London Day II

Taking a break from writing a 15 page essay to write this blog. I know, it seems kind of weird taking a break from writing by writing, but writing a blog is much more fun. My second day in London was full of very popular touristy things. First, I set out for Buckingham Palace which was beautiful but so crowded I could hardly see through the mass of people.Day2 Compared to all the places I’ve visited thus far, London has been the busiest. It’s also getting closer to summer so I know tourism is about to spike and any trip from here on out is going to be claustrophobia inducing. Even the back of the palace was full of people and I was done staring at it. To be honest, I might have been more excited to see Chipotle than the palace, oops. I enjoyed the gardens around Buckingham palace much more than the palace itself as there weren’t as many people. I walked around this area for a little while before heading to Westminster Abbey. D6C72ECF-9A64-41AB-BF7B-4709BC4F8CFF
On my walk toward Westminster, I saw Big Ben off in the distance. I knew Big Ben was under construction but I still thought I’d be able to recognize the iconic building. Nope. Big Ben was so covered in scaffolding there was no telling it was even the right building. In fact, some random fellow tourist got my attention to ask me if that was indeed Big Ben and after I said “yes”, he seemed very disappointed. Same dude, same. There was only one visible face of the famous clock, but otherwise it was entirely unrecognizable. Oh well, maybe if I get to come back to London later on in life, I’ll actually get to see it scaffold-free and it’ll be that much sweeter.

 

 

84CD8302-8B13-4A7E-8C13-EC37C33468DDNearing Westminster Abbey, I decided to stop for an iced coffee and have a little break in Parliament Square Garden. It was nice to stop and enjoy the views for a little while. Sometimes those are the best little moments of a trip. Just sitting in the grass, enjoying how life has brought me to visit these astounding postcard-worthy places. Ooo, also a quick shoutout to London and Europe in general. No unnecessary plastic straws! As you can see in my shameless selfie, the straw they gave me was made of paper. Most places in Europe have been banning plastic straws to better the environment and I’d love to see the U.S. follow suit. I can’t name one time in Slovenia where I’ve been given a plastic straw which is amazing. I’m actually considering writing a blog about how eco-friendly Ljubljana is compared to the United States. Sorry for the short mental detour… back to Westminster. As I walked closer to the Abbey, there were a few street performers, including a man playing bagpipes. Here, I’ll share a video and bless your ears as well. Haha, oh the bagpipe.

Westminster Abbey was beautiful but the line to get in was unreasonably long and there was an entrance fee. Most of the churches I’ve come across have had free entrances so anytime one costs money, I’m a little less likely to see the inside. I’m a traveler on a budget, sorry. Look at that beautiful gothic architecture on the outside though, geesh.

DSC_6688Day2
Westminster Abbey

Next up on my cliche London day I walked over the Westminster bridge to get a closer look at the London Eye. The London Eye was immensely larger than what I had imagined in my head. Part of me wanted to experience taking a ride on the oversized ferris wheel so I checked out ticket prices. After seeing how much it would set me back to  be locked in a glass box with 24 strangers for 45 minutes just to make one revolution of the wheel, I thought I’d rather just observe it from the ground. Also, for those of you who thought it moved at a typical ferris wheel pace…wrong! The London Eye moves so slowly, you can barely tell it’s even moving. Just thought I’d enlighten those who’ve never been able to see it in person. I know if I had bought a ticket, I would have been excited for the first five minutes then incredibly bored the rest of the ride.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Near the London Eye there was a fish and chips restaurant flooded with people, so I figured it was about time to eat something. Disappointingly, I don’t like fish so I ordered chicken and chips instead. Nothing to write home about really. Tasted like bland fried chicken and fries. Sorry London, but everyone already knows you aren’t famous for your food scene. The food wasn’t great, but the view was beautiful as I found a ledge looking out over the Thames with a good view of London. After finishing my food, I walked through Jubilee Garden to the Golden Jubilee bridge where I walked back across to the other side of London. The National Gallery called my name and I filled the rest of my day with art.

Okay, I won’t overload you with all the photos of the magnificent and iconic pieces of art I was able to see because it would be an entire gallery. Seriously, pieces from Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Jan van Eyck, Botticelli, Da Vinci… the list goes on and on. The National Gallery was stirring with visitors, normally I’d find it annoying that I couldn’t take a photo free of people in a gallery, but I had an exceptionally fun time taking photos of other people enjoying the art. Looking at all the ways people observe art is really interesting, from taking selfies, sharing with a loved one, looking through someone else’s phone camera, drawing a re-creation, or looking at the painting right in front of you in a book. After all, art is interpreted differently by each person. Every painting, though it may be the same, is distinct dependent on the beholder. Enough of my rambling, here are the photos I took of complete strangers at the National Gallery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So I was having a jolly good time at the National Gallery and was nearing the end, when a man in his late 30s came up next to me while I was looking at a painting. He made a comment about the paint color of the room and how it was different from the others and I was like yeah, that’s an interesting point. I’m not one to be rude to people so of course I responded to his comments on the art. From that point on, this man creepily followed close beside me to every painting I went to. Standing way too close for comfort, I kept stepping further and further away from him and stopped responding to his comments on the art. I really thought this guy would take the hint but he sure didn’t. This older guy was determined to make the rest of my time at the museum incredibly uncomfortable. Luckily, I had already almost seen all the rooms of the gallery so I was able to tell him I was leaving just to escape the awkwardness. It wasn’t so easy though. Before I left, he asked me if I wanted to go have a drink with him, which I definitely did not. So, I told him I didn’t drink and I’d rather just spend the rest of my day alone. Sort of brutal and also dumb because now this random stranger knew I was alone. Wow, I’m really not great at talking to strangers and I was super anxious. Now that I was on high alert after angering a creepy stranger, I left the museum in a rush to get as far away as possible. Of course I had on my bright yellow backpack so as to be super identifiable in a large crowd. Way to go Katrena, you told him you were alone and you have a backpack the color of the sun in a crowd of muted colors, awesome. Freaked out, I naturally called my mom for comfort and then called my older sister for someone to call me an idiot I guess(haha, thanks Kass). I ended up walking down the road to a very busy McDonalds where I ordered a coke(with a paper straw) and hid out in the basement seating area until I figured the coast was clear and I headed back to my airbnb. Fun times in the hustle bustle of London today.

