Tag Archives: Europe

Part One: Flight of Death into Friends and Beer and Happy

April 25, 2013 – The day we all have been waiting for.  The day I leave for Europe!!  I had a typical bad day at work, made even worse by it being “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”  Finally the day is over and I am FREEEEEEEEEE!!!!  Europe here I come!!

Well it seems that in addition to being “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”, it is also “Bring Your Kids to Belgium Day”

Whenever I book a flight, I pick my seat.  Last row, window seat on the right side of the plane.  Last row because it gives you the best chance of having a row to yourself.  Window seat because i can not breathe on planes.  Having the window next to me is psychosomatic and makes me feel like I have more oxygen.  Right side because that’s the way I lean when I fall asleep sitting up.

Tonight I get on the plane.  I am still at the door and I can hear the SCREAMING kid.  SCREAMING.  Now let me stop and explain a bit here.  Usually when someone talks about a screaming kid on a plane, it’s about a kid having a meltdown and just scream crying.  That was not what this one was doing.  It seemed to have having the worlds LOUDEST conversation with itself in a language only it spoke.  Lots of “BEEEEEEEEEEE BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP” just nonstop.

I make my way to the last row for my seat and this SCREAMING kid is in my seat.  Not in my row, not next to my seat, but IN MY SEAT.  Screaming away IN MY SEAT.  Not only that, but it looks like it is in for the long haul.  It is standing on my seat, BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP-ing away, with all its stuff all over the place.   All over my seat, the floor, the seat back pocket.  It has a bag under the seat in front of it.  I recheck my boarding pass because surely I am at the wrong seat?  I’m not.  So my next logical thought is that this thing is in the wrong seat.  I try telling it that it’s in my seat and all I get back is “BEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP”    Finally, the father surfaces and asks me to switch to a middle row aisle seat.  Oh Hell no.  Don’t tell me you got on the plane and completely unpacked your kid in my seat, just expecting I would agree to switch because I won’t.  I tell him no, I need the window or else I will vomit.

So the kid is then moved to the available aisle seat next to mine. This is an enormous production since it had so much stuff unpacked and all over the freaking place.   Even though we are at the back of the plane, there are still people trying to get by so now we have a traffic jam.  The kid is still screaming.  Never once did its father try to get it to be quiet.  Not once.  Finally its out of my way and I am free to take my seat so I do.

I get settled.  Get my stuff out. Notebook, pen, gum, MP3 player, headphones.  I now have everything in the back seat pocket, I am ready to go. Now that I am all settled, this guy now goes all over the plane trying to find someone to give up their window seat to me, so that I can move and still have a window seat.  Then this SCREAMING kid can have my seat and the new person can take the middle aisle seat.  He finds someone.  I am tempted to still say no.  I never actually said I would move if he found me a new window seat.  Everything about this is obnoxious.

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However, logic now takes over and I now have an opportunity to move to the other side of the plane and a few rows away from this SCREAMING kid, that is still screaming, and who has still not been told by its parents to be quiet.   So now I have to unsettle myself.  How annoying. I was all ready to go.  Now I need to grab all my stuff and move.  In the process of trying to repack, I lose my headphones.  Now I flip out.  I start yelling over the screaming kid who is still screaming “THIS IS RIDICULOUS.  MY HEADPHONES ARE GONE.  I NEED MY HEADPHONES”

The father tells me he will keep an eye out for them.  “NO GUY, THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS.  I AM NOT GOING TO SPEND A SEVEN HOUR FLIGHT WIHTOUT MY HEADPHONES, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOUR KID WONT SHUT UP”  I now feel every eye on the plane, now on me.  He looks around and finds them. SCORE.  I get to my new seat and SON OF A BITCH my pen is in the seat back pocket of my old seat.  Now the seat belt sign is on.  I can’t get up.  I try to explain this to a flight attendant, it gets me nowhere.  Even when I explain that “My pen is in the back seat pocket of that SCREAMING kid.  I had to move so it could have my seat”  The nice man next to me comments “that’s not your family?”  to which I say “Absolutely not”

I mourn the loss of my pen for an irrational amount of time.  I have a diary raring and ready to be filled with tales of my Eurotrip Extravaganza. I have to rant about this SCREAMING kid DAMMIT.  But I also have a new laptop type thingy.  Hmm.  I guess it’s time to make the transition.

