End of the Road: Amsterdam

The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. -G.K. Chesterton

If Munich was bad, Amsterdam was even worse. Exhaustion and illness and homesickness all just added up to me wanting to be done. I don’t think it made things any easier that more than one of my friends had made Amsterdam sound like the best place on the planet.

The moment I arrived I was overwhelmed. I’d spent most of the day on the train and arrived in the late evening. And even on a weekday night the streets were insanely crowded! Can I blame John Green or something for making every little girl think Amsterdam is a fairy tale land?

I’m only half kidding. I began feeling overwhelmed just walking to my hostel, I dropped my things and set out to find food, hoping that filling my stomach might help me feel a little more at ease.

I found a place that had good tripadvisor reviews, because again my hostel did the “anything on this street is awesome” thing that I hate. Please don’t do this hostels. It doesn’t help.

It was called Het Karbeel, and it was a fondue place but also had some good looking dishes. I wasn’t sure how much the fondue would be for one person, but ended up wishing I’d done it because the people next to me had it and it looked amazing. Anyhow, I had a broccoli soup and then chicken with a cream and mushroom sauce which was amazing. So delicious. Also loved that shortly after I arrived and was seated, people started being turned away because the restaurant was so full up. It was a fun place with good food and decent prices. I’d highly recommend it, but make sure you call ahead for a reservation.

After that I walked back to my hostel and decided to have an early night since I was so sick.

The hilarious thing was it was Halloween. And every single person in my room and apparently decided to go party.

It wasn’t really a surprise. I was staying at a hostel called Durty Nelly’s Inn, which was right over a bar. Clearly it was meant to be a party zone. Finding out later it was one block from the redlight district…well…img_2175

Needless to say my night was not restful. Lots of noise outside, tons of people stumbling in at different hours of the night…a few whispering “wow someone’s already in bed” which was funny.

The next morning I roused myself semi-early and went down to the free breakfast in the bar. I sat there for over an hour and just gorged myself for a while which was nice. After that I headed out for my walking tour.

I’ve plugged Sandeman’s tours before but I’ll do it again. Free tours are often the best, especially from reputable groups that try to do a really good job and hire good workers.

The tour was very fun. Amsterdam is a cool city, but again I think it’s too easy to just walk past canals and not know the significance of what I’m seeing. Having a guide to tell me some stories was helpful.

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I enjoyed it so much that I figured maybe it would be good to do another tour. So I signed up for the Redlight District one, figuring it was a big part of Amsterdam but certainly not something I felt comfortable doing myself.

I also purchased a ticket for the Rijksmuseum determined that after my tour I’d head straight there and enjoy it.

Unfortunately for whatever reason the tram I tried to take there seemed to be going in a different direction? And also hit every bit of traffic possible, thoroughly wasting my time.

I had to hop off. I was not feeling patient enough to just sit and watch myself get further and further away. And I wasn’t in the mood to try to ask someone about it or anything else. So I just stepped off at the next stop and started walking back towards the center of town.

After a little crying, ranting to my mother and a friend, I found a restaurant to rest and recharge at called La Oliva. Had a hamburger, because what the heck I just wanted to go home…and at that point was almost thinking back to the United States version of home. Yay homesickness (good topic for another post). It was pretty good actually, although incredibly messy with a piece of bread for a bun instead of the normal type.


I sat there for more than an hour and definitely cried a bit as I ate, thinking how much I’d been excited to go to Amsterdam and how disappointed I now was. That’s part of travel sometimes. Having expectations built up and then having them not work out. You just have to learn to live with it.

I did stop by the Anne Frank House and tried standing in line for a bit to see how long it might take without a reservation. Waited fifteen minutes and had barely moved in line, so I decided it wasn’t worth it…especially not in the freezing cold. If you want to go, make sure you have reservations. I learned the hard way.


The line… the dreaded line

Back to the hostel for a bit. I rested and wrote some blog posts and had some time to talk with friends before finally heading out to catch my tour of the Redlight District.

If you’re interested in seeing the district but are like me and shy and maybe are by yourself, I definitely recommend Sandeman’s tour. Not too expensive and it was very interesting and informative, and I had a really good time.

After that I grabbed a waffle with chocolate sauce at a place the guide had recommended and then was off to bed again, because again I was too tired to do much else besides crash.

Amsterdam was definitely not my best on the trip. Again, it’s just something that you have to accept in traveling. I’d suggest to fellow travelers to rest up and make sure you have enough time in each city. Do your research to know about reservations and such, and then just make the most of bad situations. And in the end just enjoy what you end up seeing. It’s part of the fun, and things will turn out okay in the end.

So last fall break Eurail post! If you’ve missed the others I can link you to them. I leave you the list below so you can catch up! I might do a summary as well, but no promises. To be honest in the next few days I’m going to be setting off on another trip! So hey, I’ll try to do better on getting updates for that one up sooner.

Eurail journey 2016:









Vanquishing Vienna…Sort of

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Vienna was another bit of a small adventure. Thanks to the Eurail pass, I wasn’t allowed to just board any old train I wanted. I had to be on trains that didn’t require reservations. My luck was, there was only one leaving that day. And it was early in the morning.

However, when I arrived and started waiting there was an announcement saying that reservations were mandatory. And I maybe began to panic a little more than I should have.

Honestly, travel is kind of always like that for me. Moments of panic before I can remind myself there’s always something else I can do to solve the problem. The reality was I realized I could always go try to add a reservation if need be. If no one would give me one I could simply try to buy a ticket and pay for it that way. And if nothing else…I could pay a little extra and spend another night in Budapest. Not ideal, but it would work.