Advertisements

London Day I

So, I’m splitting my London trip into separate blog posts so my readers don’t have to read an entire book for one blog and also because it’s nearing exams, making me extremely busy. Thanks for understanding, here we go…Flew to London today! I chose London as my spring break trip while abroad. Arriving in the Luton airport, I was still a while away from the center of London where I’d be staying so I took a slew of public transportation to get to my airbnb. I was transferring from one station to Kings Cross station and as any Harry Potter fan knows, Kings Cross is a large part of the books so I was already pretty psyched to even be inside this particular train station. I was walking toward the platform for my platform transfer to London when I saw a large crowd of people gathered by the wall. When there is a crowd, I naturally walk toward it to see what the hullabaloo is about. The crowd was encircling the iconic Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. DSC_6441editWords can not express how beside myself I became. I always knew I was a giant HP nerd, but this week took me to new levels. Naturally, I dropped all prior plans to get to the center of London to wait in this long line to snap a single picture in front of half a cart in front of a faux Harry Potter platform. There was absolutely no way in the world I could see Platform 9 3/4 then continue walking toward my destination like I hadn’t seen it. Technically this was on my list to do later in the week in my personal itinerary, but who am I kidding, I never follow my itinerary anyway. Physically shaking with excitement, I desperately needed to talk with someone who also loves HP as much as me(maybe as much as me), so I Facetimed my friend Lexi. Lexi was getting ready for her mother’s wedding, which I was bummed to be missing, but I was able to say congrats to her over FaceTime so that was cool and I think she was understanding about my absence seeing as I’m across the world, haha. Lexi shared in my excitement about me being in line to see Platform 9 3/4 which is exactly why I called her, because I knew she’d understand my enthusiasm. Thanks Lex(if you’re reading this). Traveling alone is so incredibly rewarding, but at times I really want someone to be here with me to share in my experiences, it would make standing in a long line much more fun. There were workers in the front who took the photo and also put a house scarf on you, I watched them thinking about how I would thrive working here. Closer and closer, I made my way to the front of the line, thinking about how I only had one chance to look decent in the photo and if I failed there would be no second chance. Finally, it was my turn. Proudly, I grabbed the blue ravenclaw scarf and walked toward the half luggage cart sticking out of the brick wall. Rummaging through the selection of fake wands, I had to make a quick decision. I saw the elder wand, Harry’s wand, Ron’s wand, Lucius’ wand, Hermione’s wand… but not Luna’s wand which I desperately searched for. Yes, I am a Harry Potter nerd, I already told you that, you just didn’t believe me. Choosing Hermione’s as a close second, I pointed it to the sign, the worker made my scarf blow in the wind and *snap* the picture was taken, scarf taken off, and another young wizard ushered into my spot. Well that was quick. Totally worth the 45 minute line though, I would have waited longer. DSC_6453After the photo, they had a Harry Potter shop full to the brim of merchandise. Obviously I wanted to buy every single thing but all the price tags were crazy expensive. I had to walk through the whole store, convincing myself I did not need £70 ravenclaw sweater. Not without difficulty, I made it to the end of the store to the cash registers to see my photo. Nervously, I looked at the photo assuming it would be absolutely terrible with me having my eyes closed or a double chin or basically anything ruining my one memento from being here. It was actually decent! Since it wasn’t dreadful, I bought the photo and went on my merry way.Platform934

Finally back on track to my airbnb, I had the most fun pretending to listen to music but actually intently listening to the English accents around me. Seriously, all week long I had the most fun listening to British accents and feigning my own accent in my head, it was bloody brilliant.

After dropping off some cumbersome items in my backpack, I headed back out to see the most remarkable crosswalk in the world. Turning the corner in Westminster, I came upon Abbey Road. The zebra stripes themselves were fairly insignificant, but knowing the Beatles were here and they recorded at the studio right across the street made these white lines extraordinary. A handful of tourists gathered around Abbey Road taking turns finding the perfect opportunity to cross traffic and capture the perfect photo. For some reason, I thought maybe the road would be blocked off or away from traffic but nope. Cars continuously streamed down the street, the drivers angrily honking at various tourists running into the oncoming traffic. Watching people take photos was deeply entertaining as they waited for an absence of cars, ran into the street and froze for a few seconds, then quickly bounded to the other side of the street. I stood at Abbey Road for entirely too long watching tourists getting honked at, kind of wishing I had someone to take a photo of me being an idiot in the middle of the street. A lone girl on the other side of the crosswalk looked as though she were thinking the same thing as I was. After a few minutes, I decided to run over and offer to take a photo of her if she would take one for me as well. It worked out perfectly. I love the fact that you can see the cars waiting for me to un-freeze and make it to the other end of the street in the photo. Yay for being an annoying tourist!9D8E7C74-F830-47F5-931A-5A7B35312E4A

While I was at Abbey Road, I made sure to FaceTime my grandma and my mom and show them where I was. I even walked across Abbey Road again so my Grandma could go with me(virtually) across the famous street. I love being able to share fun little experiences with my family back home. After Abbey Road, I walked toward Notting Hill but became utterly sidetracked when I saw a Chipotle on the horizon. Shining in all it’s splendor, Chipotle called to me. I love Chipotle, I eat it constantly when I’m home in America. I haven’t eaten my beloved burrito bowl in months. Honest to goodness, the amount of joy from seeing that Chipotle sign was way beyond the excitement I felt for Buckingham palace the day after, I know I’m ridiculous. Well, the day was basically over after eating so I headed back to my rented room to settle in for the night. Lovely first day in London. More to come when I have time in between exams/presentations!