My flight leaves 90 minutes late because there is an FAA furlough that is screwing up air traffic all over the damn place.  I think I knew this before I left home and just blocked it out.  The entire time, this kid is SCREAMING.  We are still not allowed to have electrical appliances on.  I am trying to watch a movie.  The pilot keeps making announcements.  Have you ever noticed that pilots are stereotypical slow talkers?  So much dead air between words and even syllables.  And right now, every dead air moment is filled with this kid SCREAMING.  Since this is an international flight, everything has to be repeated in other languages, with this kid SCREAMING between every syllable.

Then some idiot gets up and opens the overhead luggage bin.  OH COME ON.  Here comes more announcements about how the seat belt sign is on, don’t get up, more movie interruptions, more SCREAMING kid.  This is so painful.  I want my pen, I want to jam it into my face and end this. I want to take off.  I want to get to Brussels.  I have such a ball of burn inside me that im sure is my uterus self imploding after being subjected to the SCREAMING kid that is STILL FREAKING SCREAMING. My flight is 6 hours and 35 minutes.  I’ve been on this plane for almost 4 hours and there are still 5 hours left.  I bet that kid is still screaming too.  I long for the day when I don’t fly to places any longer because I’m already there.

After the flight of death, we arrive in Brussels. I have slept a grand total of zero minutes and I feel  like I am going to fall over.  We arrived late, the luggage was delayed because of some stupid reason that I can not remember since I was sleep walking my way through this.  I finally exit to find my friends waiting for me.  HELLO!

My friend Gert had come to pick me up to take me to my hotel.  Kindest gesture ever.  With him are my friends Rachel and Foz who are going sightseeing in Brussels for the day.  We say hello and good bye and then Gert and I are off.  The exact second I finish saying “I want to stay awake for the car ride so I can fall asleep all at once at my hotel”, I fall dead asleep.

Check into my hotel.  I have five hours before Gert comes back to get me to take me to see Kid Dynamite.  I slept only for two because I was too tired to figure anything out.  All I really had to do was put on my pajamas and lay down, but this was such a huge ordeal because I could not think straight.

At 5:00, Gert is back with Rachel and Foz.  We go to the show, get stamped, find out they only have Stella. We are horrified by this and end up pre-gaming at a tavern that has Duvel.  I drank four.  They were delicious.  Back at the show, Rachel magically manages to get us more Duvel from a stranger who made my night by giving us Duvel at a show that only sold Stella.

After the show, I am dropped back off at my hotel where I am just dying to be in bed.  I feel like I slept one hour before Gert was back to collect me the next morning.

I am honestly completely unsure of what time I got to bed.  I was however, dressed and ready to go when Gert showed up to collect me at 11:30 am.  I am still exhausted.  Between the flight and lack of sleep into standing for a few hours watching bands play, I am completely drained.

Gert’s wife Elies is a fantastic cook.  She was kind enough to make lunch for us.  As soon as the first bite hit my stomach, I realized this was exactly what I needed.  I felt much more like a human being after that meal.

Gert’s neighbors have sheep.  Every trip I take here, I have to go out back and say hello to them.  Living in New York City, the concept of having sheep next door to you is so odd to me.

sheep

On the other side, there is a goat.  It is so adorable.

goat

After our bellies were full, we sat around and relaxed a bit before heading to the fest.  Once we were there, it was beer time.  I love beer, it is delicious.

My entire night into day and then back into night was spent with incredibly generous people, who go completely out of their way to make my trip overseas as wonderful as it can possibly be.  I also got to drink beer and watch bands I love while spending time with the people that I love.  Excellent day/night all around.

Afterwards, Gert dropped me back at my hotel where we said good bye until next  year.  I will definitely be back.  I am just going to look into teleporting before I leave.

Up next: Brussels.

TODAY EUROPE

guide books

 

Oh I am so excited.  As an extra special send off, I am spending my last day at work during “Bring Your Kids to Work Day”.  No please, never bring your kids to work. Ever.

My finalized itinerary is as follows:

Belgium – Sleeping in Geel for both Groezrock Fest and the pre-show, which is in Ham, Belgium . So excited for this.  I will also have one night in Brussels.  I wanted it to be Ghent but I waited to long to plan this out and I simply didn’t have the time to research it.  Until I quit my job and travel forever, I will keep my Type A personality and never be able to travel freely without over planning.

Paris – I never wanted to go here.  Now I am and oh hey, I’ll be there on a Monday when things are closed and also on May Day when things are closed.  Grade A Type A fail.

Naples – I will be going to Capri, Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Rome – I am excited to cross the line into Vatican City and add it as another country I’ve visited on my list.  It’s not cheating. I swear.

