“Why haven’t you been writing???”

I wish I had a clear answer to this question. I wish I could tell you that I was whisked away by a hunky European man and haven’t had time to write between our steamy make-out sessions. I wish I could say that I had a better story.

In truth, I have been back home for a little while now after planning a surprise arrival for my family. I couldn’t post about my plans to return home because I had already sent my parents a faux flight confirmation. I told them I wouldn’t make it home for Christmas due to the pricey flights. In reality, I had actually bought a ticket to make it home by 10pm Christmas eve, hoping I could keep the secret until I arrived (thanks to my almost-brother-in-law, Will, for being the MVP of the surprise).

I bought this plane ticket while sitting on a bunk bed in Florence, Italy, only two months into my trip. I was high on travel-success, still pleasantly surprised by the amount of money I had been able to save. I decided to buy the cheapest flight home, figuring it couldn’t be that hard to make it back to Paris to fly from CDG Airport. Once the Paris attacks happened, my exciting flight home became a black cloud looming over my head.

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You’ll be fine!! Everyone told me. Of course, I knew they were right but my subconscious anxiety would rear it’s head yelling at me me, blonde? Female? American? Flying from Paris to Turkey to Boston, ALONE??? How stupid can you be?  I hated that I felt this way, trying to remind myself that people are inherently good, and that I would soon be in the arms of my family, stuffing my face full of all the chocolate and candy that I wouldn’t claim at customs. This was a challenging time for me, pushing myself to still make it to all the places I wanted to see, not letting fear stop me from living my life to the fullest. It was funny to me how my final trip, the trip home, was the scariest of all. I had written about the fear that stopped others from traveling, and I was determined to be true to my words, not letting anything or anyone get in my way.

After 32 hours of traveling (Germany to Paris, Paris to the Airport, Airport to Istanbul, Istanbul to Boston, Boston to home) in a mild panic, meeting wonderful people who I was lucky to share my 11 hour flight with, and being reminded that travel is honestly the best thing anyone can ever do for themselves, my best friend Madison picked me up from the airport shuttle and drove me home. I walked right into the Christmas Eve party my family was enjoying and hugged my mom. “Merry Christmas!” I said. I turned my head, waiting for my older sister Brooke’s reaction and gave her a big hug as tears rolled down her face. Operation Surprise- check!

The first few weeks of being home were a blur of reconnecting with family and friends, answering questions like, “What was your favorite place??” and “How was the food???” I was nostalgic walking through my hometown, appreciating all the things I had taken for granted. People around me were speaking a language I understood, there was drip coffee and free laundry, and mornings were once again filled with kisses from my dogs. Everything I had once known seemed new again, and I love it.

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I started work again at the coffee shop I have worked at since I was 17, helped my parents move houses (coming home to a different house than the one I had left was strange, but that’s a topic for another day), started yoga teacher training, and settled back into everyday life. I hadn’t realized that after the holidays I would be forced to confront the fact that I was no longer traveling, that my backpack wasn’t my lifeline, that my purse didn’t need to always be zipped and tucked under my arm, and mostly, that I wasn’t a one (wo)man band anymore. I had my family, my friends, my job, and no idea what to do with it all.

“So where do I go from here?” I asked myself. Well, I have a marketing/business degree (and student loans ugh), and I want to use it. I want to get out of my parents house, even though I love them very much-hi guys-, and I want to start my next chapter. This 23 year old is ready for her next adventure, and adulthood sounds like a pretty solid one to set out on. I have a career to find, places to see, SO much food to cook, and lots to do in between.

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“OH NO SHELBY! WILL YOU KEEP BLOGGING???” I know you’re all worried that my blogging career may come to an end, but I can assure you that although I may be stateside for the time being, the fun doesn’t stop here. I hope to bring you all along with me through my journey of finding my way, whatever way that may be.

So, I guess my answer to the original question is this: I hand’t written because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to form the words to describe what an amazing adventure I had been on, and how to acknowledge the fact that it was over. It wasn’t until I had coffee with my friend Chrissy a few days ago that I realized that the adventure didn’t end, it is just evolving. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully verbalize what the past five months have meant to me, but I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.

Thank you, Chrissy, for the inspiration. You Rock.

 

 

Not my picture, but all too real:

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Germany, Switzerland, and a Surprise Visit! 

It has been a while since I last posted, so I have a lot to catch you all up on! After Prague, I went back to Germany for a week. I have come to feel really at home here, loving walking around the Christmas markets and spending my days wandering Mainz. I celebrated my 23rd birthday by having dinner with Hannah and a friend, making oreo hot chocolate, and eating lots of Germany candy.

   
   
During the week, I had two major kitchen successes. The first, was a pinterest recipe (we all know how that can go) for Gluten-Free Ginger Molasses Cookies using coconut flour and almond butter. I added a bit more coconut flour than the recipe calls for because my dough was too soft, and I amped up the spices a bit, but all in all they came out delicious and soft- just the way I like them. The next was a salad recipe that I came up with myself, so I figured I should share it! (Hannah claims to have loved it, so hopefully you will too!)

Makes enough for two very large salads.

– One small sugar pumpkin (or any winter squash), cubed

– one small bag of brussels sprouts, half cut into halves and the other shredded with a sharp knife

– four garlic cloves, peeled

– one small bag of baby kale (you could use any hearty leafy green)

– a few handfuls of red grapes, halved

– parmesan cheese, chunked (you know how much you like)

–  dressing: combine 2 parts olive oil, one part balsamic vinegar, a squirt of mustard, a squirt of honey, salt and pepper.

– to put the salad together:  toss the pumpkin, garlic and the halved brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven until soft and a little browned. Let the roasted veggies cool while you make the dressing. Toss the baby kale and shaved, raw, brussels sprouts together with the dressing. Top the greens with the roasted veggies, grapes, and cheese. You could even throw some slivered almonds on top for crunch if you wanted. Enjoy!

  

Ok, back to the travel stuff:

Hannah took me to Frankfurt to introduce me to the family she lived with and au paired for when she first moved to Germany. We walked the massive Christmas market, ate schnitzel at Atschel with a pitcher of their famous Apfelwein, and went to the family’s christmas party where I got to meet lots of fabulous people and be surrounded by the German language. It was awesome. 

   

  

We also went to Wiesbaden to join her colleagues at their Christmas market! 

   

  

  

  

   

A couple weeks ago, while trying to decide where to go next, I texted my mom and jokingly said that she should come meet me somewhere in Europe before I come home. I got my Aunt Deb in on the conversation, and tried to plant the idea of a spontaneous trip over here to come see what I’ve been up to or, even better, to explore a new place with me. When they said yes, I could barely contain my excitement and suggested a few countries where we could meet. We decided on Switzerland, and I packed my bags.