Interlaken, Switzerland

From the start of my study abroad, I had a list of top places I wanted to visit while here in Europe. Switzerland was close to the top of my list. Everyone here warned me about how expensive Switzerland is and I quickly became discouraged, thinking I wouldn’t be able to make it to the cute little towns my friends back home told me all about. Luckily, I was able to find a cheap flight and inexpensive accommodation, making Switzerland a reality! So I hopped on my tiny plane to Zurich and stepped into the unknown of Switzerland. Zurich was pretty far away from where I was planning to stay in Interlaken so I had to figure out a way to get from here to there without it costing me an arm and a leg. Coming across a train ticket window, I ended up asking a man what the heck I should do to get where I needed to be. Luckily, he was amazingly helpful, he helped me buy a train ticket to Interlaken, converted some of my euros to Swiss francs, and gave me a free bar of Swiss chocolate. Off to find my train platform, I headed down the escalator and realized I had already gone the wrong direction, awesome. Back up the escalator I went, hoping the train ticket guy didn’t catch my moment of immediate disorientation. Finally finding the correct platform, I must have looked like I belonged or had some sense of what I was doing even though I surely didn’t, because a pair of old English gentlemen came up to me, showed me their tickets and asked if they were in the right place. This was a blind leading the blind moment when I told them “yes, you’re in the right place”… “If I’m in the right place”, I’m thinking to myself. While waiting for what ended up being the right train, a woman getting off a different train came up to me, pointed at my striped, mustard-color, hippie-esque pants, and started speaking German about them. Smiling in response, I have no earthly clue what she was saying about my pants but I’m just going to assume she was complimenting them. For all I know, she told me there was a giant stain on the butt of my pants and I smiled idiotically in response, oh well. On the 2 hour train ride to Interlaken, I realized my phone wasn’t working. Normally I use my Slovenian sim card on all the trips I go on, but the catch is it only works in EU countries, of which Switzerland is not a part of. So here I am, arrived in Interlaken with no clue how to get to my hostel, no matter, it’s just a minor roadblock. Bought a Swiss sim card after a small struggle to find an English speaker and now I was ready to still get lost on my way to my hostel. It was a twenty minute walk to my hostel which gave me ample time to become discouraged and lost in a dead end street. IMG_1726ReHere I am, at the end of a dead end street, lost in Switzerland when a black and white cat materializes out of a yellow flower bush to greet me. It’s amazing how cats seem to sense my helplessness and appear just when I feel furthest from home. Man, I miss my cat. With cat hair covered pant legs, I continued toward my destination. Eventually, I made it to my hostel, checked in, and walked up three flights to my shared room. So far, I’ve never stayed in a hostel, but the accommodation in Switzerland was much more expensive and it was all I could afford. The hostel didn’t seem so bad the first night because my six bunk room was empty and I had it all to myself, that would soon change.