So with that in mind I determined I would board the train and try to ask before making my decision about what to do. Worst case was they would tell me I couldn’t be on board and needed a reservation.

Thankfully there were a few other people as confused as I was. So glad that the world confirms that I am not the only one with difficulty following instructions given over crackly intercoms. I soon found out if I was going to be going somewhere in Hungary I needed a seat reservation. But to go to Austria or another international destination it was fine. Completely confusing.

Once in Austria further confusion began. I swear, figuring out public transportation… there are certainly times I understand why there are travelers who are unwilling to do it. Every place is different, and sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out. Thankfully, I did eventually find the right bus, and I was just glad I had enough time that it wasn’t a problem. Never try to figure out public transport in a new city in a rush. You will end up regretting it.

I arrived at my hostel. I stayed at H.I. Myrthengasse. I’d stayed at other Hosteling International branches before and had good experiences with them, so I figured this one would be okay too.


It ended up being my least favorite of my trip, and my lowest rating on Hostelworld. When I asked for a dinner recommendation the man at the desk simply pointed me to a region in town rather than a specific place or places. He insisted “everything was good” in that area. Sorry, but there are no towns where every single restaurant is good. I’m just lucky I have tripadvisor and a good sense of how to pick restaurants myself.

On top of that, the rooms were really outdated and did not have wifi in them and only had two outlets. The lobby was not very clean and was smoky and unappealing. The only real saving feature of this hostel was the fact that it had a really yummy breakfast included. It was also not too far from downtown, although more of a walk than I would have preferred. Mostly I’d recommend seeing if you could find something better that is closer to the city center.

After looking over a map I made my decisions of what I wanted to see for the day.

I began by purchasing the Vienna Card. Figured the unlimited transportation was a good deal in itself, and getting discounts on museums and such couldn’t hurt either. There’s also a pass that might be an option for more than one day, but I’ll leave you to research that on your own. So with the card in hand, I set off for the Belvedere Palace and Museum.

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The palace and grounds were stunning. Absolutely beautiful to see. I think for me, this is what I picture when I hear Vienna. Grand palaces and opera houses and finery.

I purchased a pass to both the upper and lower Belvedere. Honestly, I’d just recommend the upper one. It has more of the famous works and is more interesting as a building too. Sadly no photographs inside, so I can’t show you what I saw. The most exciting was The Kiss by Gustave Klimt, but otherwise the museum mostly just had other fine works.

After exploring the whole place (again save your time and money and just go to the Upper Belvedere unless you’re a real art nerd), I decided it was time to try something else. So I set off for the Haus der Musik. In English it’s referred to as The Sound Museum.


It was highly recommended on a few lists of things to do in Vienna, and I would agree it seemed worth the money, especially as someone who was classically trained in music and wanted to feel I’d gotten the most out of Vienna. For any people with children, I also would seriously recommend this museum. Very interactive and interesting. Brought out the kid at heart in me, and I only wished I’d had someone to share it with at the time.

After exploring this museum it was getting late and I was feeling ready to eat. Again, since I hadn’t received any recommendations from my hostel, I did just take off in the area they’d indicated, pulling up my phone and searching tripadvisor to see what was nearby.

I ended up at a place called Glacis Beisl. I had some wine, a creamy mushroom soup, and some Wienner Schnitzel…because I was in Vienna and it’s one of my favorite foods anyways.

The food was very good and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Feeling very content, I headed back to my hostel. Actually had a chance to chat with my roommate who was a fellow English assistant from a different region of France! So that was very entertaining.

The next day I woke up fairly early to get a good start on the day. Headed down and had breakfast. Again, one redeeming feature of the hostel.

From there I set out for the Schonbrunn Palace. So for people looking for art, head to Belvedere, or to one of the many museums in the city center, but for those looking for history go to Schonbrunn. This palace still is set up as it was used by the royal family. You can do an audio-guide or a guided tour, I’d recommend audio-guide as it lets you go at your own pace and is easier in the crowded setting anyways. Get there early to help avoid more of the crowds.

There are lots of options on what tickets you can buy. I ended up wishing I’d bought the more simple one for just the palace, as a majority of the gardens are open to the public, and the few that are blocked off and required pay weren’t that interesting (especially in the fall).

Regardless the interiors were beautiful and it was a fun walk through history for me. The gardens were fun with the fall colors, but again don’t waste your money on the smaller ones. They’re not worth it.

After my palace explorations there was somewhere else I wanted to go.

The zoo!

Vienna has the oldest zoo in the world (or so they claim), and one that has very good ratings online too. So I figured I’d check it out and see some fun animals for the rest of the morning.

Turned out to be a good decision, although I will say I did feel a little weird at a place like a zoo completely on my own. But I had fun regardless, enjoyed the silly animals and the nice layout. It’s a good sized zoo and they’ve also just done a nice job of making it aesthetically attractive. Views from the boardwalk up the hill are fun too.

I saw all that I wanted and then caught the subway back into town where I was scheduled to do a free walking tour. I had signed up in advance, worried that I might not get a spot otherwise as it was a weekend. Turned out to be a good decision as there was quite a crowd and they had to turn some people away.

Our guide was very entertaining and insightful. I also really loved that she used a microphone and made use of her ipad to show images and videos and other material to help us understand. I thought that was a very clever addition to the traditional tour routine.

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We saw a lot of good things. My only wish is that I’d taken the tour my first day because it would have given me some good insights on fun things to do in Vienna before arriving. I enjoyed what I had seen, but I wished I’d had time to see the Royal Treasury, and some of the other interesting sights she pointed out.