 
I spent my first night in Switzerland in Zurich alone, waiting to pick up my mom, aunt, and my aunt’s mom from the airport the next morning. I stayed at Langstars hostel, which was located in the Langstrasse area. I got in at night so I wasn’t able to explore very much, but the area seemed a bit dodgy to me. The big lit up signs for strip clubs next door were an indication that maybe it’s more of an up and coming neighborhood.. Anyway, the hostel was pretty expensive and I was disappointed with the set up. I was given a canvasy feeling sleeping bag to lay in on top of a dirty sheet, and the building was incredibly dated and awkward. I did like the free glass of wine they gave me at the bar though.
I woke up the next morning feeling like a kid on Christmas, basically sprinting to the bus to get to the airport. I arrived an hour early, and anxiously waited to see them come through the arrival gate. I was a big baby when I saw them, blubbering like it had been years!

 
We took the train directly from Zurich Airport to Lucerne, where we spent the majority of our trip. We checked into the Renaissance Lucerne Hotel where I felt like a queen walking into her castle. A bed, a clean shower, not having to lock up my stuff?? Luxury!!! I was so happy. We spent our first day exploring Lucerne and all its beautiful little streets, and eating dinner at the Mexican restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel, Pacifico.

   
 
  
The food at Pacifico was good and, like everywhere in Switzerland, pretty expensive. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Shelby, you asked your mom to meet you in the most expensive country in Europe?” I’ll admit, I had been warned about the prices before I left, but I figured expensive meant paying a few dollars more for everyday things. When I saw that a burger cost about $30… I realized I should have probably paid more attention. Luckily, we all laughed about the $10 yogurts and just pretended to be Kardashians for the week.

 
The highlights of Lucerne for me were the views, the people, and the food. We had awesome luck with the weather, so we were able to get out and explore every day. The people we met were very friendly, willing to help us when we couldn’t speak German or understand menus, etc. I think we must have asked our hotel staff about 30 questions a day, and they gave us an answer with a (genuine) smile each time.

   

  

  

One great way to spend an afternoon in Lucerne is to take the Guetschbahn (a hilarious, cardboard box-looking cable car) up the mountain to the Guetsch Hotel. This magnificent building sits right on the edge, overlooking the entire city and the nearby mountains. Once you figure out how to get up there, I promise you won’t be disappointed. We were lucky enough to be able to stay and have lunch there, with great food and even better scenery. 

   

  

* Side note: The European way to enjoy french fries or frites is to dip them in a flavored mayo or aioli. Sorry ketschup, it was nice knowing ya. 

   
 

As for the food in Lucerne, we had a knack for choosing some great places (with the help of Yelp. You know I love Yelp). For lunch on our first day, we wandered into Cafe de Ville looking for something light and a place to warm up. The cafe was set on the second floor, giving us a gorgeous view of the mountains over the lake. I ordered the rosti, a traditional swiss dish made up of a giant potato pancake topped with herbed sour cream and smoked salmon. It was light and delicious, and the perfect portion to keep me warm and full. My mom ordered the couscous salad with shrimp which was so beautiful I had to take a picture of hers too.

   
 

Another great lunch spot was Ristorante Mamma Leone. This cute Italian restaurant was a great place for salad and traditional Italian fare like pizza, pasta, and antipasti. We had the spicy salami pizza, an antipasti plate, and lots of mixed salad.

   

  

 
For dinner spots, we had two delicious dinners in Lucerne worth noting. The first was at Restaurant Opus, a little restaurant and wine cellar combo serving Mediterranean and Swiss fusion. I had the chicken breast stuffed with herbs, cheese, and tiny flecks of alpine ham. Again, my mom chose the most beautiful dish, ordering the lime risotto with shrimp and locust lobster. *If you’ve never seen a locust lobster, google it. It looks like a monster.* My aunt Deb and her mom Bev both chose the restaurants antipasti buffet, which was a huge spread of cured meats, olives, salads, and more. The service was fantastic, as was the food.

   
  

The second fabulous dinner in Lucerne was had at Stern Lucerne, a hotel and restaurant that sits right next to the Christmas market in the Franziskanerplatz. Here, we really went all out, enjoying three different courses. One thing I loved about Stern Lucern was the way they offer and serve their appetizers and desserts. Each appetizer and dessert comes in a jar big enough for two people to have one or two bites each. You can order two, three, or all of the jars. This way, you get to sample a bunch of menu items without being too stuffed by the end of the meal. To start, the four of us split jars of pumpkin soup and salads topped with sweet and sour pumpkin and roasted beets. The salad was amazing, and the sweet and sour pumpkin was out of this world. 

  

For main courses, My mom and I split the catch of the day (a trout-like fish coming right from the near by Swiss lakes), and the spicy penne with roasted chestnuts and elderberries. Bev enjoyed the pork steak, and Aunt Debbie had the chicken cordon blue. We all loved our meals, and couldn’t stop raving about how the unexpected ingredients paired so nicely together.
   

  

  

For dessert, we ordered three jars: warm chocolate chili cake, chocolate fig ice cream, and the ‘hazelnut treat’. The cake was warm and delicious although not spicy like we had hoped and the ice cream was deliciously figgy and rich. The hazelnut treat was a sort of hazelnut flan with hazelnut brittle pieces on top. They were all fantastic. If you’re looking for a romantic place to have an amazing meal, Stern Lucerne is the place to go.

  

We also had a nice, quick, traditional breakfast at Moevenpick Restaurant right across from the hotel. You’ve got to try the Birchermuesli.

   

Also, shout out to Heini cafes where we frequently warmed up with coffee or tea, and to Confiserie Bachmann for the delightful salads and macarons.

  

  

 
In the middle of the week, we decided to take an excursion and head to Muerren and Interlaken. Muerren, a tiny little village high in the mountains took us about two hours to get to from Lucerne, with three trains and a cable car. We wandered through the story-book village, in shock that a place this beautiful actually exists. I think my mom said, “Look over there! Can you believe that??” about 20 times in the first hour. Unfortunately, most of the businesses were closed, so we headed to the Schilthornbahn and boarded a cable car up the Schilthorn mountain.

  

^^^^ My cute mountain mom!! 

  


   

  

You may be wondering what is so special about this mountain. Well, aside from gorgeous views and a look out over the Jungfrau, Moench, and Eiger mountains, the Schilthorn is famous for being home to the revolving restaurant where the James Bond movie, In Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was filmed. After riding in the cable car, we had lunch at the revolving restaurant and took in the scenery around us. It was unbelievable. Eating lunch as you slowly spin, getting to see a 360 degree view of the Alps… incredible. The food was sub-par (I didn’t even eat mine and clearly I don’t do that often), but the view was worth paying for the seat. We explored the sky walk, braved the grated platform where you can look down to see the drop below, and even explored the James Bond Experience- the museum included in your lift ticket price. It was an amazing experience to say the least.