Bosnia – Sarajevo and Mostar.  I may take a train one way between Sarajevo and Mostar as I’ve read it has really beautiful scenery even if it takes a lot longer than the bus.

Serbia – Sigh.  After doing and redoing and doing and redoing and (insert more and more and more doing and redoing) this part of my trip, I am settled.  I am going to Nis.  I want to be in Nis so bad.  It just took a while to get it to fit.  I would like to thank my new laptop and its installation of Free Cell for working my brain to be able to solve the puzzle of how to do this.  I am getting a partial overnight train ride on here.  That’s a cross off on my “List of Things I Want to do So Badly in Life”.

Bulgaria – Oh so excited for this part of my trip.  I knew NOTHING about this country when I started planning this trip.  Now I know everything.  I will be in Sofia, traveling to the Rila Monastery, Veliko Tarnovo and the place I am most excited for on this entire trip – BELOGRADCHIK.   Let me post the picture again!

061_001_Belogradchishkakrepost.jpgI can not wait to have my own picture to post.

Then last stop, Istanbul.  I still have no idea how to get there.  I have so many routes printed out.  Nothing is clear at all except that at one time, there was a train from Veliko Tarnovo to Istanbul.  It may or may not be running due to construction. It may or may not leave at 23:04, 23:28, 00:04.  There is also a bus…maybe.  It may be run by Matpu or Oz Batu or maybe there’s two, one by each company.  What time do these buses leave?  Damned if I know.  Matpu shows schedules from Plovdiv, not Veliko Tarnovo.  Oz Batu doesn’t exist on the internet.

So that’s that.  I can not wait!

One Week Until Europe!

I need this vacation so bad.  I can not wait to be out in the world where my biggest stress is not being able to find iced coffee.

I am STILL not ready to leave.  I am not even sure how this happened.  I am one of those “packs months in advance!” neurotic kinda gals.  My life is just so hectic right now. I can not wait to escape it.  I can not wait to be standing HERE:

061_001_Belogradchishkakrepost.jpg

How do places like that exist on this planet and why the hell have I waited so long to see them?

I am also insanely excited to take my first steps on the continent of Asia.  Sure it’s cheating as I am doing this in Istanbul.  But I’m counting it.

Yesterday, my job asked us to pick which summer Fridays we want.  I love picking summer Fridays.  I love how I was already off for four of them, so I am gaining back more vacation time.  This also means I now have an additional two long weekends that I need to make plans for.

My head is all over the place today.  My job is insane. The people who work here should not be allowed to see daylight.   I can not wait to be far away.  Come on one week from today…..just one more week.  I can do this.

 

 

 

Two Weeks Until Euro Extravaganza!

I am getting freaked out about how close my trip is. I am still not ready to go.  I am also still redoing my plans.  My last revision now has me going to Belgrade, Serbia and taking an overnight train to Bulgaria.  I have always wanted to take an overnight train.  I am sure that the reality of it will never match the vision of it that I have developed in my head.  But in the end, I will still have crossed yet another item off my bucket list.

It is so difficult planning travel in the Balkan countries.  Public transportation information is basically nonexistent online.  Adding to that, there is just so much to see.  It is killing me to know that lack of complete freedom in life is keeping me from seeing these places that I will be so close to:dubrovnik-croatia

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imgp2858-edit kotor_montenegro2 lake_ohrid_2 Lake-ohrid-in-macedoniaMy time is too limited.  I need to put 100% effort into altering my life so that I can quit my job and take off to see the world without having any obligations other than seeing the world.

In other news, I am now the proud owner of my first netbook!   I can upload pictures and update my blog when I’m gone.  I have read a lot of people saying that updating while traveling is a lot harder to do than it seems it would be.  I thought that would not apply to me.  I love writing. Saying I would not have time for it is like saying I would not have time to pet a puppy.  But this past week in my life has been so chaotic.  I have barely had time to breathe, let alone write out any of the posts I had wanted to have up before I go.  It actually sounds hilarious hearing me say that I don’t have time to post on the internet.  This is all I have been doing for years. But there it is.

Tomorrow I am taking a weekend trip to Washington, DC for a fest.  I have not even given any thought to packing yet.  This makes my currrent life’s biggest problem that I am too busy planning fun things to have time to pack for other fun things. I am a fan of the life I have made for myself. Everything I do and everything I have is all my own doing.

I do not ever want to be one of those people who list things like “laundry” or “cleaning my apartment” as weekend plans. I love that the biggest stress in my life right now is making sure I have enough clean band shirts before I leave for Europe so that I can leave with three packed bags left behind, ready for the three back-to-back trips that start 48 hours after I arrive home from Europe.