Today, I had plans to go to Jungfraujoch or “The Top of Europe”. The ticket for the several trains to the top of the mountain were quite expensive, but I was already on the train so there was no turning back now. On one of the transfers to a different train, I was sitting all by myself when an older Chinese man comes and sits across from me, snapping photos out the window. Then, another younger Chinese man comes and sits right next to me and they start speaking in Chinese to each other. Oftentimes in a situation when people are near you, speaking a different language, you assume they are talking about you out of paranoia. Now in this situation, they really were talking about me. Tapping me on the shoulder, the younger Chinese guy gets my attention to ask if it was alright if his friend took a photo of me. IMG_3656ReIn response, I gave a confused look as he grabbed his friend’s phone and showed me a photo of myself taking a photo out the window. Super weird. Not a terrible photo though.  The younger Chinese guy spoke a little English and he asked me to take a photo at the top of the mountain and I said yes, not trying to be rude. Little did I know that I had just agreed to spend the whole day with them and their Chinese colleagues who were next to us on the train. Jungfraujoch was set up as a step by step tour through the several attractions. The first room my new Chinese friends and I walked into was 360° video screen showing a trip through the mountains, it was really beautiful. Next, up the elevator to the viewing platform over the Swiss alps. On the elevator ride, one of the Chinese girls in the group gave me a piece of chocolate and they all taught me how to say thank you in Chinese which was pretty cool. Never thought I’d be learning Chinese in Switzerland. Getting to the top of Jungfraujoch was worth the trip. DSC_4798ReMiles and miles of mountains and clouds to the point where the two were indistinguishable. DSC_4800ReFor the first time at one of these touristy spots, I had someone to take a photo of me, in exchange for taking a slew of smiley photos for the Chinese group. Fun fact: when the younger guy asked me to take a photo at the top of the mountain, he meant with him, so now I have a fantastic photo of me and my newly made friend from China, haha. Enjoy. They also had this really interesting egg snack that they told me I had to try.tb1.vvugfxxxxaxxvxxxxxxxxxx_0-item_pic-1 Apparently it’s a very popular snack in China, it was an egg but it was a really dark brown color. I asked if it was chocolate and with their collective english skills, they still didn’t know what I had asked so they made me try it anyway. IT WAS NOT CHOCOLATE. It was an actual hard boiled egg, but what was it boiled in? I may never know. Nothing can describe my horror after I was expecting chocolate and bit into a vinegar spiced egg thing. Lord help me if I visit China someday. Next, we made our way down to the ice palace. Elsa would have been impressed. There were ice sculptures and ice tunnels, it was pretty cool(pun intended). Desperately trying to keep my fingers from falling off, I kept rubbing my hands together. Being a universal sign for “I’m cold”, the Chinese guy kept jokingly offering me his jacket to which I continuously declined. IMG_1756ReAll jokes aside, it was nice to have people to experience things with for once and he ended taking a decent photo of me looking genuinely happy in the ice palace. On the way back down the mountain, my new friends invited me to come with them in their rented car at the bottom of the mountain to Grindelwald, deciding it’d be poor judgment to get into van with a bunch of strangers with whom I have a prominent language barrier, I politely declined and proceeded back to Interlaken. Perfectly enough, one of the stops on my way back was a town called Lauterbrunnen in which my best friends back home informed me it was their absolute favorite place they had visited on a trip in high school. Lauterbrunnen was a charming little town situated in a valley between two mountains with a stunning waterfall in the center, streaming down from great heights. Living here must be a dream everyday. With the setting sun, I had to take the train back to Interlaken. Walking up the three flights of stairs, I mentally prepared myself to actually have roommates tonight even though I prayed for continued vacancy. Slowly, I opened the door and found four guys who had made their homes in the bunk beds of my room, well our room now I guess. Two of the guys were my age, from Louisiana, and studying in Madrid. They were nice enough but left late to go party and made a terrible drunken ruckus when they came back at 2:30 in the morning when the rest of us were snoozing. After they had left to do whatever it is they did, a girl came in and took the very last bunk right above me. I was relieved there was another girl in the room, but I’m not sure it was worth her annoying phone buzzing against the wood irregularly, keeping me awake. Turns out it was also bothering one of the men at the other end of the room as he audibly sighed in exasperation after every annoying buzz. Obviously much more confrontational than I, he got up, came over and woke up the girl to tell her to turn off her phone. She seemed pretty upset, but the buzzing ceased. Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else fight your battle. Once the confrontational guy fell asleep after the lack of phone buzzing, he was own problem with his resounding snores. Yay, staying in a hostel!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Started my day by dropping my favorite earring in the sink. Frustrated with myself, I went downstairs to eat my free breakfast of toast and yogurt then spilled my coffee all over the place. Off to a great start. Choosing an empty seat, I sat down next to a girl who I found out was in Switzerland to go skydiving. So cool, I definitely have skydiving on my bucket list, maybe not this weekend though. Interlaken is situated between two beautiful lakes and surrounded by mountains and I wanted to explore both while I was here. After breakfast, I got on a bus to the train station to spend a day at Lake Brienz and explore some waterfalls. DSC_5062ReGiessbach waterfall ended up being really beautiful and there were barely any people there which made it so much better. Looking out from behind the waterfall, I could see the lake, mountains, and hotel Giessbach which was probably crazy expensive, but beautiful. Feeling like I didn’t get the full waterfall experience, I headed down to the bottom of the waterfall and ended up climbing over a few rocks and walking around.

Turns out I had too much fun at the waterfall because I missed the bus back to the main train station and had an impromptu hour hike around the lake. It was a long walk, but it kind of turned out great because it was the most beautiful walk through hills and right by the the bright blue lake. During one of my detours, I was by the edge of the water, searching through pebbles in the lake to bring back home to my sister who requested only rocks from my various adventure spots. Intently searching for an interesting looking pebble, crouched down in the water, I hear a hissing sound near me. Startled, thinking that it might be a snake, I look up to see a giant, very angry, white swan staring in my face then it lunged at me, trying to bite me! DSC_5307Re.jpgThis was one unhappy swan, perhaps because I didn’t have any food as an offering. I was able to catch a photo of this very swan terrorizing two young girls down a bit further after it had given me a heart attack. I’ve never been afraid of birds, but this one is a different story. Just look at it. Evil, I tell you. Other than my being attacked by a bird, the unexpected walk to Interlaken was delightful. Back in Interlaken, I walked around the town shops a bit and then decided to sit in the middle of Höhematte Park to enjoy the mountains and great weather. While sitting in the grass,DSC_5412Rs I noticed several paragliders landing right in the large expanse of grass before me. One particular paraglider flew right over me before landing a couple feet beside me, it was a tad frightening but also pretty amazing. So very badly I wanted to be one of the people paragliding over the alps. Before coming to Switzerland I looked into paragliding but it seemed like something I’d maybe do later in life when I had more money or time to plan. Trying to rationalize going paragliding, I started thinking about how I hadn’t actually gone out to eat or spent any money on food in Switzerland whatsoever. That night in bed I made and appointment for paragliding first thing in the morning.