   

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

After Muerren, we headed to Interlaken for the night. We stayed at Hotel Interlaken, a beautiful old hotel built in the 1400s. Deciding on Restaurant Grand Cafe for dinner, we sat and were given English menus, which is always nice when you don’t speak the native language. My aunt, Deb, was really craving an espresso martini, so we were determined to find one. After some back and forth with the restaurant manager, a chilled espresso and vodka drink was brought to the table. It turned out great, even though the manager just kept repeating to us “I am very confused.” If espresso martinis become a hit in Europe, you can thank us! For food, I ordered the winter salad and a cup of the potato and leek soup. The salad was wonderful, with walnuts, poached pears, and camembert cheese. The soup was warm and thick and perfect. We also each had a few bites of cheese fondue (when in Switzerland, right?). The cheese was thick and super hot, with a strong flavor of wine. It was served with cubes of bread and boiled potatoes. Thank you to the manager for being hilariously welcoming and allowing us to totally confuse him all evening!

  
   
  

The next morning, we woke up ready to explore Interlaken although we knew things would be closed due to it being Sunday. There were a few stores open, so we were able to pick up some gifts and goodies to bring back with us. Looking up to admire the mountain peaks surrounding the city, we realized there were paragliders all around us, jumping from a near by mountain and gliding all the way down to the park in the center of Interlaken. “Let’s do it.” My aunt said to me.

  

  

  

The next thing we knew, we were in a van being driven up Beatenberg peak, a mountain about 3900 feet above the ground. After making them pull over to let us pee, we finally made it to the top. We were set up with harnesses and meet our incredible pilots who were probably the coolest people I’ve ever met. My tandem pilot, Daniela made me feel completely safe. She told me how she was a primary school teacher who quit her job to become a full time paraglider. Bad. Ass.

   
  

She hooked my harness to hers and said, “3,2,1, RUN.” I moved faster than I ever have in my life, and we ran right off the face of the mountain. I honestly don’t have words to describe the feeling of being lifted into the air over mountain ranges and a city below. Once the parachute caught wind, it felt like we were drifting through the air, completely safe and sound. It was the most beautiful and serene experience. At one point, Daniela took out her GoPro, handed me the pulls to steer, and told me to pull hard with my right hand. As she directed me, I pulled as hard as I could, making us do flips and spin like we were in a tornado. We landed on the ground, high-fived, and I wished I could head right back up the mountain to do it again. Daniela did explain to me how I could get my own license to paraglide like she did, so maybe that’s a project in my future. It was absolutely something I will never forget.

   
   
    
    
  

We headed back to Lucerne, talking about how it weirdly felt like we were going home. That’s the thing about traveling- anywhere can feel like home if you have the right people around you. We enjoyed the local Christmas market, drinking Gluhwein and eating currywurst. We tried schokokussen- chocolate covered homemade marshmallows, and walked around buying little souvenirs like Gluhwein spices and Christmas mugs.

   
    
   

  
 
As I got on my train to head back to Germany, saying goodbye to my family as they waited for their train to the airport, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. Traveling alone is a huge learning experience. You learn so much about the world, and even more about yourself. I have loved being able to challenge myself to create my own happiness. But, as I hugged my mom goodbye, I also realized that no matter where we go or how long we are gone, it is the people we love that make this life worth while. Mountains are beautiful, food is delicious, but being able to have shared those things with my family, even for a short time, is something I am so beyond thankful for.

 
I am headed back to Germany for more holiday-themed shenanigans! Thank you so so much to my mom, aunt Deb, and Bev for coming to join me on this crazy journey. I am so lucky to have you all in my life. On to the next adventure! 
 

Praha

I have taken a lot of busses during my time in Europe. Seriously, a lot. Most of them are great with wifi and big seats and just the right amount of pit stops to stretch your legs. The bus from Vienna to Prague was not so great. I was left without wifi- something that really isn’t a big deal unless you have no cash in the appropriate currency, no idea where your hostel is, and the only advice you had been given prior to leaving was “don’t take a cab in Prague”.

 
As you can tell by the fact that I have something to write about Prague, I did eventually find my way to a spot with free wifi and then to my hostel. I stayed at what I thought would be Mosaic House, but was actually a smaller, newer building owned by Mosaic House called Hostel Mingle. The hostel was more like a big apartment, with a great kitchen, three dorm rooms, and two bathrooms. Everything was new and clean, which I really appreciated. My roommates and I were even able to become a little family for the two nights I was there, sitting and eating together, getting fro-yo, and listening to each other toss and turn all night in the 100 degree room. Other than the heat, it was a great place to stay.

  
^ Hostel roomies on our fro-yo date

My whole weekend in Prague rained, which was a bummer because, as anyone who has been knows, Prague is all about walking to different sites. I pulled out my umbrella (when I remembered it) and braved the rain anyway. 

  

I woke up on my first morning in Prague realizing my bananas and two of my granola bars had been stolen. I guess I was naive to leave them in the kitchen anyway, but there were bins for people to leave their food in and I had followed others, leaving mine in a bag with the rest. I was disappointed, but losing about $0.15 in bananas, luckily, isn’t a day ruiner. I decided to head over to Mama Coffee for coffee, an unexpected piece of cake, and to work on my blog.

 

Mama Coffee is SO cute. Two floors of super stylish cafe serving everything from flat whites to pumpkin gnocchi. I picked a table and ordered coffee and a piece of poppy seed cake (naturally gluten free and delicious looking so I couldn’t help it). Cake is acceptable for breakfast, right? There were seeds and nuts for protein, cherries for antioxidants and vitamins, and dairy for calcium! Health.
   
 

I was deep into writing my post about my time in Austria when a baby ran past me and screeched. That’s when I saw the cutest thing ever. In the corner of the second floor on the cafe, parents and kids were decorating wreaths for Christmas. The kids would collect up decorations in a little box, head over to another table to pick a wreath, then they would glue the pieces together with help from the adults. It was adorable and it really made me wish I was either someone’s mom or had my mom there with me. Ok, it’s probably good that I am not toting a baby around on this trip, but shout out to my mom- I miss you! 

Embarrassing story time! It wouldn’t be my blog without these stories, so here is one for Prague. After enjoying my delicious breakfast, I went up to the counter to pay. Like the modern woman I am, I handed her my credit card ($$= miles, am I right??). She looked at me confused, and said in a strong Czech accent, “cash only.” That’s when I realized, I had no Czech currency and hadn’t even considered needing it. What a rookie. She pointed me in the direction of an ATM and I swore I would be back in a minute. I ran to the ATM, put in my card and pressed withdrawal. Please Contact Your Bank Provider. Shit. So my debit card wasn’t working, they didn’t take credit, and it was Sunday so I had no way to contact my little hometown bank.

 
So what did I do? Naturally I texted my mom angrily about the lack of customer service from our bank, who in reality is an awesome and totally customer service oriented bank, just not on Sundays. My mom being the rational and perfect human she is told me to find a cash exchange and just deal with the fees. Did I mention how much I appreciate my mom?

 
I found a cash exchange with 0% commission, learned that 1 CZK = $0.039 which is awesome, and ran back to the cafe. The waitress must not have expected me to come back because she laughed and said “Oh you’re back!” when I walked in. 

