WHAT MAKES A TRIP WORTH IT?

(Did I go to Berlin?)

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They say travelling is the food of the soul, a tool to widen your horizons and experience life in a different way. Reaching for the unknown and coming back richer than you were before. Travelling is about exploring, discovering, merging with a new reality and making it your own, if only for a short while.

Before going to Berlin, I had pretty high expectations. I had heard numerous people raving about this interesting city which, as central to Europe as it is, I had actually never visited. From the history, to the people, to the general vibe of the place, I was intrigued by the idea of it and was set on making a stop as soon as possible.

My chance came as I was looking through flights and – hit by a flash of tiredness – I accidentally booked myself a ticket which would grant me a few days in the German capital, with however no concrete plans or ideas on what to do about it. Despite the randomness of it all, I became gradually invested in the trip and spent days looking up places to see and activities to do, which is one of my favourite parts of any trip (researching the place). There, I was also going to meet a friend of mine, who was going to be there during the same days with a group of friends, so I was confident I would be able to make the most of Berlin – at least nightlife-wise.

I wasn’t wrong. At least partly. You see, when visiting a place that everyone else has already been to, you will inevitably incur in an obvious problem: you want to do things they have either already done, or they are not interested in. Being the anxious traveller that I am, this posed a serious threat to my trip as I had a very, very intense calendar of activities set for my four days in the capital. Needless to say, I ended up barely doing any of them. But what did this mean? Was my trip wasted? Was I experiencing a new kind of travelling? Should I have just dropped everything and gone my own way?

As I reflect on these dilemmas, I realise now that I am not dissatisfied with this trip. I did get to go out a lot and see much of the Berlin nightlife, which I probably wouldn’t have had I been on my own. Secondly, hanging out with people who actually live in the city is pretty exciting (although I could just do that with couchsurfing either way). Thirdly, I did things which are a bit outside the touristic zone, which made me experience the city in a very different light. From trying out food places in the less known areas to taking part in a demonstration on May 1st, I can’t say it was a bad experience. At the same time, it made me wonder how much do you need to see, what do you need to do in order to actually be able to say you have visited a city.

In light of that, the question I kept asking myself once I got back was.. did I go to Berlin? Did I actually get to know the city? Did I just use it as a stage for my night fantasies? It made me very stressed not just because I had possibly wasted money and time, but also because I was actually at a mental bifurcation, unsure what to think of what had just happened. It made me doubt my previous way of travelling and pushed me into thinking perhaps I had been doing it all wrong.

In the end, I resolved it was okay either way. Personally, when I visit a city I like to seek out most of its landmarks – at least the ones I am interested in – not because they are “must do’s” in the city, but simply because they are part of its history and they made it what it is today. It’s part of their essence. Secondly, I like to walk around a lot, wander about and get lost in random streets, because that’s when you truly get to know the unseen side of the place. You end up discovering things you would have missed otherwise and, if you stay long enough, you get to that awesome stage where you actually recognise the streets and know where you’re going. There is nothing like that feeling of elation when you do, at least for me. That’s when you know you’re actually getting under the place’s skin, you know?

Because of that, only experiencing the nightlife is not for me. It might be a way of seeing it – living like a local instead of a tourist – but it’s just not who I am or the traveller I want to be. Either way, the trip made me see Berlin under a different light, far detached from the perspective I would have had had I been on my own, definitely unique compared to the past ones. I can’t be sad about that and in fact am happy I had the opportunity to do it.

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With that said, I conclude my daily rant and turn the question to you: what do you consider proper travelling? What kind of person are you and how far do you think you need to go to be able to say you’ve fully visited a place? Is it better to live like a local, like a tourist or – the way I prefer it – a bit of both?

Elena

VIETNAM GUIDE: a day in Hanoi

Remember how I told you guys I had missed my chance to see south east Asia this summer, as there were no more spots available for that Vietnam / Cambodia trip in late August? Turns out there was one left. And I got it. So what happened?

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Hanoi is the current capital of Viet Nam, founded in 1010 and with a population of 7.5 million people. After going through several names throughout history, the city finally settled on the present one in 1831, under the guidance of Minh Mang. Because of the French influence – due to colonialism – and its flourishing business, Hanoi is sometimes described as the “Paris of the East”, displaying a vivacity which can hardly be comparable to other places in Indochina.

I fell in love with Hanoi. As we were doing a pretty intense tour, I didn’t get the chance to see much of this city, which frustrated me. We started our day by visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, which gave us the chance to witness the “change of guard” – a rather boring and simplistic display that somehow always manages to attract tourists’ attention in any corner of this world (e.g. London). This building is situated in Ba Dinh Square, a massive space which somehow reminded me of places like Tian An Men (which coincidentally is where the Mao Zedong building is located – communism and massive, spacey squares are clearly a good architectural combo), in Beijing, China.

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Fact n.1: The Vietnamese are very much in love with their defunct Communist leader. Ho Chi Minh was a nice little guy with peaceful ideals, responsible for the Declaration of Independence and the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in 1945. His photos are stored everywhere, from temples, to shops, to people’s own houses, manifesting the population’s adoration for this historical character. To prove this point, the city of Saigon was even renamed after him, turning into what is commonly known worldwide as Ho Chi Minh city. Crazy, right?

