the Pope give any masses (you have to FAX in your request for the free tickets MONTHS in advance), we were able to see a Papal blessing at the Colosseum at night on Good Friday. We waited for two hours in the misty rain right next to the Colosseum, and throughout the night, the mighty structure began to light itself orange from the inside out. It was really an incredible sight. We were all given long-necked candles with a tissue-paper protection around it to light before the procession.

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The candles, along with a thick Italian pamphlet showing all the blessings from the evening.
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The Colosseum at night.

At 9:15, the Pope appeared on top of the hill next to us. There were audible gasps and shrieks from the crowd as he took a seat. A woman and man took turns reading fourteen scripture verses and proceeding blessings in Italian (we were able to follow along in booklets that were handed out), and the service lasted about an hour and a half. After the readings, the Pope rose and spoke for about five minutes (about what, I could not tell you). We ended by reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Italian, and motioning the Catholic sign of the cross in our chests. It was a really emotional, moving service for many people, and it was a great honor to be present for it.

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People parting for the procession.
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The pope!

The rest of the weekend wasn’t as ~spiritual~. I visited the Trevi Fountain (Paolo wya?!), the Spanish Steps, and the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica; I ate gelato and pizza like three times a day (when in Rome…); and wandered about the shops.

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Gelato, of course!
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About to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain!
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Just tossed it!
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All the Italian goodness!

St. Peter’s Basilica was really special. The building had funky hours for the weekend of Easter, and I didn’t have tickets to any of the scheduled masses, so it seemed that I might not be able to see the inside. However, on Easter Sunday, the basilica was open until the afternoon. Success!

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It was a great honor to see the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter Sunday. While traveling, it’s easy to get caught up in the busy, busy, busy, but in those few moments, I tried to really take in the wonder of it all.

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On Easter Sunday, I did find an international, English-speaking Assemblies of God church to attend. The church was created by an AOG couple from Texas, and the service included worship music, dancing, ASL presentations, monologues, and a sermon. I’ve never seen so many depictions of the Easter story before, and it was so refreshing to see people of all ages explaining the famous story. The church’s website can be found here!

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And finally, what’s a trip to Rome without the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill? For all three attractions, a two-day ticket for twelve euros can be purchased. I was able to easily see all three in one day, even with the two-hour line for the Colosseum (which was totally worth it!)

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Inside the Colosseum.

The Roman Forum part of the ticket basically gives you access to walk through the ancient Roman city. Wow–what a privilege. As my friend and I walked along the roads that were thousands of years old, we ogled at the ancient, crumbling buildings where so much history happened. It was a bit surreal, to be honest.

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Palatine Hill is inside the Roman Forum. After many, many stairs, visitors are rewarded with a view of the entirety of Rome–ancient and modern.

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Experiencing Rome during the Easter season was a massive blessing, and one that I do not take lightly. I was witness to some of the holiest, most famous events known to Catholics and Christians today, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to experience such a holy weekend in Rome.

As always, thank you for reading! I am so lucky to be able to share my experiences with you all.

tess (1)

Venice + Florence: Northern Italy in a Whirlwind

To be honest, it’s never been a *dream* of mine to travel Italy. Of course, I wanted to try bona fide Italian pasta, gelato, and pizza… but I think I’ve had some pretty amazing Italian food in my life (to my Minneapolis peeps—Tucci Bennuch at the MOA will CHANGE YOUR LIFE). I’ve never had this ~romantic dream~ to float down a canal in a gondola, to walk across the Rialto Bridge, to worship in the Duomo, to dance down cobblestone streets (yeah, I know, I’m ridiculous).

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I knew I wanted to experience Rome during Easter (hellooo, religion major here!), but I had about a week and a half in between my trip to Munich and the tail end of Holy Week. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what else Italy had in store. I asked around and Googled articles. Milan seemed beautiful—not to mention the home of the Last Supper painting—but I don’t have a lot of money to spare for shopping… and who can travel to Milan and /not/ shop?!

After some research, I decided that Venice and Florence would be my two stops. Friends gushed about the beauty of Venice, the shops in Florence. I found some cheapish hostels and buses, so I planned it out. My total itinerary in Italy became strolling through Venice for three days, shopping in Florence for five days, and worshipping in Rome for four days.

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Gondolas and water taxis in Venice.

Soooo, remember how I said I’ve never dreamed of Italy?

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Venice at sunset.

Well, I will be now.

Italy was unlike the rest of the countries I’ve been to in Europe, imo. And each city was so picturesquely different from the other.