After that exhilarating experience I headed to the old town center where all the magic was happening. I wandered through the Christmas market, tried to avoid overpriced souvenirs, and started to feel the holiday spirit. I do warn you though- traveling alone during the holidays is really tough. I’m an independent woman but there’s nothing like a Christmas tree and people singing carols to make you miss the people you love the most. 
   
 

I do have to say, I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to. There were times when the rain came down pretty hard, and there’s nothing like cold rain to make you lose your motivation. I did wander through most of the Old Town, seeing the Astronomical clock and the beautiful castle like buildings. I also wandered through the Jewish Quarter, which was really interesting and full of history. This area may have been my favorite. 

   
    
    
   

   
   

Prague was one of the first places that I had a real kitchen to cook in, so I took advantage. I was able to buy groceries for two dinners, two breakfasts (minus stolen bananas), a bottle of wine, and some snacks for only about $12. This saved me a ton on food costs, which is huge for backpacking. It really is shocking how much you can save making your own food, and it feels pretty good to eat a home-cooked meal. 

I did go out for one meal, wanting to taste local Czech cuisine. I had read that Czech food is really a combination of the other large countries around it with influences coming from all over, but I was determined to try to find something special. Through my Googling, I found a restaurant that was pretty highly rated, and also had a gluten free menu. I know you’re probably saying, “oh god, she’s one of those gluten-free fad people” but I actually have a gluten intolerance/wheat allergy that I choose to ignore for certain special meals (and beer). So, being able to get a Czech meal that is also gluten free? Perfect. 
   

The servers working at Svejk Restaurant U Karla were very nice and super accommodating. They offered me the gluten free menu right as I walked in, as it must be a huge draw for tourists. The server suggested the beer cheese appetizer so I ordered a bowl of the goulash soup to go with it. 

The cheese came out, and I was honestly pretty surprised. The plate was composed of a line of cheese wedges, a pile of minced onions, small dots of spices along the rim, and a big pile of mustard. I looked at him confused. He directed me to take my fork, mash it all together really well, then wait five minutes to let it combine before spreading it on the gluten free bread. I can get down with interactive food, so I did as I was told.

 
The combination was… strange. It was spicy, and oniony, and so much mustard that I almost couldn’t find the cheese. I couldn’t tell if it was great or terrible, but I was leaning towards the latter. I ate a few bites and asked for my soup to go along with it. Luckily, the goulash soup was delicious with chunks of beef and potatoes strewn throughout. It was warm and comforting which was nice after five hours of walking through the rain. I was incredibly full post soup, so unfortunately I couldn’t finish the beer cheese… what a shame. I do recommend this restaurant though, there were so many options and the staff was very nice!

 
   
 

I again walked through the market, seeing it as it got a little darker, and appreciating how beautiful Prague is. It is the perfect place to spend time before Christmas, with a market that is just amazing and expands throughout multiple areas of the city. Every time I had thought I had seen the whole thing, I would turn a corner and find another group of stalls to look through. I have to warn that the weather in the winter isn’t very dependable, but even through the rain it was gorgeous. 

   
    
    
    
 

I hope that you all get a chance to Czech Prague out at some point. How many times can I use that joke before people unfollow this blog? And, I hope I get to go back at some point where there will be less rain and more family or friends to share it with. ❤

I hope everyone who celebrates is getting as excited about Santa coming as this little guy is!  

The hills are alive

I stepped off the bus in Salzburg, Austria feeling like a full-blown world traveler. I had now navigated my way to my second country on my own, and I was prettyyyyyy pumped. After a bus ride from Mainz to Munich, then from Munich to Salzburg, I was finally in the land of brown paper packages tied up with string.

 

Here are some bus ride pics through the dirty window: 

   
   
  

It was dark by the time I made it to Yoho International Youth Hostel, so I quickly Yelped a place to grab dinner. I ended up at Die Weisse, a brewery/pub-style restaurant that people had written was famous for great beer and classic Austrian food. I walked in and quickly realized I was the only woman in the dining room minus the two waitresses. They handed me an English menu, and I decided on their house beer and the bratwurst (when in Austria). 

  

I don’t know about you, but I always think the descriptions on beer and wine bottles are full of it. “A sprinkling of apricots” or “a lemony zing” always means it just tastes like beer or wine. The description of the house beer at Die Wiess claimed that it had a distinct banana flavor, and I felt like a jerk when I realized it actually did. The banana flavor was so strong I almost wished I hadn’t read the description so I wouldn’t notice it so much. It was good though, and none of it went to waste. I felt the same way about the bratwurst. It came with a delicious sauerkraut and crispy potatoes. It was a nice Austrian meal, but nothing to write home about (just on your blog I guess). 

   
 

I called it a night pretty early because it was completely dark out and freeeeeeezing! There was actually some snow on the ground. Luckily I’m still in the “christmas is coming” mood and not a complete snow-scrooge just yet. 

I woke up early to the sound of my hostel roommates banging their things around like they were searching for their long lost needle in the haystacks of their suitcases. I’m not sure why people have to throw their things around like they’re searching for a puppy in a house fire, but I guess hostels just bring out the best in people. I got up, got dressed (quietly), and purchased the Salzburg Pass from the desk. I had read about it online, and with each museum and main attraction costing between 8-13 euro, the 20 euro pass was definitely worth it.  

I wanted to grab some sustenance before my attraction packed day, so I walked over to The Heart of Joy Cafe for breakfast. The cafe is vegetarian with many gluten free and vegan options. It is based off the principles of Sri Chinmoy, and his books and other teachings are scattered throughout the cafe for diners to look at. There is even a health product section to shop. I loved the vibe of the space and loved how the food was dedicated to health, as well as taste. I ordered a latte macchiato and two sunny-side-up eggs. The plate looked delicious of course, but what really got me was the affirmation card that came along side it. “There is always a special meaning in each event of our life.” I thought it was very fitting.

   
   
   
   

After my wonderful breakfast, I headed out into the cold to explore. I was determined to make sure I used my Salzburg pass as much as I could, so I whipped out GoogleMaps and set my first destination. I ended up at Mozart’s birthplace- his family’s apartment turned museum that luckily said “Mozart’s Geburtshaus” or I would have missed it. I wandered through the museum, learning about Mozart’s parents and sister, seeing a lock of his hair, etc. It was a great precursor to the “Mozart’s Wohnhaus” that would come later.

   
 

^ That’s Mozart’s hair…

  

As previously mentioned, I found myself exploring Mozart’s home (down the road from his birthplace) for a while, but this, I have to say, was less exciting. I relied on a voice tour that was exceptionally long, and although I’m a Mozart fan, I was over him. 

   
 

Nearby was the Mirabell Schloss and gardens, so I took a walk through the grounds to check it out. It was beautiful, but because of the cold most of the plants were frozen or wilted, so I can imagine visiting the garden in the summer might be more rewarding. I’m going to be honest here, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t know if I was supposed to go into the house or not. There weren’t any signs or people working, and while my map made it seem like an attraction, there wasn’t really much there! I decided on not getting arrested for breaking and entering, and kept my viewing to the gardens. 