Woke up super duper excited for paragliding this morning. First things firsts, I ate breakfast seeing as it’s the only thing I’ve been eating here. I was sitting outside on the balcony eating when a Japanese guy came and sat next to me. He didn’t speak English very well but he was quite friendly. What I did get out of the conversation was that he and a friend created an app, he wanted to bike from New York to California next summer(good luck), and he told me “all foreigners are so beautiful, why are you not all in movies?” so that was a fun conversation. I tried to help him with some English words while he was speaking and he taught me some Japanese, who knew I’d learn so many random things in Switzerland? He asked to take a selfie with me and then I headed outside. The paragliding van was supposed to pick me up outside my hostel but they ended up driving right on past me so I ended up walking to the paragliding meeting point, well actually I got lost and then Luki, my tandem flyer guy, found me looking lost in the street nearby. We hopped in the van and made our way up the mountain, they asked if I wanted the lower or higher jumping point and I chose higher so we kept driving. Everything happened so quickly, there was no time to build up anxiety or fear. I stepped into my harness, he set out the parachute, and we were all set to go. Defying all logic, we began running toward the edge of the mountain, took two final large steps, felt the wind catch the parachute, and then I was paragliding!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was an incredible feeling, there was no fear whatsoever. I was expecting to feel some sense of panic or uneasiness but there was nothing but pure joy and excitement. Now I know what it feels like to be a bird! Glorious feelings of freedom and wonder as I looked down and out across the stunning Swiss alps and beautiful Interlaken. Honestly there was some point when I felt as though I must be dreaming. There was no way I could be paragliding in Switzerland, it was beyond belief. So happy I could’ve cried, just kidding, I don’t cry about emotional things. There is a video of me controlling the parachute for a second and my guide spinning us around a bit which was awesome. I absolutely hate the way I look/sound on video so I thought about not showing anyone but what’s the fun in that?

Best experience ever 10/10 would recommend. So glad I decided to go paragliding on a whim in Switzerland. After a perfect landing, I said thanks and went on my merry way to Lake Thun. St. Beatus Caves are located on the side of Lake Thun, I knew they had beautiful waterfalls and I was not disappointed. DSC_5476RsSeeing the stunning waterfalls leading up to the caves really made me want to visit the inside of the caves themselves but the ticket was pretty expensive so I enjoyed free waterfalls on the outside instead. Instead of taking the bus back to the city, I decided to take a long walk along the lake and stopped to sit on a log in the shallow part of the water and enjoyed the mountain views for a couple hours. So, this sounds really odd but one photo I really wanted to capture on this trip was a photo of a brown Swiss cow because they are cute and I don’t know, maybe I’m just a weirdo. Well on my way back to the city, I had to walk through some of the countryside and I found cows! I walked up pretty close to them and I wanted to get closer but also was trying to be sneaky because I wasn’t so sure if the owner of the small farm would be keen on me being there so I snapped a few photos DSC_5746Reand headed back to my hostel. Tonight I had all new roommates. Four of them were Korean-American couples who were amazingly kind. Talking to one of the women, we discovered her daughter’s name was Katrina and she was the same age as me which is crazy! She was so excited to have met someone with the same name as her daughter and was eager to tell her husband who had just walked into the room. They asked me all sorts of questions about my studies, where I’ve been, where I’m from, and things I’d done in Switzerland. She was so surprised I had gone paragliding and told me someone would have to pay her to go paragliding. It was like I had Korean parents for a night. Her husband told me that I was living life studying abroad, and traveling with my parent’s money. I was like hold up… I’m not traveling and studying with my parents money, I’ve been saving money from working for years and earned a scholarship due to good grades and I’m proud of it. Impressed, he gave me two thumbs up for being so independent. I think I gained the respect and approval of my Korean father in one night, it was a great feeling. The next day was my last day in Switzerland, I ran into my Korean-American roommates in the breakfast lobby and they asked to take a photo with me to have and send to their daughter. Third time I’ve had my photo taken with an Asian person in Switzerland, kind of funny. Leaving Switzerland was sad because it’s the most brilliantly beautiful place I’ve ever been. I do look forward to going back to my temporary home in Ljubljana, and being able to eat food at a decent price again. 

Budapest in 3 Days

Day 1:

First day in Budapest and no part of me wanted to leave my comfy Airbnb bed, but… Budapest calls. Jumping on a tram to the other side of the city, I started my full, exciting, beautiful, and exhausting day in Budapest. After getting off the tram, I headed into the Budapest underground metro system in order to get to my destination of City Park. The thing about this is that I definitely didn’t have the right ticket to ride the metro but nobody checked and I hopped on board unimpeded. Honestly, figuring out the public transportation systems in each city you visit is extremely difficult and I didn’t really feel like spending half my time working out the logistics of which ticket to buy and which bus/train/tram/metro system was which so I basically just go with it and hope for the best, haha.

DSC_3918Edit
Heroes Square

Once I got off the metro, I walked up the stairs onto a street facing Heroes Square which was a large open area with impressive statues and museums at either side. Walking a bit beyond Heroes Square, a giant beautiful castle appeared and of course I went straight toward the gorgeous piece of architecture to get a closer look. Vajdahunyad castle was originally made with wood and cardboard but became so popular that it was built permanently with brick and stone. The castle was so beautiful on the outside and I wish I could’ve seen the inside but I try to spend the least amount of money I can on my trips so seeing the outside was sufficient enough(free) for me.

My next plan was to go to the House of Terror, sounds like fun right? To me, absolutely! The House of Terror is a three story museum with exhibits on the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary. Since the fifteenth of March happened to be a national holiday, this museum was free for the day! The history fanatic inside me was both intrigued and deeply disturbed by the story of this building. Hungary was occupied by both Nazis and Soviets, thousands were tortured and killed in the basement of this very building. Comprehensively telling a story of the power struggle and daily misery experienced by Hungarian people, the House of Terror was an incredible museum. It’s nearly impossible to grasp the dark history enveloping the world during this time, but I really felt the history while walking through the basement torture chambers and prisons. Easy to say, I really enjoyed this museum and should probably make an effort to visit more museums when I travel places… even if it costs me a couple bucks. Next, a long walk for a quick visit to the Hungarian State Opera House which was under construction so I wasn’t able to see the old, beautiful architecture as it was covered up.