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Buildings in Florence.

Venice: The City of Water

I arrived in Venice via 8.5 hour bus. While completely beautiful and not at all sucky (seriously), I was still recovering from food poisoning, so I didn’t have the Greatest Time of my Entire Life in Venice. However, the cute little city quickly stole my heart anyway, despite the ever-present nausea.

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Venice is a city without cars. I stayed near the train station, back inland, but the island itself is entirely foot-traffic only.

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The entire island is enmeshed with over 150 canals, making it entirely walkable–or, if you wish, you can take a water taxi.

I opted out of taking a gondola ride (80 euros for 30 minutes? A girl doesn’t have that kind of money.), and because I was staying inland, I had already purchased a 48-hour metro pass–which included water taxis! So instead of taking the gondola, I rode the water taxis around the entire island for an hour and a half one of the nights.

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The sunset from the water taxi.

Venice celebrates the famous Carnival festival in February, so all the souvenir shops are full of masks. For a more ~sustainable tourist~ option, make sure you go to a mask shop where the masks are all made by the owner, who will likely be sitting in the shop making them right there! They aren’t the 5 euros they are in the cheap tourist shops, but you’re helping support the local businesses. (UNESCO has given Venice two years–as of last year–to become a bit less touristy. So by purchasing local, you’re helping that effort.)

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Inside a local mask shop.

Venice was an incredibly beautiful city, full of smiling lovers and laughing families. And maybe one day when I return, I’ll have the funds for that gondola Instagram 😉

Florence: The Renaissance Birthplace

The bus from Venice to Florence was only 3.5 hours, so not completely terrible. Plus, we were taking this deserted mountain road, scattered here and there with small villages, and it was so so so lovely.

My first view of the Duomo was completely unexpected. I checked into my hostel and then wandered around the area, taking in the panini cafes and steak restaurants, the tourist shops selling shoes and magnets, and the cobblestone streets that only saw a car here or there. Suddenly, I turned the corner… and there it was.

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The Duomo in the center of Florence.

The Duomo is really an incredible structure. The pink and teal accents glint in the sunlight, especially juxtaposed with the white background they’re inlayed against. Pictures truly can’t take in the enormity of the structure, and it takes like ten full minutes to walk around the entire thing.

While in Florence, I got to visit my lovely friend Kiley, who’s studying abroad for the semester. Together, we had pizza, pasta, wine, and gelato while exploring the earth-colored city that is Florence. I was lucky to have my own personal tour guide!

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Florence, while not as walkable as Venice, can be done on foot. One of the main attractions of the city is the Ponte Vecchio bridge. It was the first bridge built across the river, connecting the worlds on both sides.

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I think one of the best activities I did in Florence (and completely free!) was hiking to Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s on the top of a hill across the river, and the views are spetacular.

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We ate gelato and watched the sun go down. Florence is situated at the base of some breathtaking hills, so it was really one of the most extraordinary sights I’ve ever seen. As the sun disappeared and the city lit up, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I am to be able to travel this massive, complicated, incredible world.

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Tuscany is a rich, immensely beautiful region of Italy, and I’m so thankful I took the time to visit it. What are your favorite things to do in Venice and Florence?

tess (1)

 

4 Reasons Self-Care When Traveling is Important + A Day Trip to Salzburg

Last week, I experienced food poisoning for the first time.
It was horrid—apparently my body had a severe adverse reaction to the vegetarian chicken wrap I’d had for lunch from McDonald’s, in an effort to be budget-conscious in an expensive city like Salzburg, Austria. I did a day trip to the picturesque city from where I was staying in Munich, and it certainly put a damper on the tail end of my week in Germany.
The nausea lasted around five days, during which I visited Salzburg, Munich, and Venice. I didn’t want to be in bed by 8 pm and avoiding food all day long… but there I was, anyway, taking breaks to return to my hostel during the day to drink Sprite and eat three Ritz crackers in silence, so I wouldn’t exacerbate the ranging headache that came from dehydration.
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The food poisoning put a bit of a damper on my trip, but I still have fantastic memories of Salzburg… how could I not?! Look at this beautiful place!
I wanted nothing more than to be at home while I was feeling so sick, but instead I was by myself back at my hostel in Munich.
When you’re sick and away from home, it’s hard to take the time away from your day to recover. Even when you’re perfectly healthy, it’s still important to take time every couple days to do something different—read, write, watch a movie, things like that.
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The architecture in Salzburg.
It’s so easy to feel guilty about doing the mundane things while traveling—aren’t you supposed to be on the grandest adventure of your life? Well, yes, of course—and that’s why it’s just that much more important to work on self-care, even in the middle of travel.
Here’s why.
4 reasons self-care when traveling is important
1. Cultivating hobbies. 
When you’re traveling for an extensive period of time, you can’t forget about the person you are at home, too. When I’m at home, I love to cook, do yoga, and write. While I can’t cook most of the time here in Europe, I can do yoga and write. It’s beneficial to keep nurturing and growing in your basic sense of identity and daily life, if only so you have something to return to at home. Spend an hour a couple times a week to remember who you are aside from travel.
It’s beneficial to keep nurturing and growing in your basic sense of identity and daily life.
2. Avoiding travel burnout. 