   
    
 

I was able to see multiple churches while in Salzburg, and they all were unique and beautiful in their own way. The first I saw was the Collegiate Church, which I sort of came upon by accident. The inside was a gorgeous expanse of white and gold, with light coming in from all sides. It really was heavenly.

  
  

Next, I saw the Salzburg Dome/Cathedral which was larger but equally as beautiful. 

  
^ Sometimes I look back and wonder what motivates me to take some of the pictures I take (or don’t take).

Then, I explored the Franciscan Church.

   
 

The Franciscan Church led me right back to the Christmas Market. Walking in, I could immediately smell the familiar cinnamon and pine scents of Christmas. Stands selling all kinds of holiday goods sparkled around me, and I felt like I had walked into a scene in an ABC Family movie. It was that perfect. I needed to grab something to eat so I decided on getting into the longest line I saw (it must be something good right?). It turned out to be a “Bosna” which was a roll filled with two little sausages, onions, curry, and mustard. It was the perfect size and the portability factor was huge. 

   
   
  
  
  

Post Christmas Market, I decided to make the hike up to the Fortress that overlooks Salzburg, Hohensalzburg Fortress. There is a train car that will take you up the mountain, but I was determined and climbed up on foot. Getting to the top, I was glad I walked. The views were absolutely amazing! I proudly waved my Salzburg card at the ticket man, and waltzed right in. 

Climbing around the fortress catapulted me back in time. It felt like a joust was going to start at any moment! It was from the overlook at the top of the fortress that I saw, honestly, what I think is the most beautiful view I have ever seen. There are moments in life where you stop and look and just think, “wow.” This was one of those moments. 

  
   
    
    
    
   

Hiking back down the mountain was a little less dignified as I tried to will myself not to slide down the pebbly paths. I reached the bottom unscathed, and realized I was feeling (and looking) extremely cold and wind blown. I wandered to Cafe Fingerlos and rewarded myself for my previous athleticism with a chocolate mousse cake and another latte (because I have a problem). Language barriers can be an issue in smaller cities, especially during tourism off-season, so instead of trying to guess what each dessert was, I let the waitress pick for me. She nailed it. 

  

  
The sun went down a little before 5pm, and temperatures dropped even further, so I headed back to the hostel to get my things together and do some writing. I thought I would never be hungry again after my lush afternoon snack but, of course, I was wrong. 

I wanted to grab something quick and cheap for dinner, but without settling on fast food or something that would make me feel like a walrus. I found My Indigo on Yelp, and headed over. The vibe of the little restaurant was very cool, balancing rustic wood benches and high top tables with modern light fixtures and colors. They offer a self-serve salad and sushi bar, or you can choose from their daily curries or noodles. I chose Thai red curry over rice, and a side salad with ginger dressing. It was under 10 euro for the curry, the salad, and a bottle of Kombucha so I was pretty pumped. The food was tasty and quick, just what I wanted. 
   
   

The next morning I got my stuff together and said, “so long, farewell” to Salzburg. The all-day bus trip was made bearable by the unreal views of the mountains that stretched the entire way from Salzburg to Vienna, until the sun went down at least. I refrained from taking 1,000 pictures of the journey like the two people sitting in front of me, but I did take one. Austria is unbelievably gorgeous. I know it must be beautiful in the summer too, but driving by endless snow covered mountains stretching over little villages of cottages was amazing. A literal winter wonderland. 

  

It was already 8pm by the time I arrived in Vienna, so I paid too much for a cab and made my way to the hostel. I checked in to Wombats City Hostel Naschmarkt and used the coupon I was given for a free drink in the hostel bar. A very nice touch.

The hostel was clean and quiet. I fell asleep comfortably until two of my roommates wandered in at 2am, then another packed her things and left at 3am. Not trying to be a grandma here, but I don’t think I’ll miss hostel life very much. (As I re-read this post, I realize that I am indeed a grandma, and a grouchy one at that).

My first day in Vienna was cold and a little rainy, which I guess is expected for Winter and I can’t really complain. I bought a banana and a water and was on my way! Vienna is pretty big, so I just plugged in the museum area and wandered that way. I found myself at a Christmas market, but was too early, so I walked up to the beautiful building next door. 

  
   
   

It turned out to be the Natural History Museum, which was pretty exciting. I bought my ticket (he gave me the student price even though I forgot my student ID- score!), and explored the different exhibits. I, along with the multiple field trips of children that ran around me, loved walking through the wings of animals, sea creatures, gems, minerals, and especially the planetarium. I love museums, both for the things inside and for the architecture of the museum itself. If you’re not a museum person and someone like me drags you to one anyway, just look up. The design and decoration of some of these buildings is art in itself. 

   
    
  

     

For lunch, I walked over to Naturkost St. Josef, a natural foods market and cafe. The market is beautifully displayed, with all the organic produce and natural goods you could need. Behind that, the cafe offers mostly vegetarian, natural foods. I enjoyed a samosa and a few different salads from the salad bar. I could taste how fresh everything was, and I loved getting some raw veggies back into my diet. 

   
    
 

For an after-lunch coffee, I headed to a beautiful little cafe called Stil Cafe. I ordered a latte and admired the beautiful interior. I sat on a lovely curved bench by the window where I could watch drinks being made and pastries being boxed. Large white columns divide the bar from a sitting area, and built in shelves house the sweetest vases and knick knacks. Everything is outlined in gold, even the menu that stands on an easel in the center of the cafe. As in most cafes I’ve been to in Europe, there is no wifi, so I was left to write and think, and to observe the people around me go about their afternoon rituals. I could tell that almost every customer that came in was a regular based on how they knew exactly where they wanted to sit, how no menus were brought, and how their meals just appeared on the counter with perfect timing. It was nice to momentarily assimilate into local culture, even if I couldn’t understand a thing they said! It really was the perfect place to sit on a rainy afternoon. *I didn’t get great pictures because I was too intimidated by everyone around me and there was a big no cellphone sign so I was too scared*

   
 

After warming up with coffee, I headed to the Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wein. The museum itself was beautiful. I enjoyed the first exhibit, which was a collection of paintings and sculptors of artists I had not seen before. The other floors of the museum housed an exhibit that was dedicated to the way art is exhibited. I have to say, most of it went over my head but I did enjoy trying to figure it out. 
  

Feeling very educated and sophisticated from my day of museum hopping, I decided to head back to the hostel to write and warm up. The common area at Wombat’s was bumping! There were probably 40 people sitting in the smallish common area, and I almost couldn’t find a seat. It was nice to be in a busy place, making it feel more cosy and less lonely. My only complaint was that the music playing over the speakers was pretty loud, and was drowning out the Michael Buble Christmas album I wanted to listen to on my headphones. 

  

^ Not my picture, he’s just so dreamy.