I asked for a restaurant recommendation from her and again received a vague area suggestion instead. Something weird about Vienna I guess, or at least the people I ran into at the time.

I had to head back to my hostel to charge my phone anyways. So I headed back there and did some more searches for ideas on restaurants. Found a good looking schnitzel place, but by the time I got there it had a line out the door. I decided it wasn’t worth it and went looking for something else.

I stumbled across Boheme by accident. It had good reviews and the food sounded good. Sure enough it ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip. I had a pumpkin soup, tortellini, and apple strudel. It was all so amazingly delicious, and I left extremely satisfied.

I headed back to my hostel feeling that for the most part I’d seen some good things in Vienna. Again, it’s a city I would definitely love to come back to someday.

My advice to fellow travelers is to give yourself plenty of time here. Rushing through it really does you no good in the long run. But here’s a bit of what I loved about this fun city in the meantime. Live and learn I suppose.

Relax and be Spontaneous – Budapest

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

I’d heard marvelous things about Budapest.

It sounded like some kind of magical land. Something out of a fairy tale. A place of adventure and wonder like nothing I’d quite seen before. Something exotic and new.

Okay, perhaps that’s going a bit far. However, I’m not denying I was really looking forward to traveling there. The only thing was, I did very little research about what to actually do.

So I arrived there midday. It was early, but I figured maybe my hostel could at least keep my bags. Or maybe I could check in early. A lot of places will at least check if your room is ready.


Yet another train station selfie!

I had to withdraw money first. As in the Czech Republic, I had no idea how much to take out being a completely foreign currency. So I started with a ridiculously small amount. Basically enough for my metro ticket. I’d say doing some research on currency might save you money, but oh well. Things I’ve learned for next time.

I arrived at my hostel, the Avenue Hostel, and they were not so helpful. I had to wait to check in and they wouldn’t take my bags. There was a huge crowd of people already waiting. I looked at the time. I’d hoped to catch a walking tour to orient myself on the city for the first day. It started at two thirty. My check-in wasn’t until two.

So I sat in the lobby and waited, feeling antsy and unable to really focus on much. By the time two rolled around, I should have realized… the crowds were growing and other people were clearly getting pretty eager to get going too. So as two o’clock hit there was a rush for the desk and the two people who could check in.

For some reason the process seemed longer than most of my other hostels. Perhaps that was simply a result of having a deadline of when I needed to be out, or because there were so many people, but they just seemed to take a good ten minutes a person on check in! I kept pulling out my phone and checking the time. Figured even if I was late I could possibly still see a big group in the area and join in. Most free tours don’t care if you come a little late or leave a little early.

So finally I got up to check-in for myself. Again, every bit of the process seemed to take forever. They told me if I paid cash I could try rolling their dice to see if I didn’t have to pay. Which is kind of cool…but I wasn’t sure I had enough money on hand anyhow, and the dice game would only prolong things. So I declined.

Then one of the workers showed me up to my room. The place was in a sort of apartment complex, so it wasn’t always easy to tell where your room was. So nice of them to show me, but still continued to take more time.

Shoved my things in my locker and ran out the door. It was pretty much 2:30, but I figured that they might not leave right on time and that a big group of walking tour people might be easy to spot near to the starting point.

So I set off on the subway, disembarking at the next stop over and running out to try to find the place. It said it was near the lion fountain. But I again saw no signs of a lion fountain. Hmm. Strange.

I wandered around, and I spotted a large group! I ran over, but I didn’t really hear any one person talking like they were giving a tour. Sure enough, I asked one of the girls standing there and she said she was waiting for the house of terror. I thanked her and bolted off.

After fifteen minutes I realized I wasn’t going to find them.

I sat down on a bench and pulled out my map.

And I realized that the name of the square, was the same name of the street I was currently on. And I’d gotten off at the wrong stop because I’d seen the name and assumed it was the same place. And it wasn’t.

So I sighed and headed back to my hostel. I had some tea and charged my phone and texted my mother in despair over having an afternoon in Budapest and no idea what to do with it.

After finally dealing with my self-pity, I did resolve that I had to see something before night came.

So I took the subway down to the river and then walked for a bit until I came to one of the indoor markets. It was starting to shut down, but I enjoyed getting to see some of it anyhow.

Then I walked over to the other side of the river, the Pest side and randomly decided I was going to walk up to the citadel.

Best decision I’d made of the day.

The views were breathtaking. But best of all, the sun was setting so the city looked even more gorgeous than before.


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To any heading to Budapest, this is an easy and fun thing to do. I highly recommend it.

After that I had the fun of getting to walk down in the dark. Not very good lighting apparently, which was a wee bit scary as a woman by myself, but there were other people walking around me so that was reassuring. I’m definitely writing a post on this issue, so you’ll get more details on it later.

I was starting to feel hungry, so I caught the subway back to the area of my hostel. I’d had a recommendation to try Langos Papas, which was nearby and had very cheap traditional Hungarian food, plus I had a voucher from my hostel for a free shot of Palinka, which is a fruit brandy. Spirits are traditional in places like Hungary, so I figured it was worth a shot. Yes that was a pun.

Regardless, I had a goulash for my starter, deer stew with langos for my main course, and then a dessert that I’m still not quite sure what it was… but I did google and found something called begli that looks quite similar. I guess it is a pastry filled with either poppy seeds or walnuts? I preferred the walnut one.

Overall the food was good, and it was quite cheap. Paired it with a beer and then the shot of Palinka which was not too bad either.