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the mausoleum as that is only open in the early morning, so we quickly moved onto our second destination – Ho Chi Minh’s presidential palace. This seemed to me like a sort of village with several buildings inside, from the one where the president used to reside, to one for the kitchen, to a pagoda, to meeting rooms to welcome foreign ambassadors and presidents. The cool thing about this place is that some of the constructions are built over the water, making the place sort of magical (and very, very mosquito-friendly, much to our dismay). The insides of the buildings are typical Vietnamese style – sleek, but very basic and straight-to-the-point. The highest concentration of objects is, as always, in the small pagoda, which you can see in the photo below.

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Next up was the Temple of Literature: this religious spot is located in the heart of Hanoi, giving us an instant taste of the Vietnamese Confucius culture. Built as early as 1070 under the rule of emperor Ly Thanh Tong, its aim was to welcome pupils from the royal families, as education was deemed very important for their growth. Later on, this was extended to more people as it was in the country’s interest to have wider numbers of educated individuals.

Apparently, students from the city used to visit and pray in the temple in the hopes of succeeding in their education path, even in something as simple as passing an exam. Our tour guide admitted to doing this himself (and it worked!), so we all crossed our fingers and prayed to the divine entities just in case.

Because of its Buddhist input, the temple shows a very heavy Chinese influence, from architectural details to the actual presence of Chinese characters all over it. This made me excited as – despite not really having studied it for years – I could still understand some of the writings on the wall and reminisce about the time I visited China and its stunning temples. It also made me kind of sad about the fact that I let the language go the past few years. Maybe I should give it another try..

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After our cultural visits, we finally ventured into the old town, to experience the actual heart of the city and its people. As said at the beginning of the post, I was definitely not disappointed. I mentioned in the past how much I am in love with people, as being surrounded by other human beings gives me energy like nothing else can. It’s not necessarily about talking, but just about merely being enveloped in their personal bubble of energy and being able to observe it from such a close perspective. As soon as we entered the city centre, we were hit by a wave of noise, colours and smell, coming from all directions. Scooters driving in all directions, people honking, laughing and screaming on the street, street vendors trying to sell their products and a general air of vivacity surrounding the whole place. It was the definition of chaos.

Now some people feel overwhelmed by chaos, but others revel in it. I belong to the latter group, because although I do love spending time with myself and chilling alone, there is just a beauty in chaos that always attracts me. The confusion makes for endless possibilities, giving you the chance to focus on anything you want and perhaps notice something peculiar in whatever stands in front of you. It’s a much more interesting way of experiencing something, as people naturally tend to focus on different, specific details depending on their personality. Kinda like with photos – it’s not all about the quality, but also about the subject you choose to capture.

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Fact n.2: Vietnamese people drive like absolute maniacs. The person / scooter ratio is kinda like the same as the people / bike ratio in the Netherlands. They are everywhere, and just as its city centre, the driving situation is total chaos. People just drive in any direction they like, on the street, on the sidewalk, on your feet. Doesn’t matter where they are, they will honk at you like hell until you move out of their way, be it on the actual street or in a much more appropriate place, such as a shop (not joking). This made me fairly anxious about crossing the street at all times, so I only did when I was with someone else. Not because I felt safer, but because at least we’d die together. Top tip: choose someone you like to try this experiment.

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We concluded our walk in Ngoc Son, a temple in the heart of Hanoi surrounded by a park where young and older people spend their afternoons, playing and chilling together. Our guide showed us a popular game amongst kids called “Mandarin”, where you have a set number of stones and you have to somehow eat all the others through rules of simple mathematics. Don’t ask me – I didn’t really understand it. But it looked like fun and loads of kids were playing it.

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In the evening, we had our first Vietnamese pint – rightfully drunk on the street like the locals. Although worried about the possibility of shitting it all out an hour later, I sipped on it happily as I settled into my new surroundings, eager to see more. I went to sleep early that night because my head was bursting – which didn’t give me the chance to see the Hanoi nightlife – but I am fairly sure it’s worth it and I wish I’d seen it.

 


 

That’s all for today and day 1. I hope you enjoyed the blog post and I will see you soon on my next one! I wish you all a lovely day and lots of love,

Elena

 

22

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Here is an update for you all: I FINALLY TURNED 22! Crazy, right? The event happened 8 days ago, on a very busy beach in the French riviera, in the same country of last year’s birthday and accompanied by the same two people.

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Here is a photo of me stuck in the electric mattress for old people with motion impediments, in our questionable AIRBNB

22 is a big number to me for a few reasons: firstly, 2+2 makes 4 which doubled is 8, which is one of the weird counts I always make because of my obsession with numbers and more precisely the number 8. Secondly, my couch surfing profile had been displaying “21” for way too long and I was just buzzing for that small change to twist it up a bit (because I am weird like that). Thirdly, I looked at it as yet another milestone in my life, so I was eager to get to it and look back on what I have achieved so far, which I am going to talk about in the next paragraphs.

By the age of 22, I like to think I managed to visit exactly 22 countries. I say “like to think” because the 22nd one would be Vatican City state, which let’s be honest we can’t really consider a country (although it has every right to be considered so – it is in fact a country. Hi Pope Francis). Either way, I really like the idea of 22 by 22, so let’s just put up this disclaimer and still say I managed to accomplish the mission. Woohoo.