Wombats was situated in a really cool food area, with the Naschmarkt right across the street and loads of Asian markets and restaurants near by. I went to a tiny noodle counter for dinner, ordering by pointing at a dish a woman next to me was eating. They didn’t speak English, and I didn’t understand the languages they tried to speak to me, so pointing was the best option. The noodles ended up being delicious, like some sort of lo-mein with veggies and crispy duck. So great. 

I went to the Naschmarkt a couple times while in Vienna to walk through and see the multitude of things they were selling. From tropical fruits to stuffed olives to fish to falafel, Vienna’s largest food market really has everything. I did purchase half of a dragon fruit, falling for the beautiful pink color, and was charged 6 euro… I’m sure he saw the shock on my face when he told me the price but I was too embarrassed not to pay it at that point. I mean, it was delicious but 6 euro delicious? I’m not sure. If you love food and need an activity, definitely walk through the Naschmarkt and take advantage of the 20 piece falafel deal for 2 euro! 

   
    
 

I was lucky enough to be put in contact with a man living in Vienna by a family friend from home. Thank you, Lisa!!! Lisa had lived in Austria, and knew him from her time there. He was kind enough to spend the day driving me around the city with a complimentary tour, taking me to a classic Viennese cafe and explaining Cafe culture to me, and even taking me to Schonbrunn Castle to walk the grounds and see the Christmas market. 

The highlights were definitely seeing the city in the warm car, tasting two different kinds of famous Viennese cake (neither of which were Saachertorte, I know, I know), and being able to see the major attractions both in the daylight and lit up at night. Walking around the castle was nice too, being able to see it lit up with a giant, festive tree in front and experiencing the Christkindlmarkt. This market was one of the biggest I’ve seen, and we were able to warm up with some delicious punsch while we shopped. 

   
    
  St. Stephen’s Catherdral Outside ^

  St. Stephen’s inside ^
    
    
    
  
^ That’s me at Schonbrunn!

    
   

For dinner, we decided on a nice Italian meal to warm us up, and found Ponte di Rialto. I ordered the spaghetti alla siciliano and it was delicious. Thick, fresh spaghetti with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and fresh mozzarella. Delicious! Sorry for the lack of picture, my fingers were frozen and my belly was grumbling. Bad combo. 

I really enjoyed my time in Austria! From the scenic bus routes to the passion for cake, Austria is definitely one of my favorite countries I’ve been to thus far. I already have a running list of things I didn’t have time to do (the Opera, the other 10000 museums, more cake, etc.), so I will absolutely be back.

 
Now I’m off to Prague with a 0% chance of understanding the language and a 100% chance of feeling the holiday spirit. 
 

Mainz- My First Week in Deutschland

I left Amsterdam excited about the challenge of having to survive the rest of my trip on my own. What would I do without Ashley’s expert use of GoogleMaps? What if I had to turn on my phone’s cellular data risking going over my international plan (which allows for approximately 2 seconds of internet time per month) and getting a $25 charge for every overage? What if something actually bad happened???

Well, I boarded the train to Mainz, Germany and hoped for the best. Luckily, by now, I have pretty much figured out how to not get totally lost, and found my way to both the train station and to my train with plenty of time to spare. I watched a man eat an Airhead for breakfast, checked the train times 100 times, and waited. The train was late, of course, causing me to miss my connection. The train attendant must have noticed my trying-not-to-panic face and brought me over a handwritten card listing the next few connection trains I could get on. 

“Don’t I need a new ticket?” I asked. 

“Just show them I wrote this.” She replied. 

I was unconvinced that the ticket collector on the next train would believe me, but he did. Maybe they write each other notes all the time and he knew her writing? A train attendant love story taking place over handwritten time cards. So romantic!

I got to Mainz with minimal stress and found my way to Hannah’s apartment. Hannah and my older sister, Brooke, have been best friends since Kindergarten and she actually seemed excited when I asked if I could stay with her.

 “You know I’m asking to stay for like…. a month, right?” She agreed without hesitation, and I am so thankful to have her! 

I walked up to the apartment building and rang the bell, knowing her roommate Connie was supposed to be home. The front door opened, and as I walked in, I realized I had no idea which apartment was theirs. I stood in the doorway like a lost puppy for a few seconds, people staring as they walked by, until a (pretty cute) guy looked at me on his way out and said, “Are you Hannah’s friend?” I wonder what gave it away. Was it the backpack with the stack of ratty luggage tags hanging off? Was it how I said “Hello” instead of “Hallo”? Well, whatever it was, he clearly knew instantly that this lost American must belong to the other American in the building. “Fourth floor” He said as he smiled and walked away.

Connie welcomed me to the apartment with a mug of tea and a big hug. I instantly felt at home, and was so excited to have a sort of home-base to come back to for the remainder of my trip. 

**Sidenote: I’m writing this while sitting in a cafe and keep forgetting to eat the food I ordered, so the waiter just came over and made sure everything was ok…Luckily, I don’t think he wants me to leave he is just genuinely worried that I don’t like my food.** 

Back to the story. For my first night in Mainz, Hannah took me to dinner at Eisgrub where I learned the wonders of wiener schnitzel which, with Hannah’s recommendation, I ordered with roasted onions on top. It came with fries (Europeans love french fries more than Americans do, I swear) and it was delicious. It was also MONSTROUS. I could have feasted for days on this thing. After eating about half, we both threw in the towel and went to meet some of Hannah’s friends at an Irish pub- go figure.

 
   
 

Two of her friends- Americans- welcomed me to Mainz and asked me questions about how I liked Germany so far. Hannah explained to them that we had just come from Eisgrub and her friend Ashley knew immediately. “Ohhh, you’ve got a schnitzel baby, huh?” You’ve been warned: a food baby is bad, a schnitzel baby is worse.

We went to another cute little bar near Hannah’s apartment for a drink and the most German thing ever happened. All of the sudden a man with a basket walked through the door of the bar ringing a big bell. I looked at his basket, expecting one of the bar tenders to escort this crazy man back outside, but then I saw them. His basket was filled with pretzels. The Pretzel Man! He walks into bars, sells drunk people giant, soft pretzels, and I assume he makes bank. What a genius! Hopefully no one steals my idea, but I’m thinking of heading back to UMass and being the pizza girl because I honestly think I wouldn’t have to work a day in my life after a few weeks of that.

 
Hannah apologized for only having a pullout couch for me to sleep on, which to me looked like a California king with a Temperpedic mattress. I slept so well, feeling perfectly at home. Clearly my body felt at home too because I woke up with a salivary gland the size of a golf ball protruding from my face. Every six months or so this happens to me due to Sjogren’s Syndrome, and for whatever reason my body decided now was a good time. It was, to be honest, because I got to spend the next four days lounging around and resting while the antibiotics I brought with me worked their magic.

 
*Travel tip: tell your doctors you are leaving the country! If you have any medical conditions, even anything that only happens rarely, prepare for it. It’s really hard to get medical attention abroad, and if you don’t want to have to spend all your travel money on finding someone to look after you, bring anything you might need.