After that it was back to my hostel for the night. I had fun chatting with some fellow Americans and weirdly enough four Canadians who had all been on my tour in Bratislava.

I didn’t sleep great unfortunately, which certainly didn’t help with the exhaustion that was beginning to set in after having been to so many places. Unfortunately, the hostel had a large window on one of the walls into the hallway, which did nothing to keep out noises of guests coming back late into the night and let a significant amount of light into the room as well. Not sure what idiot designed that, but very foolish overall. Another reason I wouldn’t recommend this hostel. It’s not a horrible place, but it definitely has some issues. And for the price I think there might be places that are better.

So day two in Budapest.

Now, I’d talked with some people earlier in my trip about the city. And the one thing they highly recommended… was going to the thermal baths.

And I was excited by the prospect! It sounded like an amazing experience, and one of my friends had already told me that maybe I should take it easy and relax a little.

Only problem was…I’d forgotten to bring a bathing suit.

Well not forgotten. Just hadn’t anticipated needing one. To be honest, at all other times during the trip I was either in clothes or pajamas, so really it wasn’t something I would have used excessively.

So the question was what to do? I wanted to go to the baths. I didn’t have the necessary equipment with me other than my flipflops and a towel.

The easy answer was to go buy one. So I did set out for a nearby H & M to see if they might have something. Unfortunately, the store didn’t open until ten. And I wanted an early start at the baths, so that made it a no go.

The second easy answer was one I didn’t particularly like but would nonetheless just have to deal with if I wanted to experience. Swimsuit rental.

A lot of people are maybe hesitant on that. I mean, it sounds a little unhygienic. And weird. However, I’ll just go ahead and say for any fellow forgetful/didn’t think of visiting the baths people in Budapest who can’t or don’t want to buy a suit…this is an easy way to do it.

So the first question you should ask is which bath to visit. There are quite a few in Budapest with the natural and abundant hot springs. However, the most popular are usually the Szechenyi or the Gellert. I was a bit torn, but Szechenyi had better reviews on tripadvisor, lower prices, and was easier to access from my hostel… so it came down to deciding that might be the better one for me.

I headed over and bought my ticket. As I’d suspected, rentals are done inside the spa, so once through the gate I put in the money for my bathing suit rental, part of which I would get back on return. The man looked a bit dubious on my size I told him… I know I’m not a skinny little European thing, but I did look up size conversion and was pretty sure I had it right. However, down in the locker rooms it became apparent it was maybe a little bit small…but I figured it would stretch in the water anyways so no big deal.

And then off to the baths themselves.

I cannot put into words what an amazing experience this was for me. The baths were incredible. Multiple pools all at different temperatures, saunas, and steam rooms as well. Outside there were two very warm pools running, both of which felt amazing in the cool fall air. I sat and enjoyed and relaxed for a bit. Let the stress and tiredness from traveling slowly fade away. Some of the most fun was actually dunking in the colder pools and then hopping back into the warmer ones or going to relax in the saunas.


After two hours (I honestly don’t even remember how much time I spent there, but that sounds about right) I managed to drag myself out. It was very difficult to do, but I felt like I’d had the experience I wanted. I’m not really a massage person, but for anyone looking for that kind of thing I’m sure you can spend more time at the baths for other things like that. Overall I felt like two hours was sufficient and probably enough to experience the baths for the most part.

I dressed and headed off to my hostel again where I grabbed a grocery store lunch before setting back out. I had a few other things in mind I wanted to do like seeing the Parliament, the bunker museum, and some other fun sites. However, I felt like with my limited time a walking tour might be just the thing to help me see some of the major points of the city.

I headed off to meet up with the free walking tour I’d missed the day before. Honestly, I’m just going to have to say it was a disappointment to me.

The tour was very slow paced. In Bratislava I understood why a guide might need to fill some time with discussions of traditions or food or language. But in a big city like Budapest, it seemed strange that so much time was dedicated to those things when there were plenty of sights to see.

I did have to cut out halfway through, so I admit I didn’t see it to the end, but again the pacing just seemed off to me anyways, so it was probably for the best. Besides, I had something else I wanted to do.

See I had to get to my boat tour!

Impulsively I had decided that it might be fun to take a cheap one hour boat tour. Actually all things considered it wasn’t bad value. For an 8 euro student price I had a glass of wine, an audioguide in English, and of course beautiful river views right at sunset (because I know how to plan these things). Utterly perfect. I enjoyed a relaxing, although quite cold ride.


The one good thing I did find out from my walking tour was two restaurant recommendations. So after I was off the boat, I set off to try one of those for dinner.

I tried a place called Koleves. I thought the food was delicious and really enjoyed my time there. Cute atmosphere! Definitely would recommend trying it. And there was a restaurant dog! Who can pass up on that.



Afterwards I headed back to my hostel. I was feeling pretty worn out and ready for bed. I grabbed my laundry at reception, since they wouldn’t let you do it for yourself (still don’t understand that…) and found they’d lost my towel, but they insisted they hadn’t. Lovely fun there. That’s the joy of traveling I suppose.

I wish I’d had more time in this city. It was amazing and beautiful and I will have to go back another time! The best thing for me was being impulsive in Budapest. Deciding to do things on a whim and experiencing new things. I’ll never regret what I was able to see and do while I was here, and it continues to remind me that spontaneity can be a wonderful thing.

Did I Make a Mistake? A Trip to Bratislava

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
Clifton Fadiman

I am not even a little ashamed to admit I didn’t tell any of my teachers that I was going to Bratislava. After having my host mom get a little bit paranoid about me traveling last time (and that was with another person), I was not in the mood to have people start worrying about me. So as far as they know…I’m going to Austria and Germany…which is true…but not just Austria and Germany.