Lunch time in Budapest was interesting. I decided to try the Hungarian food special called langos. IMG_1477Since it was a national holiday, there were little parades, shops, people celebrating, and food vendors selling the popular fast food. Langos is a fried circular dough with a layer of sour cream(yuck) then cheese. When the the woman working the food stand asked me if I wanted the classic Hungarian Langos, I said sure because I didn’t really know what I was ordering anyway. Turned out classic meant covered in fatty bacon… which I despise. Reluctantly, I ate about a quarter of this until I could not force any more down… then I found a bench outside St. Stephen’s Basilica and fed the rest to some pigeons.

 

Already sitting outside my next destination, I took a few steps and headed inside St. Stephen’s Basilica. With only a 1 Euro donation, I was able to explore the most beautiful building I’ve ever been in my life. Upon entering the place of worship, I looked up at the ceiling and my breath was taken away. Sitting down, I took in the beauty of the interior architecture for a little while. Feeling overwhelmed by the stained glass, murals of Jesus, statues, and gold tainted details, I really wanted to share the exquisiteness so I Facetimed my Momma and showed her around the Basilica because I knew she would appreciate the splendor as much as I was. Since there were people worshipping and signs suggesting silence, I tried to keep my photo taking to a minimum due to the annoyingly loud shutter release, but it was pretty stunning, take my word for it…or look up other photos on the inter webs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heading to another interesting piece of history, I made it to the Danube Promenade DSC_4087Editwhere a memorial called Shoes on the Danube honors Jews who were ordered to take off their shoes and shot by Arrow Cross militia men, their bodies falling into the river. This country has such an interesting history, there were museums, statues, exhibits, and memorials everywhere. Architecture was probably my favorite part of exploring Budapest. Most iconic is the Hungarian Parliament building. You can see the ginormous building from practically anywhere in Budapest but since I was so close, I decided to get an up close look. DSC_4116EditTrying to take a photo of the entire building while standing in front of it is nearly impossible because the sheer massive size. Conveniently enough, while I was taking photos in front of the Parliament building, the guards changed posts and it was a pretty cool spectacle. Setting out for my next interesting piece of architecture ended in some disappointment as the Great Synagogue was closed. After taking some unsatisfactory photos of the outside, I moved on into the inner city. Luckily enough, I stumbled into a cute little parade and then went into a couple souvenir shops. Apparently embroidery is a big thing in Hungary because souvenirs are covered in floral embroidered designs. I love embroidery so much and I miss doing it when I’m at home, so it was pretty difficult to keep myself from buying everything, especially with the very persuasive vendors.

Feeling my stomach rumbling, I realized that I hadn’t actually eaten anything all day since I hated the Langos. Passing a restaurant sign advertising Hungarian dishes, I walked backward and entered on in. IMG_1480Looking over the menu was a chore, but I settled on Paprika chicken and noodles because it’s one of the dishes most commonly found in restaurants in Hungary,  besides goulash, the national dish, but I didn’t really feel like eating beef stew. I really didn’t know what to expect but I’m trying to be more open with food because at home, I eat like a small, unhealthy child. Of course, in the middle of my plate is a huge dollop of sour cream. I hate sour cream, why are they so obsessed with it here? But guess what Kassie(older sis)? I ate it all. I even ate the dark meat on the chicken leg. Overall, it was pretty good, I was not disappointed. By the time I left, it was dark and rainy. Taking the scenic route home, I walked back to the other side of town over the illuminated chain bridge. I attempted to take some decent long exposure shots but I forgot my tripod back in Ljubljana like an idiot. Oh well, I was still able to experience Budapest at night and it’s a whole new view.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 2:

This morning I went on a journey to the top of Budapest.

DSC_4304Edit
First stop: Fisherman’s Bastion, a building/terrace overlooking Budapest

 

DSC_4310Edit
Right next door: Matthias Church

Next, I headed for Buda castle and also stopped to see the funicular which is the second oldest in the world, using weights to raise carriages up the hill.

 

DSC_4359Edit
Buda Castle

DSC_4340Edit
Funicular

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, my daily adventure took me to new heights as I climbed to the top of Budapest called Gellert Hill. Walking up the stairs nearly killed me but I finally made it, the view was worth the near asthma attack. From the top, there was a barely visible rainbow resulting from the drizzle.

DSC_4464Edit
Can you see the faint rainbow?