I wasn’t completely lazy the whole time though, I did bake a birthday cake for the cute guy who asked me if I was Hannah’s friend. Turns out they were having a small birthday gathering for him a few nights later, and I offered to put my baking prowess to the test in a foreign country. The cake was pretty successful, even though baking powder doesn’t exist here and I had to improvise. (I also shopped and went to a cafe. Perfectly productive.)
   
   
    
  
  
“What is this mousse?” A friend asked Hannah. She was referring to the buttercream frosting that I had made and frosted the cake with. Apparently Germans don’t frost their cakes, so if that becomes a trend here, I take full credit. Props to Hannah on the decoration though.

Thanksgiving- a holiday that is a big deal in my house (I’m talking like 10 plus side dishes here). I was pretending to not be sad to miss it when Hannah told me a friend had invited us to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. I was so excited! So excited I decided to make a trifle in a foreign country.

Baking in another country is almost impossible, let alone a dish with multiple layers and ingredients. Even after spending an hour Googling replacements for American items, I looked like a headless chicken running around the grocery store for over an hour- still leaving a few ingredients short. Making a cake was easy, as was getting good chocolate. But trying to find things like heavy cream, Kahlua, and butter toffee turned out to be a challenge I am not mentally equipped for. I ended up making my own homemade versions of Heath Bars and Kahlua, and the trifle came out successful even after the German grocery store shenanigans.
 

Here I am protecting said trifle at all costs, even while sleeping on the bus.

Reilly and her German husband Fabian prepared the most beautiful dinner for us, complete with every Thanksgiving side dish I could want. We even got to meet Fabians Grandparents, who were hilarious. I keep saying it, but these are the experiences that make a trip a life-changer instead of a vacation.

 
  

  

Right as we walked into Oma and Opa’s house, the sekt was flowing. We each had a glass or two, and I tried to understand their dialects with the small amount of German I remember from high school. Shout out to Herr Wolf- I actually remember stuff! Opa Rudi would still fire jokes off at me, ignoring that they all went right over my head, but I loved it. Taking us down into his basement, he told us that he had built a bar so that his kids had a safe place to have a beer, so he would always know where they were and that they were safe. What a guy! 

   
 

The cellar was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Dark wood benches, red lighting, and two swings that took the place of bar stools. It was awesome. A little 50 shades of Grey, but awesome. Opa Rudi kept the schnapps flowing, making sure my little shot glass was always full of Goldwasser, a sweet liquor with pieces of gold flake floating in it. Like Goldschlager but it doesn’t make you want to die. We said goodbye to Opa and Oma and headed back to the house for dinner where I ate more than I would like to admit. *I also had my first Thanksgiving turkey in as long as I can remember after being a vegetarian for 10 years!* It was perfect.

   
     

 Please note my face as Opa pours another round of Goldwasser shots.
 

Dinner back at Reilly and Fabian’s was amazing, filled with food, friends, and fun. We laughed, ate, and ate a little more.

   
    
   

After dinner we were feeling so full we needed to get up and walk, so we walked through their little town of Kuppenheim to Favorite Palace, where the wife of a duke or something used to spend her summers. What a life. The house was beautiful, and it started to snow on us making the walk around the garden feel even more magical. While we couldn’t see much, we had tons of fun taking pictures of our own shadows and singing Christmas carols. 

   
   

Snow covered after our walk, we dug into Reilly’s pumpkin and chocolate walnut bourbon pies and my trifle while warming back up. The desserts were amazing, and I was regretting the amount I had previously eaten therefor hindering my dessert consumption. 

  

I had noticed the music all night long, Fabian DJing and playing Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, and Jamie Cullum. Now, I don’t know how well you know my musical taste, but if he had thrown in some John Mayer or Dave Matthews he would have essentially played my “Top 25 Most Played” playlist on iTunes. I had to comment because I was feeling a little bit like he could read my mind, telling him that he was playing all my favorite music.

 “That just means you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.” He said back to me.

I went to bed with a full belly and a full heart.

Apparently these are common in Germany, but the windows of the room we slept in were covered by large plastic shades that roll down over the outside of the window. I woke up in the dark, confused as to why I could hear voices at what must be around 5am. Looking at my phone, I realized it was 11 and we had successfully slept away the morning. Fabian and Reilly greeted us with a beautiful breakfast spread of fresh rolls, cheeses, veggies, and of course leftover pie.

 
They drove us to the train station where we hopped on our bus and headed back to Mainz. I was so grateful to have had this weekend, and to have been welcomed so warmly into Reilly and Fabian’s home. It was the perfect Thanksgiving away from home!

 
  

Next I’m off to Austria for a few days, then to Prague to Czech out the Christmas Markets! (See what I did there??)

Bye for now! 

“Are you scared?”

I just got off the phone with a doctor. I woke up a few days ago with some swollen salivary glands, something that happens to me occasionally, and my doctor likes me to get in touch with him when it does. As we were talking, I told him I couldn’t come in to be looked at because I am currently in Europe. Usually, the reaction I get when I say that is something along the lines of, “Wow! You are so lucky!” or “That is amazing! Good for you for getting out there!” Instead, my doctor quietly responded with, “Are you scared? Are you staying safe? Are you anywhere near France?” 

These are all valid questions, and I understand why he asked. The number of people who have contacted me in the last few days to check on me has made me feel very loved. The concern is kind, and warranted in the wake of what happened this past weekend. 

I responded to his questions by saying, “I am safe in Germany right now, but we are all staying cautious.” He informed me that a German soccer stadium was evacuated today because of the threat of an attack. It could happen anywhere.

When I really take a step back to think about it, yes, I guess I am a little scared but scared isn’t an appropriate word. I am nervous. I am nervous everytime I step off the train into a new city. I am nervous when I go to sleep with my purse by my head to make sure I don’t get anything taken during the night. I am nervous when my mom doesn’t text me back within two minutes (I am a worrywart). I am nervous that I will end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am also excited. I am excited when I check into a new hostel and drop my bags ready to explore. I am excited when I meet new people from all over the world. I am excited when I can’t read a menu or a sign and have to communicate in broken English with strangers on the street. It breaks my heart that others may be too afraid to ever know these feelings. 

There will always be bad people in the world. No matter where you live or how far you run, there will always be a chance that something terrible could cross your path. For some, violence and fear are a part of daily life. I am thankful to be priveledged enough to have a home where I feel safe, to have people who care about my wellbeing. Not everyone does. 

So this is my theory. Instead of letting the villans of the world scare us into hiding, into boarding up our windows and locking our doors, open them wide. Meet as many people you can, see as many places. Learn about different cultures and religions, and discuss them with open minds. Ask questions and listen to the answers. The more we listen, the more we will see how similar we really are, no matter where we come from or what we believe in. 

We are all citizens of the world, and we need to start acting like it. 