Why Bratislava? Because I wanted to ensure I saw some new things, not just new cities, but also new countries.

Ideally I actually wanted to go to Ljubljana in Slovenia. Because it is a bigger city and supposed to be up and coming as a tourist town. However, it put me way off track and I would have had to probably go through Italy. And I discovered last time that Italy on the Eurail pass sucks. Why? Because any train that takes you anywhere you need to go needs a reservation. Which costs more money and takes more time and effort.

So new country that was logically placed for this trip? Slovakia.

As my trip to Slovakia became closer I began to feel more and more nervous. It didn’t help that on my first night two of my roommates were in awe that I would dare to go to a more “eastern” European country by myself. I’ll have to post later on traveling alone as a woman, but that definitely did not put me at ease.

I’d done everything in my power to be prepared. Read a few things on Slovakia. Picked up an ebook of Slovak and other eastern European languages. Booked a hostel that was supposed to be excellent. But no matter how much preparation you do, there’s only so much you can ease anxiety.

I boarded my train and spent most of my ride simply trying to ease my worries. Everything was going to be fine. I was only going for a night. I could just hide in my hostel if need be right?

I arrived and immediately started feeling waves of anxiety as soon as I stepped off the train. The station itself was grubby and disorderly. Not in the way that most train stations are. There was a pile of dirt in the middle of the one of the floors with a few rails around it and no sign of anyone actually doing construction. I walked out the main doors and heard the chatter of a language I didn’t understand a single word of, and certainly couldn’t begin to speak. After having spent so much time in Prague, I’d become used to hearing a little English almost everywhere. Here I felt completely alone.

Feeling like I was maybe in over my head, I immediately decided to head towards my hostel. However, they’d told me to take tram 1. And in front of me I only saw buses. But maybe the hostel had mistranslated?

I didn’t really like the thought of taking the bus, but I would do so if need be. So I walked over and looked at the schedule.

No bus 1 listed. No anything 1 listed. All the numbers were 203 and 46. I looked at a map but again felt hopelessly lost. And most of it was covered in graffiti anyways.

I hesitated to ask directions. Did anyone even speak English here? I had no idea? Maybe. Would they respect me asking them that in English? I was feeling panicked so I headed back to towards the station and had a seat. A homeless man came over to bother me for money as I tried looking on my phone to see if there was any indication where a tram or bus 1 might be. My phone wasn’t giving me clues so I glanced at the hostel directions again. Sure enough it still said tram 1. I was toying with calling them. Or maybe trying to walk.

Just as I was beginning to feel hopeless I looked up and noticed a sign.

A bright yellow icon of what looked to be a tram.

I sprang to my feet and grabbed my bags and rushed towards this beautiful sign that was leading me back towards the station. I hustled onwards, trying to keep my smile in control even as I wanted to laugh and shout for joy.

Sure enough after heading down a long corridor and down some stairs I came to where a line of trams were waiting. One of them had the number one on its sign. I did my best to not start exclaiming my happiness as I stepped onto the transportation and settled into a seat.

I was surprised to see the tram was fairly modern looking. Decently clean too. Actually cleaner than some of the German transport I’d been on. And they even had the screens that play advertisements, showing several for tourist things and including English. I smiled as I began to realize it wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out to be. Clearly this place was trying. Perhaps it wasn’t quite the hellhole my imagination had made it out to be.

I arrived at my stop and walked a short ways to my hostel. I found it with no problems, which was another reason to celebrate. I headed up to the reception and checked in.

I stayed at Hostel Blues, which again had been given really good reviews, even won a Hoscar or two (yes that’s right…hostel awards…such things do exist). And sure enough I soon found out why. The price was really affordable for being right downtown, and it was really quick walking distance to the old town too. On top of that the staff was the friendliest and most helpful of any other hostel staff I have EVER encountered. So incredibly kind and warm.


The view from my hostel window!

They handed me a brochure on restaurants to try and different local foods I might enjoy, and pointed out various activities including a free walking tour they recommended. I’ve never had a hostel do this before, but when they handed me a map they went over it with me. Most just mark their hostel if anything, but Hostel Blues made a point of showing me what was good to see, asked how many nights I was staying, and told me the easiest ways to get around.

I headed off to the castle first. I’d read on Tripadvisor that it was a reconstruction, so I wasn’t particularly interested in going inside, and didn’t have time anyways if I was going to catch the walking tour. But I knew the views were supposed to be amazing, and I was right! It was a nice hike up the hill and then I enjoyed looking down at the city.

From there I headed down to meet the walking tour. For any looking it’s called Be Free Tours.

My hostel had said something about a statue, and I thought they’d said a man on a horse. But when I arrived at the square I could find no men on horses. And it was a big square too! Not the small little things I was used to. So I wandered up and down for a while trying to find a horse, only to see an orange sign and realizing I must have simply misheard.

Our guide was this small bubbly Slovak woman who was clearly very excited to share her country with us.

As Bratislava is not a really big place, she led us through the main sites, but she also took some time to share with us about Slovak history, culture, language, and food. In a bigger city I might have been annoyed by this, but I felt she showed us all the main points of the city that were close enough together to walk to, and found these additions a good way to balance and make it feel like we were getting our money’s worth. Plus her enthusiasm was simply contagious. No break, which I found unusual for a walking tour, but all in all I recommend it as a good way to get oriented if you are going to Bratislava.