That said, 2017 has been a year of achievements for me so far, after only 8 months (and 15 days). During this year, I successfully completed my Erasmus experience with decent grades and a bucket full of great memories with friends I made on the way. It was enlightening for me, as moving from a foreign country to yet another completely changed my mindset, as I previously explained in this post about not really knowing where home is anymore. They always say the Erasmus semester will be one of the best times of your life and, although I was skeptical of that at first, I have to admit it really did have that effect on me so I am eternally glad I made the decision to do it.

In this year, I also had my first proper professional internship which – although it wasn’t as positive as I was hoping it would be – made me realise a lot of things on “real life”, the work place and what my strengths and weaknesses are. It also gave me the opportunity to visit Glasgow a few more times, which I really appreciated as I am absolutely in love with the city (and always welcome an excuse to leave Aberdeen for a bit). Likewise, I (kind of) got an internship in Singapore which, although it fell through (I’m really unlucky with these things, aren’t I?), once again gave me the opportunity to understand what I am capable of and what I can actually achieve if I put my heart into it.

So far, the past year has also been a travelling wonderland for me. Since the start of it (so when I turned 21), I have set foot on 11 countries, 4 of which completely new ones and 3 of which I barely knew as I had only been to one or two small places and for just one day or two. The others were just routine ones (e.g. UK, Italy, France), but I am still glad I managed to see so much in so little time. It’s not really about the number as much as it is about the experiences it gave me, and I gotta say each one of these trips was special in its own way. I travelled in Poland on my own for a week (without telling my boss, who never realised I was outside the country), in Germany twice (again as my boss thought I was “away for the weekend”), visited Slovenia which I completely fell in love with and discovered many new places that I will mention in separate blog posts.

By the age of 22, I will also finally graduate from University, which will finally throw me into the dreaded “real world”, forcing me to figure out what I actually want to do with my life and which direction I wanna move towards. It’s safe to say that the thought of that is absolutely terrifying me, as I even have issues deciding what I’m going to eat for dinner (I still don’t know and it’s almost 9 pm). Either way, it’s a very exciting time as I feel I could literally do anything. The world is an open door and I just need to find out where it leads.

I am happy I turned 22 because I feel a new age is a new frame of mind to look at the world, a new land to discover and also another category of your life to look back on once the year has gone. Kinda like NYE but with a more personal vibe to it. The past year has been full of experiences and 2017 alone has been absolutely mind blowing, so I am really excited to see where the rest of it – and my first few months as a 22-year-old – will lead. In the meantime, I will do my best to keep you posted on anything happening, and I also promise to try and be more organised with the blog so that I can provide frequent, useful content for you all.

Thanks a lot for reading and see you all at the next post!!

Love to everyone,

(A 22-year-old) Elena

 

EVERYBODY’S CHANGING

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Yesterday, just like every other year, I set off with my family on our big road trip down south, destination Puglia. Puglia is a region in the far south of Italy, with stunning landscapes, ridiculously good and affordable food and inhumanly high temperatures. Know how Italy is shaped like a boot? We’re talking heel here. Now you know.

That said, my story is actually centred on something else. As we were driving, a song that I know too well came on the radio: Everybody’s Changing, by Keane, a timeless classic that every 90’s kid knows and loves. Along with Somewhere Only We Know and This Is The Last Time, it’s safe to say this song chanted the notes of our childhoods, shaping us for who we are and to some extent dictating our growth into (kind of) functioning adults.

 

“So little time
Try to understand that I’m
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same”

 

I remember listening to this song and feeling like it was supposed to speak to me, telling of a situation that was so common to many of us, especially in our teenage years while we were still trying to figure out who we were and what we wanted to become. I remember I used to have a crush in High School and I pictured him as the perfect subject for it: a timeless child with a fear of growing up, of changing, tightly holding onto things that were inevitably destined to change. I saw it as a sort of literary character that was being vindicated by the song, somehow excusing the behaviour under the pretest of romanticism.

Yet, I somehow could not connect to the song myself. I remember struggling so hard to put myself into the singer’s shoes, actually understanding how and why he was finding it so difficult to change, when I was constantly striving to change, improve myself for the better. Perhaps because my travels opened up my mind more than some of my peers, perhaps because of my love for reading of far away times, societies and lands, perhaps because of my never ending search for something which could actually make me feel complete, I was always on the lookout for a new thing to try out, a new experience to dive into. Eventually, this is also what made me realise my crush of the time was actually not the person I was looking for in my life, nor he could ever be. Because our mentalities were just on opposite ends.

Sometimes we feel like time is running out of our hands, I personally feel like it all the time and this constantly causes stress in my life. It’s not without reason that one of my favourite songs is Vienna by Billy Joel, a song which talks about trying to do everything at once, so fast, scared we might not have the time to do it later on. A song which lets you know that it’s okay to move a bit slower, because even later in life you will still have loads of opportunities to feel happy and fulfilled. It’s a song which calms me down when I am feeling absolutely nerve-wrecked, giving me peace of mind and a sense of security towards my future.

However, I never understood and I guess never will understand Keane fully. Although I do feel like life is choking me up at times, I still feel the constant need to change, to somehow twist my routine, philosophy and frame of mind according to the new experiences that I face in life. It is good to have stability but it also good to not be stale, a timeless being too scared to move forward. What good comes from it, as everyone else evolves and you remain stuck in a present that no longer exists? Which, I am guessing, is the point of the song and the fear behind it.