This is common on longer trips. I’ve felt it a couple times: the disinterest in travel, while traveling. Basically, for me, it looks like sleeping until 10:30 or returning to my hostel at 4 in the afternoon, just to close the curtains and watch Sex and the City for eight hours (yes, I did that). It’s not necessarily homesickness, but it’s kind of similar…. you’re just bored with travel. You’re tired of new experiences. You’re annoyed.

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Shopping in Salzburg.
It sounds like such a privileged problem, doesn’t it? Oh, boo-hoo, you get to travel all over the world and you don’t even want to! But it’s not like that. It’s a real thing that is preventable and curable. The more you focus on self-care, even while abroad, the less travel burnout is likely to happen.
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Taking care of yourself is so important – it allows you to more deeply experience all the great new experiences, like this beautiful cathedral in Salzburg.
3. Allowing time for your mind to subconsciously process all the new experiences you’re having. 
As I wrote above, each day is packed with NEW NEW NEW. Cultures, food, transportation, people, languages, architecture, etc etc etc. If you spend a couple chunks of time each week without the new new new, your mind soaks in the experiences and you’re able to retain them better.
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The view was so incredible after the clouds parted and the snow stopped falling!
When I went to India in August, I never took time to slow down and appreciate what I was experiencing, and I do dearly wish I had. Even an hour or two a week makes a huge difference—just to reflect, to meditate on the wonderful things you get to experience, to even watch a movie and let your subconscious work its magic.
4. Reenergizing.
Travel is exhausting! Every day, you’re figuring out how to get from your accommodation to the attractions, you’re waiting in lines, taking photos, learning new information, eating new food, and trying to remember it all. It’s easy to get tired. Taking time to just ~chill~ allows you to really absorb all the new experiences you’re having to the fullest extent.
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The steps on which the children in the “Sound of Music” danced on while singing Do, Re, Mi!

Travel is a unique and honorable privilege, and it is not to be taken lightly. To allow yourself to fully soak it all in, let yourself rest. Sleep. Eat well.

How do you care for yourself when you travel?

tess (1)

The 8 Greatest Things to do in Munich Under 5 Euros

Helloooooo, fellow budget travelers! We all know Europe (especially Western Europe) is a doozy when it comes to price. From hostels to public transportation, food to souvenirs, travel can really drain your bank account if you don’t pay attention (or even if you do, tbh). I went to Munich for a week and found the 8 things to do, all under just FIVE EUROS.

the 8 greatest things to do in munich under 5 euros

1.Do a free walking tour.

I’ve written about this in like, every post I’ve published since I embarked on this great European adventure. But really, there’s a reason… did ya see the word FREE?

So yeah, there’s this company that basically does free walking tours all over Europe. They’re rated crazy high on Trip Advisor, Yelp, and like every other travel website. They last 2-3 hours, and you get to see most the famous monuments, places, and Googleable things in that time.

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A monument we saw on the tour in Odeonplatz.
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A monument you might just walk past if you didn’t know better. The gold stripe on the ground here indicates a path the Nazi resistors would walk down in order to avoid Nazis, therefore avoiding the recitation of the national anthem that was compulsory when passing a Nazi. The resistors created an entirely new way to walk through the city so they would never have to pass a Nazi.
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A statue of Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet. If you touch her gold breast, you receive 24 hours of good luck in your current romantic relationship!

You also get free tips from the local tour guides, who, in my experience, have been nothing less than hilarious and friendly. They’ll tell you all the great local spots to avoid the tourist traps (hellooo, sustainable tourism!!). It’s great.

This is the link to their website.

(There’s also regular walking tours in every city everywhere, but I’ve found this company to be the best of any I’ve done!)