She showed us the old town area, and the statue that’s supposed to bring you luck if you pat his head or babies if you rub his nose (I just patted his head thank you), and some of the other fun sites, before ending near the famous blue church.

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After it was over, I tried to head to a restaurant that both the guide and my hostel had recommended after. But unfortunately there was no menu posted, which didn’t put me at ease with eating there. So I picked up a discount ticket for another place close to my hostel called the Slovak Pub where they were supposed to have a great example of the garlic soup, a local dish that was supposed to be tasty.

So I headed over there. Unfortunately, the only space left to sit was smoking room only. Times I truly dislike Europe, but I was hungry and not in the mood to go find another place, so I sat down and figured it made for a more real pub atmosphere. My clothes smelled for a few days after, but what’s laundry for anyways?

Anyhow, I ordered the garlic soup and some salad (hadn’t been getting enough green veggies that’s for sure) and a local beer.

The garlic soup arrived and I was so glad I hadn’t ordered anything else as a “main” dish because it was HUGE.

Overall it wasn’t my favorite unfortunately. I’m not a big garlic fan if it’s not mixed in with other flavors, and I didn’t feel there was much else to flavor the soup. Very creamy and filling, but just not really to my palate, and there was WAY too much bread to possibly finish.


After that I headed back to my hostel.

So overall would I recommend a stop in Bratislava? Well I can tell you (since I’m not really writing in real time) that I ran into not one, not two, but THREE groups from my Bratislava walking tour in Budapest (one of which was in my same room at my hostel…what the heck). So this is quite a common thing to do. I honestly think it’s a fun way to get a taste of another culture, and it makes for a very logical stop between Prague and Budapest.

Overall, I enjoyed myself, but probably wouldn’t have stayed a lot longer. Maybe one more day to see a few museums that I missed. So yes, I’d recommend it if you’re looking to add something different between some stops. Would I say you should go to Bratislava all by itself? Probably not worth the money, but it’s up to you! The main thing I’d say is I was more comfortable than I’d expected there. Certainly a little more out of my comfort zone than in “western” Europe, but still much better than I might have thought. So for any with similar anxieties, don’t you worry too much. Bratislava is a nice place, and I’m glad I had a chance to stop by!

There and Back Again: Prague

“I keep going back as if I’m looking for something I have lost”–Heather Nova

So there were two repeat cities on my trip. However, one was more repetition than the other. I’ve been to Prague twice already.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a place you’ve been before. Honestly, I wouldn’t be on this voyage at all if I didn’t love France and it is technically my fifth time in the country…and my fourth time “living” here.

My first time visiting Prague was in 2011 with my high school orchestra. We did a European tour where we played in three cities and had chances to explore and see some of Europe too. I had a walking tour and saw most of the main sites then.


First time in Prague!

My second time was with a friend during study abroad in 2014. Like this trip, we’d decided to do a two week Eurail journey. Prague was a good stopping point, and since she’d never been there it made sense. We only spent a day there, and since she had never been to Prague we again stopped by most of the main sites. Also apparently there are NO pictures of me. Not sure why. Guess pics or it didn’t happen? So I’ve only been to Prague twice? Well, regardless you’ll just have to trust me.

So third time in Prague? What to do? Well, when I’ve visited Paris again I usually try to go see new things. I had a friend comment that she was sick of going to Paris. She’d already seen the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and seemed to imply that was all there was to see. I disagree. There are so many museums in the city. So many different historical sites that are off the beaten path. And I’m sure the same goes for a big city like Prague… it’s only a matter of knowing what they are.


3rd time in Prague. Hair is blocking the “Praha” part of the sign.

I admit I didn’t research as well as I probably should have, so when I arrived in Prague the first thing that sprang to mind was the big museum on Wenceslas Square. The first time I’d been there our guide had pointed it out. Sounded interesting to me.

So I arrived at my hostel early that afternoon. They’d mentioned free walking tours on their website, so I asked at the front desk. “Oh sorry those leave at two.”

I looked at the clock. It was well after two. Oh well, I’d seen most of the points they’d probably cover anyways.

I relaxed in my room for a bit. Oh my goodness, my cheapest hostel but the nicest by far. Looked more like a hotel with bunk beds than a hostel. Anyhow, so if anyone is looking for a good centrally located hostel for not too much money and a free breakfast I invite you to check out Hostel Orange. Perfect location!


Wenceslas Square!

Anyhow, I set out after a quick break to go check out the National Museum on Wenceslas Square. It’s a big square, so it probably was still two blocks from my hostel crazily enough. I arrived and was confused that I didn’t see any entrances into the building. It looked like they were doing construction, so I didn’t understand why there weren’t signs telling tourists what entrance to use.

I walked a little more and noticed a newer building that had signs about being the National Museum. I perked up and headed towards that, glancing at the prices and pulling out enough Czech crowns before heading in.

I asked the lady for a ticket and she looked at me blandly and handed over two pamphlets.

“You can only visit these special exhibitions.”

I frowned and looked them over. One was on fashion and the other on Noah’s Ark. Perhaps interesting, but not what I’d come to see.

“But I want a ticket for the main museum,” I explained.

“This is all that is open right now,” she said pursing her lips.

I thanked her and turned to the door, feeling utterly confused.

Looked it up later. The museum is closed for renovations other than special exhibitions and has been since 2011. It’s supposed to open in 2018. I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. So to anyone going to Prague in the next few years. Don’t try to go to this museum.

Although I did look it up and there are other museums that are housing some of the collections right now, so check out the list and see if any match your interests.