Either way, I have always had this idea and thought I’d share it with you guys, to see if someone else shares my same point of view. I would also like to have feedback from people who actually see themselves in the song, because I’d love to have a deeper look into it. Who knows, I might have had it all wrong all these years!

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As always, I hope you’re all having a great day and that you are working on yourself everyday.

All the best

Elena

6 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD SOLO TRAVEL MORE

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Most people like travelling in groups. Be it a summer holiday with your friends or a quick winter escape, we sometimes feel more comfortable and safe travelling with someone, scared of the loneliness and the feeling of uncertainty tied to being on your own in a foreign, unknown place. I remember being younger and thinking I really wanted to go to some places, but then giving up on the idea as “no one wanted to come with me”. I am thinking of all those lost opportunities that I simply ignored, convinced that I could not do them on my own and constantly seeking for a company I did not actually need.

More recently, I finally ventured out there completely on my own, with nothing booked or planned and just a sense of curiosity and adventure leading me on. As you might remember, I talked about this in my previous post about Poland, talking about how scary it was to get to a foreign country where they barely spoke English, in the middle of the night, with nothing but a small backpack and my will to explore. In the end, it was an amazing experience and possibly my best trip so far, which is what pushed me to start advertising solo travelling to all my friends, as it’s honestly the way to go. For this reason, I decided to write a short post about why you should solo travel more, to give you an idea of what you can expect from it and why it’s so awesome.

 

  1. THE FREEDOM

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This is the simplest reason I can give you. When you travel with friends, no matter how close your tastes are and how neatly you plan your days so that all of you can see and do the things they want, there’s always a level of tension as some activities will inevitably not be everyone’s cup of tea. It happens every time and there is nothing to be ashamed of about wanting to do the things you want first. You’re in a foreign land and you want to make the most of it, so it makes sense. Being on your own allows you to do that. You could wake up one morning planning to go somewhere, then see something online or on the street and instantly change your mind, with no one to ask if it’s okay to and no plans to mend. You are the plan. You decide what to do and you have the freedom of going literally anywhere you want. You also choose how much time you spend somewhere, where and what you eat, absolutely anything. You’re the master of the trip.

 

2. MEETING NEW PEOPLE

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When you travel – unless you hate human interactions – you will inevitably meet people. Be it at the hostel you’re staying at, in a bar or just on the street, there will be a moment when you come across other people – locals or travellers alike – and sometimes even create friendships with them. While it is true this can happen at any time and any place, whether you are on your own or with your friends, there’s just something about being solo. You meet new people in a way that you probably wouldn’t were you in someone else’s company. It’s not about trying or not trying, but a simple matter of fact.

Being on your own will push you into talking to people, perhaps for an actual chat or even just to ask for help or information, as you have no one else to rely on. Being on your own will mean that you will be more easily approachable by people, especially other solo travellers looking for some company (winky face).

 

3. BECOMING MORE INDEPENDENT

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Solo travelling means that, for the most part, you will have to handle things on your own. Plane tickets, accommodation, even mere transportation and making sure you have packed everything and anything you need for the trip. Having no one else to rely on means that you’re in charge of every detail of the trip, which can be a good and a bad thing. No option of asking your friend if they have that thing that you forgot, or if they could help you with something. You’re out there on your own. As scary as that might sound, it’s actually easier once you’re actually in the situation and it can greatly help you become more independent.

These skills will be used not only in future travels, but also in life in general, as you gradually become able and more comfortable with managing things on your own, getting to know yourself better and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. It’s no lie when they say that travelling helps you discover yourself and most of all it helps you grow, so go out there and try it for yourself!

 

4. BUDGETING

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Solo travelling is also really good to manage your spendings. When we travel with people, we tend to compromise and sometimes do things we’d personally not spend money on ourselves. Sometimes it’s even an awkward topic to talk about, as some friends might want to eat out a lot while you’d rather save up a bit and do some shopping instead. At the cost of not letting people know, you go out of your way to accommodate them and end up spending a lot more than what was in your original budget, which might leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Vice versa, sometimes you might save up a lot for a trip so that you can make the most of it, but find yourself with friends who’d rather not splurge as much. While that’s perfectly acceptable, that might leave you with the feeling that you’re missing out on things.

Well my friend, being on your own solves all of these issues. You can do whatever the hell you want with your money, go to fancy restaurants every day or live off street food for most of the trip. Take public transport all the time or decide to walk instead. Pay for a tour or make your own. In the end, it’s all about the experience you want to have, with no external boundaries tying you down.

 

5. GOING WHEREVER, WHENEVER YOU WANT

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How many times have we look at pictures of beautiful destinations, maybe even went as far as finding affordable flights and accommodation, yet ending up giving up on the dream because we couldn’t find anyone to go with? Or how about that group trip, where you really wanted to go somewhere but had to go where everyone else wanted to go – perhaps even resulting in some level of frustration as you wasted money on a holiday destination you didn’t entirely desire?

We’ve all been there and those are some of the negative aspects of always travelling with other people. Solo travelling gives you the opportunity to change the game: you see somewhere you wanna go? You book the plane and set off on your new adventure. No trying to find someone to come with you, no convincing your friends that this is better than whatever else they had in mind. When you travel on your own, you have endless possibilities laid out in front of you, the opportunity to wake up one day and decide you want to go somewhere, then perhaps waiting a couple hours and booking something entirely different. Ending line being, IT IS ALL UP TO YOU. How awesome is that?