2. Go up the elevator in Marienplatz.

Marienplatz is the main square in Munich, off of which are a significant portion of the tourist sights. I think this cost 3 euros. You basically locate this random elevator under the main gothic-style building in Marienplatz (aka the new city hall), and go up to the fourth floor. The receptionist will take your money and send you on your way up to the ninth floor. When you get off, you’ll be on the top tower of the new city hall, out in the open with the wind whipping on your face and the freezing wind blinding you.

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It was a bit cloudy the day I went, but it was still a breathtaking view

But the #VIEWS, friends. Omg.

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Need I say more?

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Moving on.

3. Shop around the Viktualienmarkt.

This is a little (well, not so little) market right next to the city centre, Marienplatz. In the market, you can find everything from local meats to unique souvenir shops. There’s flower shops and fruits and spices. It’s really a local spot turned tourist. It’s free to walk around and enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the city!

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Fun fact: there’s also a May Pole here. Apparently there’s a local tradition where you try to steal other town’s May Poles and demand beer and food as ransom.

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4. Grab an espresso, a small glass of wine, or a slice of cake, and people-watch.

This, you can probably do in any city. But it’s one of my favorite things to do (and I have done it in every city I’ve been to so far).

You can so easily pass the time by observing how people do life in the city, people-watching, eavesdropping (does it really count if you can’t understand the seemingly endless conversations happening around you–you just want to listen to the intricacies that come with a foreign language?), or even reading, journaling, or just enjoying the moment.

This is what they mean by “stopping to smell the roses”.

Take a breather! Let yourself rest for a minute (or three hours) and watch the city. Take it all in. It’s a fantastic way to really feel a city.

Plus, a couple times when I’ve done this, locals have asked me for directions. So there’s that.

5. Explore the churches.

There are like a billion churches in Munich, and they are all so different.

St. Peter’s is right next to Marienplatz, and its incredible ornate gold touches contrasted with the white and black interior is so worth the visit. I actually went twice, because I loved it so much.

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The gothic Cathedral Church of Our Lady is a beautiful church on the opposite end of Marienplatz. It is absolutely full of history and beauty.

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Asam church is maybe a five minute walk from Marienplatz (closer to Sendlinger Straße, if you’re coming via metro or bus), but it is absolutely. worth. it. This is probably hands-down one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever been to, like, ever. It was made by the Asam brothers, for the Asam brothers, but the church was made available to the public when there was some protesting. It’s not the biggest church in the world, but it’s *literally* breathtaking.

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6. If you’re a history buff, visit the NS Documentation Museum.

I believe the ticket entry price was 5 euros for adults, 2.5 euros for students, and the price includes an audio guide. I spent around 2.5 hours here, but I easily could’ve doubled that. The exhibition begins on the fourth floor, and you work your way back down to the first.

Basically, the museum is a deconstructed textbook. It’s brimming with historical videos and photographs and text about World War II–everything there is to know about it.

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A photograph of the rules and restrictions placed upon Jews during the rise of Nazi Germany, as seen in the NS Documentation Museum.

This museum is not for people who don’t have an interest in WWII, Nazi Germany, or anything having to do with those two topics. It’s mostly reading about dense, sensitive topics, but it’s important and I’m really glad I visited.

7. Visit the English Garden.

I only spent about thirty minutes walking around the English Garden (Englischer Garten, in German) because it was so bitterly cold the day I went, but it was beautiful anyway! The garden was full of trees and fields and gazebos and little cafes, and the snow-capped pine trees were really lovely to wander about.

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8. Eat a huge pretzel or split a pint.

Of course, a trip to Munich wouldn’t be a trip to Munich without visiting the famous Hoffbrauhaus. It’s where Oktoberfest happens! Hoffbrauhaus is this gigantic, traditional beer hall, serving all kinds of beer, food, and other delicacies. There’s a traditional German musician group playing at all hours of the day, and the waitstaff wears traditional garb. The pints are not pints, either–they’re, like bigger than the size of my head! The beer ranges in price, but the pretzels were 3,80 euros, if my memory serves me correctly. I spent two nights here with friends, and we easily stayed for three hours without growing bored. It was rowdy, traditional, and lovely all at the same time, if that’s possible.

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Pretzels are only 3,80 and the pints range in price. Look at the size!!

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There you have it! Of course, there are countless other amazing things to do in Munich, but they’ll take just a little more of your wallet (and are totally, completely worth the price).

What are your favorite things to do in this lovely town?

tess (1)

Feminism and Prostitution: My Experiences in the Red Light District

Ahh, good ole’ prostitution. The oldest profession in the world.