Well with that not a possibility,  I walked back into the square trying to think of what I else I knew there was to do in Prague. I knew there was a Museum of Communism, which honestly was a very relevant topic to the city and I figured it might be worth trying.

So off I headed in search of this other museum.

The Museum of Communism was interesting, but it’s not something I’d highly recommend especially if you haven’t seen the main things (IE Old Town, Prague Castle, St. Charle’s Bridge, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the astronomical clock tower, etc). It’s not really a very modern looking museum. Most of the signage is pretty outdated and it’s mostly just a lot of reading rather than anything more visually interesting. I know I know, I’ve been spoiled by some really nice museums, so when I get to the less fancy ones I’m always a little disappointed.

Again, a very relevant topic, however, so fellow people who’ve been to Prague more than once, yes you might want to check it out.

After that I simply walked around the old town a little. Bought some ice cream and relaxed. It was nice in some ways to be somewhere where I didn’t feel like I had to see everything. So I just enjoyed that no rush feel and let it carry me into the evening.

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I went to find a place to eat in the evening. I walked towards a restaurant my hostel had suggested. They provided me with a list which was awesome! I am in love with hostels that give you detailed information about what to see and do in a city. Nothing better than having some idea of what you might want to do…or eat!

Anyhow, I arrived and for some reason couldn’t find the restaurant. By the time I figured it out, I realized it looked to be more of a bar. Which wasn’t really what I was interested in for the evening. So I turned around and decided to try something else. That’s life traveling. You always have to be willing to be flexible.

Thanks to my list I knew there were several other places that were supposed to be good. Including a place on the Old Town Square itself!

It was called Staroměstská Restaurace. I had been told that if you eat on the terrace it’s twice as expensive. However, having taken out my normal budget in Czech Crowns (about 50-60 euros a night) I had quickly realized I wasn’t going to spend that because everything was much cheaper. So I was willing to sit on the terrace if need be. Only it was full, so I ended up inside. It was still a cute restaurant even without being out on the square. So I settled back and tried to decide what to eat.

The first time I was in Prague my tour group ate at a traditional restaurant one of our nights. I didn’t like the food very much. Which led me to a lifelong assumption that I didn’t like Czech food. The second time I visited Prague I convinced my travel friend that Czech food is awful. And we got Italian instead.

So I was hesitant to try Czech food, but I was trying to be brave and try things again, because I have found before that even if I didn’t like something initially…I might like it trying again.

So I looked over the menu and listed in the chef’s specialties was a “Moravian wedding plate” which sounded huge but also sounded like it would have a variety.

If you hadn’t noticed already, I haven’t been mentioning lunch at all. That’s because most days I haven’t been eating lunch. I usually am stuck on a train during lunch time, meaning I have to pay for more expensive and possibly not as tasty train food (also needing to leave my bags and things unattended at my seat), or wait and try to find something once I arrive, which cuts into my tour time. So I usually have been having some snacks on the train and then eating a lot for dinner. And in places like Germany and the Czech Republic, I can usually get large portions pretty easily and cheaply.


So I went ahead and ordered it anyways, figuring I’d probably be able to eat most. The plate included a quarter of a duck, bacon dumplings, bread dumplings, potato dumplings, smoked pork, roasted pork, and red and white cabbage.

And I asked the waiter what he recommended to drink and he just pointed at beer, so I ordered one of those too. I said small, so either this is what Czechs think is small, or he misunderstood, but regardless it was decent tasting and paired nicely with the meal.


Best meal of the trip so far! So incredible tasting. So just a reminder to readers to try things a second time, because sometimes you’ll change your mind. And also remember with food that sometimes a different restaurant can make a big difference!

After that I headed back to my hostel to get a good night’s sleep and tried to think about how to spend the rest of the crowns I’d withdrawn since I didn’t use all of them. For any wondering, Prague is cheap so you don’t need to take out as much money as you might in another big city…or just do a credit card…makes it easier.

Not a very full day, but regardless a good experience. Very glad I went to Prague. Maybe by the time I go back again that museum will finally be open.

And the next day is the real adventure… Bratislava.

The Adventure Begins: Cologne

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” -Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

So for any not keeping up with my blog, here’s a quick summary. I’m living in France for a year to teach English and now am on my fall break. So… what to do with two weeks without classes… how about travel?

Therefore I decided to purchase a Eurorail ticket and travel across Europe by train.

I’ll post another time on the ticket itself, because I think that deserves a blog, but for now I want to update friends and readers on what has been happening so far.

So first part of the journey was to head to Cologne, Germany. I’d tried to pick a large city not too far from my hometown, but far enough away that I likely wouldn’t do a weekend trip. Besides, I had some kind of an idea of grandeur when it came to Cologne, so I figured it was worth a shot.


My friend Chrystal and I started a tradition of doing a selfie at each train station you stop at, therefore commemorating the great European train route. So here’s the first one in my hometown!

I started my journey with a 6:30 AM train from my home town of Armentieres, to Lille the next major city. I have a train pass, so no need to use my Eurorail yet, which was part of why I’d left so early. See, if a Eurorail pass isn’t stamped it’s not valid. So I needed to ensure I had enough time to get my pass stamped before boarding my 8:08 train to Froyennes, Belgium.

Well, I arrived in Lille with no problems and headed straight for the train office. And it was… dark. The doors were closed and no one was in there. I stared at the sign listing the hours and noted it didn’t open until 9:30! My train would have come and gone by the time I could get my pass activated.

Feeling a little panicked I decided that if the station I was at wasn’t open, maybe the bigger “mainline” station would be. So I hopped on the metro and rode to the next stop (they are very close making it easy) and sure enough the office was open.