 

6. GREAT STORIES TO TELL

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At the end of the day, solo travelling is an adventure. You meet people, you inevitably mess up or forget something – don’t lie, it happens to all of us – and you make memories you will never forget. Solo travelling means that every single moment is something precious, that will shape the remaining of your trip in ways you cannot imagine. This will lead you to collect a great deal of travelling stories to report back to your friends, from the people you met on that train to the time you got lost in the middle of the city and no one spoke English for you to ask for directions. Being on your own will make you feel sad or lonely at times, but in the end it’s all worth it and you’ll find yourself looking back on the trip with longing. You’ll spend days telling your family and friends of all the awesome things you got to do and the places you got to see, or about that spontaneous trip you took one day because you were getting bored and wanted to visit something new. You’ll have the kind of stories that will ironically make your friends sigh and say “ah, I wish I’d come with you”. But it wouldn’t have been the same, would it? 😉

 

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So these are my major reasons why you should give solo travelling a go. If you’re scared and anxious about it, try not to worry too much – we were all the same on our first trip. Hell, I get paranoid on every trip I take. You never know what’s gonna happen and that feeling of uncertainty can be a bit hard to handle, but personally I also revel in it as I like facing the unknown. It gives you a nice thrill, you know?

 

SO… HOW DO I GO ABOUT ORGANISING MY SOLO TRIP?

 

To start off, I suggest perhaps selecting a close destination first, so that if all comes to worst you can go back home rather easily. Perhaps choose a country where you can easily communicate in your language or in English, make sure you have everything booked and maybe even book a few tours to get things going. I’m not saying everyone should do these things – I didn’t, for example – but I think it’s good to get accustomed to the new place. Lastly, I think it’s good to have a list of things to tick off when you get there – that will make sure that you always have something to do and don’t end up feeling lost or alone. Personally, I like to have one because it gives me a sense of purpose and makes me feel a bit more secure. You can always stray away from the plan, but it’s good to have something written down to keep you focused.

With all that said, I hope I managed to convince you to give the experience a try and that you now feel a bit more comfortable with organising your new trip. If you want more information or would like to have a chat, please feel free to comment or drop me a message on here. Would love to give you more advice or even just talk travelling! I think you can tell it’s one of my favourite things to discuss haha.

I hope you’re all having a great day and an awesome summer,

Elena

STORY TIME: Getting fined in Portovenere.

They say a life without risk, is hardly life at all. And isn’t this true – from smaller adventures to full scale escapades, our life’s most exciting times are hardly ones where we follow rules closely. You see it in history – what would have happened if Columbus had been too scared of the vastness of the sea, too afraid to sail to far away lands and therefore never washing up on the piece of land we now call America? Good things, you might argue, considering the US’ current political state. But would our lives be the same?

You see it again in that student who went to North Korea and managed to steal a North Korean propaganda banner, winning himself a piece of current political history from one of the most terrifying countries of the world at this moment. “But he got sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in a North Korean camp”, you might argue. But would his life be the same? Because of the latest events, this example sadly no longer stands – visit http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/ for more information on the state of the DPRK and ways you can help.

Napoleon, leading figure in European history, was an excellent example as well. He took a risk and invaded Russia, fighting for his dream and the honour of France, his motherland. Looking for glory and a good deal with Alexander I. The whole army died of starvation and lack of proper clothing for the frigid Russian temperatures, you might argue. But would Europe be the same without it?

This is all to say, sometimes risks are just not worth taking. Especially when they involve something so trivial and meaningless as a €2.50 bus ticket from La Spezia to Portovenere.

My friend and I decided to go on this short day-trip during our stay in La Spezia, as Portovenere is one of the most celebrated spots in Liguria because of its colourful buildings and quiet bay, enveloping tourists every day. As we got on the bus, being the Italian that I am, I quickly realised the vehicle was just too full to be checked by ticket officers (as they do in Italy). In Genova, hardly anyone ever checks them and, especially on busy buses, you can usually rest assured you will be able to complete your trip without any legal hassle. I have – not proudly – been following these rules for years and only got busted a couple times, which I personally think is impressive. Therefore, I was confident that history would repeat itself and, despite actually having tickets at hand, I advised my friend not to stamp it as we could easily use it again on our way back.

Big mistake.

READ CAREFULLY AS THIS WILL BE YOUR HEADS-UP IF YOU EVER CONSIDER VISITING PORTOVENERE: THEY DO CHECK THE BUS TICKETS. As we approached the small town, two ticket officers appeared on the street and quickly got on the bus, shouting (quite rudely, I might add) for everyone to show their tickets straight away. Here comes rule number 2 when using Italian public transport without a ticket: ALWAYS GET A SPOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BUS. As entrance doors are usually located at the front and the back, being in the middle usually gives you more time to think of a back up plan and possibly stamp your ticket before they get to you. As I was having fun being a tourist that day, I stupidly decided to ignore this very important rule and sat at the front, to ask the bus driver which stop we should get off at. Needless to say, this meant we were the first people to get busted by the ticket officers, with un-stamped tickets and guilty looks on our faces.