I’ve been working on this article for about two weeks (sorry for the delay in posts, friends) because it’s an issue I consider to be really important. The conversation I’m trying to have here goes much beyond the scope of what can be contained in a single blog post, but I’ll do my best to shrink it down into less than 1500 words.

feminism and prostitution

There are 40 million prostitutes working in the world right now (source). The average age a female begins work in the sex industry is 12 years old (source). There’s a LOT of money involved–the sex industry in Atlanta, Georgia alone has a net worth of $290 million (source).

And just for the sake of this article, let me personally define and distinguish:

Prostitution is when a woman over the age of 18 actively chooses to receive compensation for sex or sexual acts.

Sex trafficking is the illegal, immoral act of soliciting sex or sexual acts from a person under the age of 18, no matter the circumstances, in exchange for money; and a person over the age of 18 against his or her will. These people are often kidnapped and sold into the international sex trade, and are forced to interact with clients day in and day out–giving most, if not all, their earnings to a pimp.

So basically, I’m using the term “prostitution” to strictly mean a legal adult who consensually trades sex for money. Anything else is illegal, counts as sexual assault, and should be treated as such. I do realize that there’s a lot of discrepancy about the vocabulary surrounding the sex industry in academia, and I want to be cautious about this. One cannot always tell when the term “prostitution” refers to a woman who has chosen the sex industry, because it’s often used interchangeably with “sex trafficking”.

The question I’m posing, then, is this:

Is it more feminist to support women who choose the sex industry, or more feminist to help “these women” choose a different career path?

Or, even worse, if you support women who work in the sex industry, are you in turn supporting the notion that women can be commodified? 

I went on a date this fall, and I was musing with the guy about the future. I jokingly recall saying, “I could literally do anything with my life. I could like, even be a stripper,” and he responded by saying, “Oh, you’re not one of those girls.”

I remember thinking so clearly Those girls?! I’m sorry, but what are those girls like, and what do they have that I don’t?! Confidence? Self-sufficiency? I’m sorry, but where can I get some of that??

There’s still a significant underlying stigma against women who work in the sex industry. So, is it more feminist to support these women, or to help them move away from what many see as a degrading industry?

I’ve considered this question for years.

I’ve been on both sides of the argument.

To outline some specific arguments I’ve seen, heard, or personally held:

1.On one hand, women are over-sexualized. This is not a debatable topic, really–it’s just fact. Walk around any mall: there are gigantic advertisements plastered on every window, highlighting women’s chests. There’s the idea that nursing mothers shouldn’t breastfeed in public (an entirely different debate). In Hollywood, women are often portrayed with tight outfits, and in positions below men, such as a secretary or assistant instead of the boss.

2. Women are marginalized in societies all over the world, as they have been throughout history. One way that women find power and money is through the sex industry. Sometimes, women are driven to the sex industry for no other reason than she can make a lot of money quickly–for herself, for a child, for school… for any number of reasons. Verily Mag has a great article on this.

3. We’ve also seen statistics that show that when prostitution is legal, sex trafficking rises, as well.

On the other hand, there is a big movement fighting against the stigma surrounding sex workers, for the exact reasons listed above. A lot of times, women actively choose the sex industry, in any avenue–pornography, camming, prostitution, creating “private Snapchats”, etc. It’s an empowerment thing, at the core: women capitalize on the market that’s there anyway. It’s motivated from self-confidence and a drive to succeed, not self-loathing and as a last resort.

Numerous news sources have written pieces on the empowerment of prostitution, including the Economist and the Huffington Post (not including the countless more). I particularly love the article from the Huffington Post, because it’s written by a prostitute.

When women choose the sex industry, are they playing into the societal undercurrent that they are sex objects and nothing more?

It’s a complicated question. So, let’s back up.

When I arrived in Amsterdam, I was completely taken by the quaint cobblestone streets, the breathtaking canals, and hundreds of bicyclists, ringing their bells about two seconds before you’ll get demolished in their wake.

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I did the Sandeman’s free walking tour that I’ve done in almost every city I’ve visited, where we passed a lot of historical monuments, learned about why the houses sink, and the awesome progressiveness of the city. (It was the first place to legalize gay marriage–all the way back in 2001! Plus, I’ve never seen so many vegan food shops in my life. And marijuana “coffee shops”.)

I paid for a tour of the Red Light District that night, because I’d heard it was ~spooky~.

Okay, maybe spooky isn’t the right word.