Walked back to the station with my pass in hand, only to walk by the office again and notice it was open! Looks like I misread the times and if I’d waited just a little longer I would have been fine. Oh well.

So my first train was to Froyennes about 30 minutes away. I sat back and relaxed for a bit with some coffee. I was surprised to see that a large crowd gathered at the doors when we stopped. I didn’t think Froyennes was very big, but I happily followed after them.


They all headed confidently down the railway platform to a door and disappeared inside. Assuming it was the train station, I followed after, delighted by the thought of going inside since it had begun to rain. I followed them through the door into…

A field.

It looked like a door but it was more like a gate. Walking through it simply led to a field with trees and small dirt path.

I looked around and tried to figure out where all the people were going. I didn’t see any train station anywhere nearby, and beyond the trees simply seemed too far.

It began to rain harder.

I did my best to keep my calm. The rain was pouring down and all the people had long since disappeared into the trees. I looked around and saw nothing. No buildings. No cars. I wasn’t even sure what part of Belgium I was in and whether I could use French with the people or would encounter Flemish speaking ones instead. I did my best to breathe as I fought for a solution.

I looked on my map on my phone and it provided no clues as to whether there was an actual train station building or not. I walked back to the platform, wondering how people could possibly know when to come to catch a train without at least a reader board.

And that’s when I saw it.

A dusty old plaque listing the various trains and when they would come and what platform to wait for them at. I crossed my fingers and headed to the first platform, huddling in a concrete shelter out of the rain and hoping the train would come.

Thankfully a few minutes later a train pulled up. I stepped on, figuring if nothing else maybe it would get me to a bigger city. I sat down and took a deep breath.

The hard part wasn’t over. On the right train or not, I had one more transfer in order to make it to Cologne for the night. And this was the tricky one. Ten minute transfer time.

I’ll write a post on Eurorail passes, as I said, but the thing to know is that you cannot get on just any train with a Eurorail pass. You must only use trains that do not require reservations, unless you book an extra reservation yourself. As a result, some of the means of getting to and from places can be tricky. But I was willing to try.

I arrived in Brussels and bolted for station to try to see where I should go. Thankfully, unlike the little rural station, this one had a reader board and I saw my train and the platform where I should go. I made it with a few minutes to spare!

The next challenge was finding seats. Some trains have a reservation “option” therefore, you must find a seat that is not reserved. But how do you tell? Most of the seats had the word Reserviert above them. Thankfully, a British couple behind me was struggling as well, so we figured it out together. As long as it doesn’t say a city name on it, you’re good.

So I sat down for a long ride, munching some snacks I’d brought along. It was nice to know I was on my way to Cologne and the hardest parts were over.

I arrived in the city and walked out to find the most amazing site. The Cologne Cathedral sits right in front of the main station. And there it was in all its glory. It was pouring rain, but I snapped a few photos nonetheless, promising to come back later to see inside. For the moment I simply wanted to get my luggage to my hostel, because even with packing somewhat light, lugging a backpack with all your clothes around just doesn’t make for good sight seeing.


I arrived at the Cologne Downtown Hostel a little early, but they let me sit and wait until my room was ready to check in. For anyone looking for a hostel close to the city center, I highly recommend this one. Friendly staff, good level of cleanliness, and a good atmosphere!

So with umbrella in hand I set out to see more of Cologne.

The cathedral was my first destination. I walked in and enjoyed gazing up at the high ceilings in awe with the other tourists. It’s a very beautiful church, one I highly recommend seeing if you’re in town.


After that I tried going to the perfume museum. That seemed appropriate given the location. However, they required a scheduled tour, and the only ones they had available for the day were in Portuguese or Chinese.

So it was off to Plan B. Wallraf-Richartz Museum.

It’s nothing fancy, just a decent sized collection of art work from medieval times up until the 20th century. It has a few Van Gogh and Rodin pieces, and was one of the better ranked museums on Tripadvisor. Besides, it was raining…so anything to get inside for an hour or two.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s worth seeing if you can find other things. In better weather I might have just stuck with wandering around the old town instead. Not highly recommended in my books, but this is coming from someone who has a fair amount of museums tucked under her belt.

After wandering around until exhausted, I headed back to my hostel to rest up for a bit before finding dinner. I’d asked for recommendations, but when I went by the places my hostel recommended they looked far too local for my tastes. What’s bad about local? The fact that I sadly only speak about three words of German… anyhow so if you’re looking for a good local place supposedly Papa Joe’s is good, but don’t take my word for it.

So I was bad and went to a place that clearly had an English menu. It was right on the square in the old town, though not good enough weather to actually sit on the town. I’m definitely looking forward to spring break at this point so I can actually enjoy eating outside in some of the places I visit.

I went to dinner at Keule’s if anyone is interested. Decent food. Kind staff. Cute atmosphere and a mix of tourists and locals.

Afterwards I went and walked around the old town a little and went to see the cathedral all lit up before heading back to the hostel for the night. Had a great chat with a British girl and an Australian couple about the differences in all of our cultures and about good places to travel. This is what I love about hostels, being able to meet new people from all over the world. Sure, it’s uncomfortable at times, but this makes it worth it for me… well and saving some money for good food and seeing the sites as well.


So that’s my review on Cologne. Was one day enough? Probably not. But I feel like I saw some of the main sites and had a good time exploring. As I’m writing this in semi-real-time I cannot say how Cologne compares to other places. Will have to sum up my thoughts at the end I guess. For now off on the next stop of my tour… Hamburg!