It didn’t help that I tried the foreign card at first, speaking to them in English as if to not understand what was wrong with our un-stamped tickets. Bit stupid of me but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, amirite. This got worse as they asked for our ID’s and I had to humbly admit I was actually Italian, making up the excuse I was speaking in English because my friend was foreign (which is technically true). End of story, each of us got fined and we learned our lesson. Always stand in the middle of the bus AND carry your foreign student card rather than an Italian ID. No, but seriously: we made a mistake and you should definitely stamp your tickets when you board a bus! Especially when travelling, because it helps the economy and, I mean, it’s only fair.

The unhappy event sadly spoiled the rest of the day as I was absolutely raging, despite being in the wrong, at the unhelpful and impolite way we were treated, considering I had explained to the officer that we had simply forgotten to stamp the tickets and we had actually purchased them, instead of simply boarding the bus with no ticket at all. Seriously, that guy was an absolute dick.

To conclude this unlucky and long rant, I would like to tell you all that Portovenere is actually a beautiful place, so much so that I almost (almost) forgot I got fined on my way there. But almost. I guess I will not forget this trip for quite some time.

Have you ever experienced something similar or got in trouble while travelling? If so, what happened? Would love to know if I am the only one who manages to get into these situations.

Either way, hope you’re all having an amazing week and I will see you at the next post!

Elena

SUMMER PLANNING

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When I was younger, summer used to be the time where I got to escape from the reality of my hometown for a little bit. Be it a week, three or four, I always managed to retaliate a short period of time for myself, to explore and set off on my little adventures.

I associate summer with exploring, discovering and getting out of my routine to experience new things. That’s the reason why making summer plans is one of my favourite things to do, as with such a long period of time available for myself, the possibilities are endless.

This year, I have quite a few projects going on in my pocket, or used to. When I started writing this blog post, back in April, summer was still a far-away land that I was slowly but steadily approaching, with a bag of hopes and some diffidence. Berlin was going to be my first stop, even thought that could hardly be considered summer as the trip happened at the beginning of May. Still, it was the start of my plans, the event that would kick off the series of other trips I was planning on taking throughout the course of those two or three months of yearly heat.

The original plan was to go back home, to Italy, for a bit, in order to see friends, family, catch up with the sun and get some colour on these cheeks so I didn’t look like I came straight outta vampire movie, then off to new shores for a while. These plans changed drastically though, as I got some major news – I got a summer internship in Singapore. Although I had been applying to a ton of opportunities in Asia, I have such poor faith in myself and my abilities that I did not even consider the possibility of actually being chosen for one. That’s why when I got my confirmation letter, I was completely taken aback and actually had to take time to consider the offer and decide if I was ready to give up all my summer plans for this distant dream.

Turns out I didn’t have to do that, as the internship offer fell through at last and left me sad and disappointed. After weeks of planning and eventually deciding to give up everything to move to Asia for a few months, it was disheartening to see the opportunity shatter in front of my eyes and having to go back to plans which used to make me so excited before. Still, life goes on and, as I reached homeland last week, I started getting my plans in place once again, if a bit less excitedly and with a bittersweet taste in my mouth.

As indicated in the blog, my first trip will be to Hamburg, Germany. For some reason, I’ve recently been dying to visit this city. Not many people talk about it as a popular travel destination and I can see why. It is a harbour city with a good nightlife and a few good museums, but nothing compared to other bigger cities in Germany. However, as I generally like the country and seeing new places, I was eager to pop up north to get a break from home and live the German life for a few days. Although the trip is only going to take a few days, I am looking forward to the change and finally visiting this interesting piece of the country.

After Hamburg comes my big trip of the summer. Together with a friend – my former flatmates from the Dutch times – I am going to go on a good old road trip not far from home. As my friend is from Switzerland, I am going to head to Zurich near the end of June, spending a few days in our neighbouring country before setting off on our short adventure. Now, I am not one for planning. You can hardly know a place before actually getting there, hence the inutility of making precise plans on what you’re going to do, where you’re going to go and what you’re going to see during your time there. At the same time, planning is one of my favourite parts of travelling, spending hours, days and weeks researching all the best spots in the area that you must see at all costs. Bit of a paradox, isn’t it?

For this reason, my friend and I have a vague idea of where we want to go and what we’d like to see, but also left some blank spaces in between for spontaneous diversions to the original plan. The basic idea is to start from Switzerland, drive a bit through it (which is hopefully going to tick off a childish goal on my 2017 resolutions – VISITING HEIDI LAND! hashtag exciting life), then first move towards Liechtenstein. Which, you might think, is not that big to begin with. BUT. I feel like Liechtenstein is one of those underrated places that everyone knows exist and talks about, but no one really considers as a travelling destination in most cases. Hence my impelling need to visit it as soon as possible. And it’s on the way, so why not?

After that, we’ll drive towards Austria, then down to Slovenia and further south to Croatia. Although that is the plan and we’re not going to stray far from home, to be honest I am open to all suggestions and changes of plan, so who knows where we might end up? I am definitely excited for this trip and look forward to see where it will take us.