Where Will You Go in Europe?

How do you pick what trip is perfect for you?  Well that’s up to you really.  Don’t listen to other people, do what YOU want.  I once read a message board where some woman posted that her niece (or whoever) went to (wherever) and hadn’t planned enough time in that city and that “The poor thing rushed around so much that she couldn’t even remember what museums she had visited!”.

See, that’s not how I view it at all.  To me, the “poor thing” arrived in a city unclear of what there was to do and see there, and followed other people’s advice rather than doing her own research.  That’s how she ended up at places with names she couldn’t remember.  Trust me, if she had done research and planned “I want to see THIS”, she would have made a beeline for THIS and she would in fact remember seeing the thing she was most excited to see in that city.

If you aren’t sure what you want?  Find out!   I bought a ton of completely outdated guide books on ebay for around a dollar each.  You can also use your library and get these for free.   The beauty of Europe is that everything is so old that you can read a book from a decade ago and all the attractions are still there.  You can find things you never knew existed, that are huge musts.  This is how I learned more about cities and this is how I began to find places I wanted to see.  I never had a clue that the dancing house in Prague existed.  What if I had gone to Prague and not had seen THIS:

dancing house prague czech republic

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For my second trip (which I consider my first real trip, the actual real first trip was a starter trip), I knew I was going to go all over Europe and see everything!

The first thing I did was price airfare.  The best way to go about seeing Europe is to fly open jaw (also known as “multi city” on some websites, including kayak.com).  This does not mean you purchase two one ways.  This means you use the “multi city” option and buy one ticket , arriving in and departing from different cities.  I didn’t even realize this when I booked my first trip.  I was trying to book one ways and it cost way more than a round trip so I was “stuck” going back to London.  The multi city option is your best friend. It gives you so much flexibility and lets you go so much further since you don’t have to double back to your originating city to catch a flight home.

My flight choice was made a bit easier since I knew where I had to start my trip (Brussels, to attend Groezrock fest for the second year in a row).  So now all I had to do was pick an end city.   This was overwhelming since I had never seen anything and wanted to see everything, so where on earth do I start!??  I wanted to go everywhere.  I knew that my main wants were Prague and Auschwitz.  I knew nothing else.  I didn’t even know where Prague or Poland were on a map.  I’m honestly not even sure I knew Prague was a city and not a country.  Now I can pick out pretty much any European country on a map, but back then, I was clueless.  I did consult a map and began using that map to price multi city flights landing in Brussels and going home from every country in Europe.  Even if they weren’t convenient countries, I priced them.  As far as I was concerned, I could do no wrong with picking any city in Europe to fly home from.  I wanted to see it all.

The best airfare I found was leaving NYC to Brussels and then home from Dublin.  I ended up crossing it off the list as I got deeper into planning.  The more I learned, the more I realized I wanted to be in Eastern Europe.  I didn’t really want to fly back to Dublin from there to catch a flight back to the states.  So I kept going and finally found NYC – Brussels, home from Milan. I hadn’t even considered Italy for this trip.   But the price for my flight was $539 total round trip.  So I booked it.

Using a map, bahn.de and booking.com – I was able to come up with what was the perfect schedule for me.  This took at least a month just to get the itinerary perfect.   For every place I planned to go, I made my list of things I wanted to see and figured out how much time I needed.   I ended up having to cut out a bunch of countries from my first imagined itinerary.   My dream of seeing Auschwitz?  This was probably doable but the more research I did, the more I realized that Poland is a country that I want to see so much of, that I didn’t want to just zip through and see one thing and leave.

I also wasn’t willing to spend a ton of time in one country because I was just dying to zip through and cross a bunch of countries off my list all at once.  Poland ended up being the first country on a now growing list of countries that I would like to go and spend a minimum of ten days in (other countries on the list are Germany, Ukraine, Norway and Turkey).  As an added bonus, it killed me because I was so close to being able to add in Poprad, which I was really dying to see.  But now whenever I end up doing Poland, I can just tack it onto that trip.

My second trip ended up being:

Belgium (Staying in Geel for Groezrock, the fest that kicked off my trip)

Prague, Czech Republic – with Kutna Hora as a day trip

Vienna, Austria

Bratislava, Slovakia

Budapest, Hungary

Zagreb, Croatia (with a day trip to Plitvice National Park – this trip to the park was the main reason or me being here)

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Venice, Italy

Florence, Italy (with a day trip to Pisa)

Milan, Italy – picked solely for the cost of the flight home.