After enjoying the view for a little while, I went back down to the city and wandered around and visited some shops, found some art to buy of course, and just enjoyed some free time in the city. As I was walking around, some guy tapped me on the shoulder, slightly alarmed, I turned around to see a guy in his late 20s with long hair smiling at me. “You are Hippie?”, he said in a thick accent. Confused, I replied with a shrugging hand gesture. “I like your style” he replied, then he waked away. Super weird encounter considering I’m wearing big overalls covered in distressed holes, an oversized “Harvard for Earth” long sleeve shirt I stole from my brother-in-law, dirty hair covered with a thick brown headband, no makeup, and my black combats boots. I was looking real rough… perhaps that’s what he’s into, haha no judgement. As I was walking the streets of the inner city, I passed an ice cream store that allured me with a swirled cone made of dough, dipped in cinnamon sugar, coated in nutella, and filled with strawberry ice cream. d4a09bd6-fa9c-437d-9817-1154cbb8bf29.jpgIt was beginning to become dark so I decided to head back to airbnb. Since Budapest is a big city, I needed to jump on the tram to get back to my room in a timely manner. Jumping onto the tram, I realized it was going in the complete wrong direction then course corrected by getting on the opposite bus. Finally going in the right direction, I realized there was a guy checking the validity of passenger tickets coming closer to me, one passenger at a time and I still hadn’t bought a ticket. Can you blame me for trying to save a buck? Also I was still horribly confused by the entire ticket system and it turns out not as many Hungarians speak English as the Slovenians so I couldn’t find any help. Anyway… the man was coming closer and closer until I was able to hop off at the next stop unchecked. Needing to make it home, I was supposed to get back on a different bus, but the man was waiting to get onto THAT bus to check some more tickets. So, I waited about 15 minutes for the next, next bus and by the time I made it back to the apartment, it was much later than I originally intended. This is definitely not the blog for people who want to know a lot about food and what I’m eating in all these fun countries because I might be the first human who doesn’t need sustenance in order to live. Having not eaten anything but a cone of ice cream all day, I stopped in a small grocery store outside the apartment and grabbed some noodles for a super late dinner because I know my mom would want me to eat something even though I wasn’t hungry(you’re welcome Ma). I also bought a thing of crushed red pepper because I can’t find it anywhere in Ljubljana and I can’t live without spicy in my life; priorities right?

Day 3:

Last day in Budapest! I decided to have a pretty relaxed day because I had been doing a ton of walking and climbing and also, since I had to check out of my airbnb early, I had to carry all my belongings on my back all day which includes a heavy laptop and several camera lenses plus toiletries and clothes so my back was basically dead by the end of the day. I walked to Margaret island, an island in the middle of the Danube between Buda and Pest. DSC_4531Edit.jpgA decent sized island with parks, rose gardens, tandem bicycles for rent, playgrounds, fountains, and medieval ruins. I wish I could have seen the island in spring when all the flowers are budding, but it was still pretty and the weather was surprisingly warm. I enjoyed my time walking around and sitting in the Japanese garden. Heading back to the main part of Budapest, I looked up antique markets in the area because it’s my favorite place to be. Desperately wanting to buy antiques, I decided I didn’t have any room in my backpack for anything extra or breakable so instead I meandered around enjoying the familiarity of old jewelry and dust. My next stop at Starbucks seems kind of dumb, but my back was killing me from walking through the whole city, and there are zero Starbucks in the whole of Slovenia so I was very excited to see the green siren calling me in for coffee and free wifi in Budapest. Time to head for the bus station back to Ljubljana, my temporary home! I know this was a long one to read so thanks for sticking with me.

 

 

 

The Floating City

After my social work class, I hopped on my 10 Euro bus to Venice and the adventure began! My bus was delayed for an hour at the Italian border as the polizia italiana did a very thorough check of our passports with a few complications with some of my fellow passengers. Finally making it to Venice, I took a people mover to the main island and set out to find my airbnb. As the sun had already set, it was a tad more difficult to find my place and I ended up near the right address but not quite.

DSC_3461Edit.jpg
Spontaneous photoshoot in my Airbnb

Thank goodness a young Italian guy sporting a man bun came out of nowhere, said my name in a fun accent, handed me my temporary keys, then led me to the right door. My room was actually really nice, and conveniently right in the middle of Venice. Excited about my first actual day in Venice, I woke up super early, opened my window and saw nothing but fog. Fog is my absolute favorite! Anytime it’s foggy at home I jump on the opportunity to take photos because it looks so amazing. Setting out for San Marco, I walked 20 minutes through beautiful, fog covered Venice. By the time I arrived at San Marco, thick fog still covered everything. Piazza San Marco was full of beautiful architecture but I couldn’t even see anything due to the fog, so I walked along the water for a while, waiting for the fog to dissipate. Of course I really wanted to take a gondola ride but they were all crazy expensive so I just stood on the bridges and watched as others floated along underneath me. After San Marco, I walked around the little streets of Venice and visited a couple little shops. There was a multitude of cafes, pizzerias, clothing stores, tourist shops, shops full of carnival masks, and my favorite which was an adorable lavender store.

DSC_3496Edit
Grand Canal

DSC_3500Edit
Rialto bridge

DSC_3579Edit

DSC_3624Edit
St. Mark’s Basillica

DSC_3690EditDSC_3706EditDSC_3823Edit

DSC_3886Edit
Doge’s Palace

On a whim, I decided to take a ferry to Murano, a little island north of Venice. Colorful and full of works of art made of glass, Murano was a nice little escape from the tourism of Venice.

DSC_3734Edit
Murano

Since this city is known for glass-making, the streets were overflowing with locally made pieces of glass works of art. Unfortunately I couldn’t necessarily buy a tiny glass flower to be put in a suitcase and accidentally crushed when it’s time for me to go back home. CC45C81D-887F-4ECF-99BC-9659238E4941Realizing I hadn’t eaten anything in quite a while, I searched around for a decent place to eat in Murano. I ended up finding a restaurant with a patio by the ocean and I freaking ate an entire pizza by myself. Turns out my capacity for eating is expanded when I have nowhere to take my leftovers. Exhausted, I took the ferry back to Venice and took a glorious nap. I made sure to wake up before sunset then took a stroll and facetimed my family so they could see a little bit of Venice. After it got dark, I walked around the main canal and tried to find a souvenir to buy. Undecided, I checked out some shirts and other knick knacks but nothing really seemed right. I came across a little shop full of Murano glass trinkets and an old man sitting down, sketching illustrations of Venice landscapes. He had a little box full of his beautiful art for sale and I found my perfect souvenir, plus he had a cute little dog sleeping in the corner of his shop which was even better.