As I will probably be back around July 10th or so, I still needed to think of something to do to occupy the remaining part of the month. Now you need to know that, when I was in middle school, my mother had the absolute luck of being transferred to an office in Rome, which meant my family and I took a shitload of trips down south to see her and visit the city. Although I am far from being a local, I can proudly say I know Rome to a certain extent, which brings us to the next fact. After years of being back in Genova, luck was on my side and mum made her way back to the capital, as the activities she does there are quite honestly much more motivating and fulfilling than the ones at the office back home. For this reason, I am planning on visiting her during the second part of July, spending a couple weeks there. This gives me the chance to get out of Genova for a bit and finally see Rome again, with the advantage of being able to actually live there instead of only going for a few days or having to pay a hotel for it. This also allows me to see my mum a bit more, which I’m sure will make everyone happy as we hardly see each other for the remaining part of the year. On top of that, my boyfriend will hopefully visit at some point, which makes the rest of the month a bit more exciting as I’ll probably take him on short trips around the region.

Start of August will be my 22nd birthday. This makes me excited as I recently realised that, in the year of my 22nd birthday, I will hit and overtake my score of 22 countries visited. Although it’s not much, I am still quite proud and eager to see more. This is just the beginning! For this special day, I actually have nothing planned. My original idea was to rent out an amazing airbnb in the French countryside, which I fell in love with as it was essentially a massive gazebo in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, internet access or anything of the sort. How great would that have been?! Unfortunately, I waited too long to make the reservation and the property is fully booked on the day, which means your girl needs an alternate plan. However, the general idea is to not have a plan, group up a few friends and hide from civilisation for a night or two so that we can fully enjoy nature and the bbbbeautiful gift of life.

Finally, another part of my plans which got sidetracked by the Singapore fail is my trip to Asia at the end of August. Originally, I was going to go on an organised trip to Vietnam and Cambodia at the end of the month, for which I was going mental as I have been dying to go back to Asia for years. However, the news that I had to go to Singapore for three months made me think I had no chance of doing that, as I was going to be working in that period. That meant I did not book my spot and let the opportunity go, thinking I would still get a chance to go on a few weekend trips once I was in Singa. Now imagine my absolute despair and disappointment when that plan actually fell through and I found out there were no spots left for the V/C trip. DESPAIR. And sadness. Which means I am currently in the process of looking up flights and alternative trips to Asia on my own, to make up for the massive fail. However, nothing is planned yet so far and I am waiting for a divine hand to give me a sign.

Finally, in September I would like to chill a bit more at home, perhaps going back to the Netherlands for a bit to see my old flatmates and also enjoy the Dutch life for old times sake. I have been hoping to go back to Rotterdam for months now, and that looks like a good chance to do it without missing uni or making my schedule unbearable. It would also be nice as the weather in Rotterdam should be ace at that time, with the slightest hint of Autumn breeze.

Although these plans are in no way set in stone and I am open to all sorts of changes (hate planning, remember?), it’s still nice to have something written down on paper (or a wordpress blog) and give my summer some sort of rough shape. I know the direction, now I just gotta figure out the destination and I am happy with that. Life’s all about the adventure after all, isn’t it?

Do you have any plans for the summer yet, or are you a last minute planner like me? If you do, you don’t, or have any recommendations for me, please feel free to let me know in the comments or drop me a message on here. Would love to hear about your thoughts!

On that note, I will know let you off this blog post so that you can go out and enjoy the sun or whatever weather your country has decided to gift you with. Hope you’re all having a lovely day (or night, considering it’s 3am right now) and an awesome summer!

Elena

 

EXPLORING HOME: CINQUE TERRE, PORTOVENERE, VIAREGGIO

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In my 2017 resolutions, I listed “visiting my own region a bit more” as one of my top priorities. I was adamant to do this as I realised much of the beauty of my country was getting lost on me, as I wasted my days away without paying it enough attention. 

My hometown, as some of you might know, is Genova, a nice coastal city in the region of Liguria, Italy. Liguria is famous for its sea and its cliffs, its unique towns overlooking the Mediterranean sea and its traditional food, such as pesto and focaccia (yes, we made them happen). Whenever I tell people where I am from, I always describe it as a beautiful place, definitely worth visiting. One of the underrated cities of Italy that not every tourist knows, but which are actually a little gem in the west coast of the country. From the food to the landscapes, I rave about my own land and advise everyone to visit, because we have plenty of stunning spots to tick off the map. 

As I say these things though, I can’t help thinking how little I actually move around it myself, mainly staying in Genova every time I go back, hanging out with my friends and not doing much else. People wish they were born in Italy and here I am, lucky enough to come from this land and yet not appreciating it enough to go out and see it for myself. Leaving it to the tourists to explore, as I sit around at home ignoring it all. 

STEP 1: CINQUE TERRE

When you google “Italy”, one of the first pictures which usually pops up was shot in my own region, and is called Cinque Terre. This is a conglomerate of small towns built directly onto the sea, whose view is simply stunning and attracts millions of tourists each year. Although fairly close to Genova, I only visited this spot a couple of times, and that was with my parents when I was really young. Hence, I don’t remember much of the trips and the memories I do have are pretty faded by now. Because of my appreciation for hiking and wanting to complete my 2017 resolutions, I decided it was time to create some fresh memories and visit the place again, hiking it up between one town and another as I admired the sea and nature of the land. 

The chance to do this presented itself in the form of a friendly visit, as I welcomed my Rotterdam flatmate in my hometown once again. Because he had already been to Genova, I felt it was time to venture out and show him some new places in the region, and took up the opportunity to finally go back to the Cinque Terre myself and try to remember what the fuss is all about. We took a train on a bright Friday morning from Genova, which supposedly took us directly to the Cinque Terre without any changes, and sat in wait. Until we missed our stop.