I’d heard about the Red Light District for years. Sex trafficking and the international demand for sex workers has always been an interest of mine, and I’d always associated the Red Light District with a) child sex trafficking; b) sad, lonely, poor women; and c) gross men.

This is not at all what I learned from my tour guide, from my research, and from my firsthand experiences there. Mostly.

First of all, the Red Light District is not a dirty, dark, back alleyway with drunk men stumbling around and spitting on the ground, with lingerie-clad women standing on the corner, soliciting their services (this is really what I was picturing).

It’s actually a really popular tourist neighborhood, filled with bars and restaurants and nightclubs, as well as little cafes and disco bars. There’s a huge church. It’s on one of the canals. It stretches quite a few blocks. It’s very well populated with men and women out for a beer or pizza. Honestly, if I didn’t already know it was the Red Light District, I probably wouldn’t have recognized it as any different at first glance.

There are, however, the distinguishing marks that truly make it the “Red Light” district: the “Sex Palace”–a small neon building where a 2 euro coin will give you a one-minute window (literally) view into a couple having sex, the countless sex toy and lingerie stores, the countless full-body windows with a red fluorescent light above them (or blue, indicating a transsexual). And of course, the ubiquitous women standing in the windows they’ve rented for 150 euros for their eight-hour shift, wearing glowing white lingerie under the blacklights. Some women work the audience and wink as you walk by, or seductively lean against the window and beckon with a “come hither” motion of their fingers. Some also scroll Instagram while casually smoking a cigarette, just waiting for a customer.

Just depends on your preference, I suppose.

The women typically wear lingerie, although some wear costumes (think policewoman or nurse). They all had on heavy makeup and had styled their hair.

To use the services of a prostitute, one just has to go up to the window and knock. Negotiations follow, and you’re either invited in, or not.

At first glance, it might be a little uncomfortable. It’s a bit shocking, actually. I tried to steel myself to be insensitive, but I couldn’t. As a young woman, my first instinct was to feel pity. I learned that in order to be a prostitute in Amsterdam, you have to be 21 years of age (18 to be a customer), and I’m 21. Theoretically, these women are my age. And they’re all someone’s daughter!

Then I asked myself… why?

I know we’ve all had these thoughts at one time or another.

Why should we “feel bad” for these women? It’s a long-held sentiment: women are to be pitied if they work in the sex industry. But just because it’s not something you’d do, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I learned that the women who work in the Red Light District are all part of a union, meaning they receive workers’ rights and other benefits. There is a standard price–50 euros for fifteen minutes (and of course there are better packages available for purchase). Each room is equipped with a panic button that contacts the police the moment something shady starts happening. The women have come up with their own system of support to let other workers know about the “bad guys”. They pay taxes. Pimps are illegal–each woman works for herself and herself only. Photographs aren’t allowed, which is why this post is pretty bland in the visual department. It’s really a great web of support that Amsterdam has cultivated.

So, my argument is this: if a woman chooses, freely and without persuasion, to work in the sex industry, why not fully support her? Sex work is work.

I argue that if sex is normalized, the sexualization of women will decrease.

If conversations about sex and the sex industry are not forbidden, sexual assault will decrease, unplanned pregnancies and STDs will decrease, and healthy attitudes about sex will increase.

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A t-shirt I purchased from a non-profit organization located in the heart of the Red Light District, supporting women who work in the sex industry.

Humor me: say we honor women in such a way that they can choose their industry of work. If you believe sex work is wrong, but we continue to empower women to choose their careers, wouldn’t more women begin to choose paths other than sex if they believe they have access to better careers (assuming this frame of mind believes that sex workers only choose this industry because they believe they don’t have any other paths)?

Sex is always in our face–advertisements, on television, on the streets. We might as well begin to normalize it.

Then again, when prostitution is legalized, sex trafficking increases. I can’t help but wonder, though, if we normalized prostitution and empowered women to choose the sex industry; if we more heavily regulated the profession; if it weren’t such a taboo topic… if sex trafficking would decrease as a result.

Just something to chew on.

Sex is always in our face–advertisements, on television, on the streets. We might as well begin to normalize it.

Moral of the story:

Just because you don’t see it as moral, as confidence-boosting, as fulfilling… doesn’t mean others don’t. Your truth is not everyone’s.

Again, this topic is so much broader and deeper than can be covered in a single discussion. Thanks for bearing with me.

What are your opinions? It’s certainly a difficult topic. It has many, many sides. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

tess (1)