I hope this doesn’t seem preachy, or like I am trying to sing kumbaya over the sound of exploding bombs. I am not naive. I know it isn’t so easy. But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that this world is too beautiful to waste and so are the majority of the people who inhabit it. So no, I am not scared. I will continue to travel, to continue to see everything I can and meet as many different people as I can. I am so lucky to have this opportunity, and no one will take that away. 

My hope is that those who can travel, will. That people will want to explore this world, to protect it and those they share it with. That people will band together regardless of borders or the title on their passport. Why waste time with hate when there is so much to love? 

I can tell you this- as I walked through the Catacombs of Paris two weeks ago, one thing was very clear. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you believe in, underneath it all, everyone’s bones are the same. 

   

Thank you to my amazingly talented sister, Emma, for the artwork, and to everyone I have met who has shown me how great the world can be.

Amsterdam- We Made It!

Amsterdam. The last stop on our two month tag team journey. From here, I would go on to Germany while Ashley would fly back to the States. Boarding the bus almost didn’t feel real, like we couldn’t already be at this point. 

We got off the bus into the chilly night air, and thankfully there were two guys also buying Metro tickets, so they helped us figure out where we needed to go. After getting off the Metro, realizing we were 100% lost and needed a cab, we found our way to the hostel. Ashley had booked Stay Okay Vondelpark on HostelWorld, and luckily it was easy to find. We ventured out on the town to find some food (it was already around 8:30pm) and found a cute little Indian restaurant. The food was good, but we’ve had better.

  

The next day, we woke up to rain and icy winds blowing against our window. We had breakfast at the hostel (which included fruits and vegetables!!!!) and tried to go out into the city, but it was just to gross out. We settled on seeing a movie and went to Pathe Tuschinsky to see Pan. The theater lobby was beautiful, like going back in time. The gold trim mixed with the red velvet all around us made us feel slightly less bad that we were stuck inside in Amsterdam. The movie was bizarre, but interesting, and it did it’s job of using up some of our time.

I know it sounds lame, but we spent the rest of the day hanging out at the hostel, going to their bar and restaurant for cheep food and beer, and resting. After seven weeks of travel, a little rest wasn’t so bad. 

Our third day in Amsterdam was a little more productive. We woke up early, and headed into town determined to beat the lines for the Anne Frank House Museum. It was still a drizzly and gray morning, but I couldn’t leave without seeing it. We waited in line for about a half hour, and then were let in.

   
 

It’s hard to describe the experience of walking through the house. On one side, it is fascinating to read about the history and to be able to put a location and real faces to the story we’ve been told since we were children in school learning and reading about Anne Frank. On the other, it is a harrowing and humbling walk through the pain and perserverance of a family just trying to survive. Standing in Anne’s bedroom, seeing how trapped they must have felt, was something I couldn’t quite process while it was happening. After the walk through the house and the museum, there is a movie that plays about people’s reactions to Anne Frank’s story. At the end, Kate Blanchette speaks and says, “Her would-haves are our opportunities.” That statement could not be more true, now more than ever. 

After visiting the Anne Frank House, we were cold and looking for somewhere to sit and warm up. We found a little cafe called Koffie Huis De Hoek and ordered two bacon and egg sandwiches, a fresh mint tea for Ashley, and a hot chocolate for me. The food was perfect and so reasonably priced. The atmosphere was so cozy, and it was the perfect place to warm up.

   
   

Ashley had looked up the museums in the city, and so when she said, “The Sex Museum is only 4 euro!” I knew we had to go. It was an experience like none I have ever had, that is for sure. If you’re curious, just go visit for yourself! 

We again had dinner at the hostel but, you’ll be happy to know, we both ordered the “healthy salad.”

Feeling healthy from the previous night’s salads, we decided to skip hostel breakfast and celebrate Ashley’s last day with a pancake breakfast at Der Vier Pilaren. We ordered one classic pancake and a small order of poffertjes. The pancake was like a thick crepe, and we ordered it with strawberries and whipped cream on top. The poffertjes, which are like little mini pancakes but fluffier, were drenched in butter and powdered sugar, and thinking about them right now is almost painful. That’s how good they were. I can’t even describe these little bites of amazingness.

   
 That rectangle on top of the pancakes is butter. I need it.
 
Post pancake feast, we walked off our food babies by going in and out of stores, souvenir shopping and finding ourselves at H&M like we always do. (Seriously, I think there are at least 3 H&Ms per European city). We did wander in and out of a coffee shop, which was like walking into an alternate universe where bars are for ordering fine weeds instead of fine wines. It was fun to see, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was somewhere I didn’t quite belong.

   

  

   

We were stuffed so lunch was unnecessary and we decided to explore Vondelpark, the area next to our hostel. Looking at it from the street, it looks like this cute little park with a few benches and some trees. Turns out, the park is actually huge and you can walk through it for a few hours without seeing the same thing twice. There are cafes, restaurants, and lots of beautiful areas to see. Finally, the sun came out, so we were able to really appreciate the scene around us. 

   
   

I couldn’t believe it was our final night. Two months had flown by. It felt like yesterday that Ashley and I were boarding the plane to Iceland, with no idea how the next eight weeks would go. We couldn’t have guessed the number of people we would meet, places we would see, and things we would learn. We hadn’t even fought once! 

You can’t go to Amsterdam without seeing the Red Light District, so we saved it for the end. Gotta go out with a bang! We walked down the road, seeing where all the action should be, but realized we were too early. Aparantly we are grandmas and 8:30 isn’t late to anyone but us, so we decided to grab some dinner and come back. We stumbled upon Hofje van Wijs, the christmas lights hung over the entrance to the little outdoor seating area pulling us in. We sat outside although the interior looked adorable, and ordered a cheeseplate and an order of bitterballen. We each had a beer while we waited for our food.The cheeseplate looked beautiful, and had a nice assortment of cheeses. Bitterballen, a traditional dutch snack that I heard described as “little balls of fried gravy,” were odd but tasty. The texture was like nothing I’ve ever had but they were served with a delicious coarse mustard that made up for anything negative I could have said. We sat, ate, drank, and reminisced about our past two months together. 

     
   

After dinner, we ventured back out to the main street of the Red Light District, now seeing it in full swing. Pointing at a replica made of a certain female body part, I looked at Ashley and said, “gross!” A guy who had apparently been walking behind us yelled to me, “Gross, but fun!” as he walked into a building above us. I couldn’t help but laugh and appreciate the attitude of this city. Every vice is available if you want it, but you can’t take it too seriously. While the prostitution and drugs may be more showy, there is a whole vibrant city outside of those things, and people in Amsterdam welcome you to balance the two worlds however you choose. 

   
 

I climbed into bed with a heavy heart, excited to head to Germany to see Hannah (who you’ll hear a lot more about in the coming weeks), but also sad that this leg of the adventure was over. In the morning, we said our goodbyes as Ashley left for the airport (and to reunite with her dogs which I am so jealous of) and I made my way to the train station.

So here goes! It’s time to explore some more of this world on my own. Cue “Ridin Solo” by Jason Derulo.