The original plan was to get off in Manarola and visit the place, hiking back towards the towns on the west side so as to visit more than one. Because of my timing skills though, I decided to go to the train toilet right as we got to Manarola, hence us missing our stop. Thankfully, the next one was in Riomaggiore, the last of the Cinque Terre towns and therefore still a good starting point for our trip. What I wasn’t aware of – because realistically I didn’t do much research on the Cinque Terre. YOLO – is that the hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola is actually pretty much the most mainstream thing you can do, which meant the trail was full of tourists sweating it up between one town and another. Although our intentions weren’t to do the most popular trail you could do, I guess that means we got to see one of the most beautiful ones, which I’m happy about.

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We then proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon there, as I faked being a tourist and only spoke in English to everyone (I love being a tourist, even when I’m not). I realised how ridiculously expensive these places are made to be, in order to suck out every penny from the unlucky foreigners travelling through, which was sad as we were both starving.

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STEP 2: LA SPEZIA

After a few hours googling new things to do and see, we decided to set off towards La Spezia, a city which I have hard a lot about but I had never actually visited myself. This city is about an hour and a half away from Genova and to be honest it’s got a really cool name. La Spezia literally means “the spice”, which I find really edgy and nice sounding. Turns out it looks pretty similar to Genova, if a bit less uphill and smaller.

After walking around the city centre for a bit, we ended up at the harbour, which slightly reminded me of the Genova one – if a bit less crowded and calmer. It was relaxing to just walk by the water and look at all the fishermen boats, surrounded by their unique smell in the warmth of the setting sun. Magical in a way that only a sea city can be!

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After that, we set on a hunt for our airbnb of the night (shout out to Marzia, our host – the room was super nice and central, we definitely got lucky!). This was followed by the second pizza of the trip, destined to be followed by another two or three in the following days, because I like pizza and I like the word “follow”. Unfortunately, I am getting old and my body was too exhausted by the day to resist through the night, which means I fell asleep straight away much to the dismay of my friend who wanted to go out. Hashtag retired life.

STEP 3: PORTOVENERE

On our second day, we decided to visit Portovenere, another coastal town just outside of La Spezia, easily reachable in about half an hour with a local bus. The bus is only €2.50 and it takes you directly into Portovenere, which is a pretty good deal to me, after which you can relax and admire once again the nice coastline.

Portovenere in itself is pretty small: a bunch of colourful houses overlooking the bay, castle ruins and a few alleyways full of small souvenir shops and restaurants to aid the hungry souls. It sits opposite of a little island which protects it from the sea, blocking out the waves and creating a small, peaceful paradise for this small town.

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If you walk up the castle through the small archways, you can get to the other side of the coast, where the views are breathtaking. Waves crashing against the cliffs in the bluest shade of blue, releasing the freshest sea salt smell you can ever get. The only downsides of this place is the high number of tourists (and the wind), which might make it less relaxing to see. Nonetheless, definitely something worth seeing!

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The rest of the trip was pretty chilled. We found ourselves spending hours just sitting on the rocks or by the pier and staring out into the blue, taking it all in and relaxing against the view, which is the best way to spend a day if you ask me.

STEP 4: VIAREGGIO

That night, we had two options: going back to Genova or trying something new, as we didn’t want to spend an extra night in La Spezia. We decided to look up on my couchsurfing profile any available host within 50 miles, pretty open to any option as long as we could manage to see something new. We ended up finding a nice guy able to host us – in Tuscany – which meant we had to run for the bus back to La Spezia and then the train to get there at a decent time of night.

As we got there quite late, we didn’t have time to properly see Viareggio at night, but our host was kind enough to lend us one of his bikes and take us to the beach promenade to get something to eat. You’d think this is fine, right? Think again. The bike we were given was a two-people kind of bike, where both pedal at the same time to make the thing moving. Which again is okay. If it wasn’t that the thing was so high I could barely stretch my legs to pedal all the way, resulting in probably one of the most frightening bike rides of my life. Whoever says being short is a blessing should re-evaluate their views. At the same time, it was a nice experience and we got to see a lot more in a lot less time, which was convenient.

Fun fact: as soon as we got to the beach promenade, I realised I had actually been to Viareggio before. And completely erased it from my memory till that moment. That made our stay a bit less exciting – how depressing is it to think you’re seeing a new place only to find out you’re not?? – but still fun nonetheless.

The next morning, we took a stroll by the beach once again, past a small market and headed towards the National Reserve within Viareggio. This is the only photo I got of the trip and it’s pretty lame, but here you go. Unfortunately, we only got to see a bit of the park before having to head back to the train station, as we weren’t sure how long it would take us to walk back there by foot.

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Back at the station, we finally boarded our train back home (well, my home) – Genova. Overall, it was a really cool trip, if really short, as I got the chance to see more of my own region and witness its beautiful landscapes. I was happy as I ticked off one more thing off my 2017 resolutions list, and am definitely planning on doing more small trips around the area when I am back for the summer.

I am sorry if this turned out to be a really long post, but I hope you enjoyed the photos and reading about it, and that I perhaps managed to convince some of you to visit one of these places. They really are worth it.

With that said, I wish you all a lovely day and happy travels to all the wandering souls out there.

Until the next post,

Elena