Today, March 10th, is my bone marrow birthday. Eight years ago, I was laying in a hospital bed and received my bone marrow transplant. Honestly, I don’t really like celebrating my actual birthday but this birthday is meaningful to me. I didn’t do anything when I was born to earn a celebration, but I did endure chemo and radiation and come quite near death to have a reason for March 10th to mean something. Usually I celebrate by going to dinner with my family or they buy me a Papa Johns pizza, stick a candle in it and sing happy birthday terribly off-pitched and annoyingly loud just the way I like. Although, this year I’m celebrating by traveling the world and taking advantage of the life I’ve been blessed with! I’d say spending the weekend in Italy is a pretty great way to celebrate my life.

 

Day in Trieste

Spent a quick day in a little known Italian town called Trieste. There was a bus full of exchange students who had the opportunity to visit a cave, tour an anti-aircraft shelter, and walk around the city of Trieste, or Trst as the Slovenians call it. DSC_3312Edit.jpgSo far I’ve only visited one cave in Slovenia even though there are about 10,000 different caves in the country. Walking around in the cave was stunning and also quite frigid, as the temperature dropped every couple meters. Going to another cave while I’m here is most definitely on my list. After the cave, we went to the bomb shelter which was an experience all in it’s own. I’m planning to write a blog post specifically about the bomb shelter and some perspective on what I’ve experienced being an American in Europe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once in the heart of Trieste, we were given time to walk around the city freely. Most of my classmates paired up or went as a group to find food. Not me, I spent my time alone, wandering around, enjoying the beauty and snapping some photos. The sea called to me first, I went directly to the pier and spent some time just sitting on the edge with my feet dangling over the water. fullsizeoutput_6311Noticing a small gelato truck, I left my spot on the pier, chose raspberry and enjoyed the BEST ice cream I have ever consumed in my lifetime. I’m honestly still dreaming about the sweet, berry flavored gelato. Still having a couple hours left for exploration, I walked around the old town of Trieste. Cute old buildings, impressive statues, cute cafes, colorful streets, leftover carneval confetti, and a curious Katrena walking about, genuinely enjoying life. There was a moment on the pier when I became overwhelmed with a sense of thankfulness and unfathomable gratitude for any and every person who helped me get here. If anyone would have told young, post-cancer me that I’d be studying in Europe and traveling solo to foreign cities when I was 20, I would have scoffed. Seriously, I’ve already done so many things I never expected to experience in my lifetime.

 

 

Bled and Bohinj

Everyone in Ljubljana has been telling me to visit Bled and Bohinj and I finally had the chance to go! I woke up early in order to have sufficient time to explore, but things never really go as planned for me. Blindly trusting google maps, I ended up at the wrong bus station, walking around completely lost. Waiting for another bus took an extra 20 minutes and by the time I arrived at the correct bus station, my bus had departed. Two hours later than I had intended, I was on the full bus to Bohinj. Pushing through people, I snagged a window seat and I’m so glad because it was the prettiest bus ride imaginable. Slovenia is seriously such a geographically gorgeous country.

DSC_3056Edit     One by one people stepped off the bus until I was the only one left. Starting to think I was hopelessly lost, hearing the bus driver say a bunch of Slovenian words ending with “Bohinj” was so relieving. DSC_3011EditI got off the bus and started wandering around in the mountains around the lake. Hiking through the woods brought me upon several beautiful streams and waterfalls, I’m so glad I chose the lesser traveled path through the woods instead of by the lake. Walking around in the woods was so relaxing and wonderful. I’m used to walking around in the woods back in Missouri so this was a nice transformation of scenery. I didn’t actually take very many photos while at Bohinj because I was so entranced by my surroundings and also I had to run back through the path to get back to the bus to Bled.

Once at Bled, I stepped off the bus into the cutest little town settled around a lake, with a beautiful castle on a hill overlooking everything. Wanting to get the best view, I trekked up a million stairs up to the castle. There was a cute little museum, a restaurant, a blacksmith shop, and a gift shop, but the most appealing aspect was the view. DSC_3100EditOnce atop the castle, you can overlook the whole lake with a nice view of the mountains. I can’t really capture the essence of being there, but hopefully the photos do it some justice. You can kind of see a little island in the middle of the lake with a little church on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go out onto the island and see the church even though it would have been extremely interesting. Maybe I’ll take another trip to Bled before I leave Slovenia.DSC_3091EditDSC_3107Edit.jpg

Before the day was over, I had more bus troubles. My bus was scheduled to come at 6pm or technically 18.00 here, but they didn’t have one come until an hour later. So, I walked back over to the lake and snapped some photos of the castle at night and then wasted an hour at a small cafe. DSC_3304EditBack at the bus station, there were about 5 people waiting at the bus station. One of them happened to be a girl my age, so I went over and asked her if she was also studying in Slovenia and she replied in an American accent that she was studying in Germany but visiting Slovenia. This is the first American I’ve met here and she happened to be from North Carolina near the same area my sister and brother-in-law used to live, sort of a weird coincidence. We spent the whole hour bus ride back to Ljubljana talking. It was nice to talk with someone from my country for a little bit, but it made me appreciate my experiences with meeting people from all over the world a bit more. It’s much more enriching to have a conversation with someone from a different culture, learning about differences and similarities between customs and norms. Anyway… it’s really late here and I’m falling asleep. Thanks for keeping up with me!