A huge word of advice:  if you are picking your flight home based on cost, take some time to figure out if your route is doable.  Check train schedules on bahn.de.   Having a cheap flight and then finding out you cant get there in time to catch your flight home, outdoes the cost of the cheap flight.  I wasn’t even sure what route I would be taking when I started planning.  Somewhere in my apartment I am sure, is a leftover map from when I started.   I originally drew numbers on countries of how many nights I would spend in each one.  I’m sure it’s hilarious because I’m sure I planned to do one per night.   This is where insane research came in handy.

Take time to figure out if the routes you are taking allow you to see the places you will be.  When you are looking at train schedules and picking destinations based off of them, take the time to look at a guide, or even just Google the cities you are planning to spend time in.  Make sure you allow enough time to see them all. If your train arrives at noon and you want to see ten different things, you need to figure out how long those things will take to do.  Don’t guess, do research.  Also – train times.  Don’t just take a peek and move on.  Go further.  You might look on bahn.de and see a train that is six hours and think “okay so I will arrive at this time”.  But when you go to book it, you may see a train that is $100 less if you arrive two hours later.  Make sure to figure out what time for sure you are arriving so you know how much time you have in each city.  Make sure that when looking at trains, if you find a website that has cheaper train tickets, MAKE A NOTE OF IT.  Don’t expect yourself to remember that “oh hey two weeks ago, this train ticket was ten bucks on…….fuck what the fuck was the website FUCK”.  Keep a list as you are looking at stuff.

Once I was satisfied with the route I was going to be taking, it was time to start booking.  I can not express how much I loved myself for having spent the past month keeping track of every website I found my train tickets on as I was researching schedules.  I didn’t want to book until I had the itinerary set in stone. Once it was and I had to go back and buy everything, it was so easy because I had already done the research and I had every website listed in my spreadsheet.

I planned like a maniac.  I’m so glad I did.  It felt so great to be leaving so over prepared.  It just seemed like I had covered EVERYTHING for this trip.  Not everyone wants to vacation like that, but I sure did. I had one envelope per day, filled with maps, walking tours, train tickets, a list of everything I wanted to do and its cost, etc.  I also had a one page itinerary for the entire trip. On that itinerary was where I would be going, what train time, did I have a ticket, did I need a ticket, what hotel I was at, how I was getting there, how to say “hello” “goodbye” “please” “thank you” and “do you speak English” in the language of the day.  I printed out one to bring with me always, and then copies for each envelope “just in case”.  This worked perfectly when I got stuck in a rainstorm in Bratislava that drenched everything, including running all the ink on my itinerary. don’t worry, I have more YAY.

Oh.  You are probably wondering “Why doesn’t she just put all of this on her smart phone/laptop/notebook/netbook/Kindle/tablet”.  Because I refuse all of those things.  I would much rather spend my paychecks on plane tickets and hotels than a smart phone.  Call me crazy…

 

Brussels: Belgium and Geel

 

After working a full day, I went straight from my job to JFK Airport and boarded a flight to Brussels.   I had a layover in Dublin.   I arrived in Brussels at 9:25 am on April 27, 2012.  I don’t sleep on planes, I have never been able to.  When I landed, I had been up a number of hours I was way too exhausted to do the math for.  Also bonus: when I landed, the clock on my phone was an hour behind.  I have no idea why.  Someone suggested it was because of daylight savings time.  Well don’t phones get the time from a satellite or something?  It was so frustrating because I was so exhausted.  I could not figure out how to manually do the time.  I didn’t want to change the time to another time zone to get it to appear right because what if it auto corrected?  Then I wouldn’t know and was looking at some other country’s time zone.  I have so many trains to catch this trip.  I need to know what time it is!  I am so tired please god please AH YES I FIGURED OUT HOW TO MANUALLY DO THE TIME YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAHHHHHHHHHH.

So despite having my first meltdown before even leaving the airport, I wanted to see some of Brussels.  I collected my luggage, got my passport stamped, took a train to Brussels Centrale and ditched my luggage in a locker.  I was really happy I had Euro coins with me leftover from my last trip so I didn’t have to scrounge for change to do this.

Did I mention I was exhausted?  All I wanted was a large iced coffee.  Everywhere I went, that’s all I could focus on, never got it.

I walked around Brussels a bit and took pictures.  Most of them ended up not coming out. I can see the thumbnails but I get an error when I open them.  We like to call this “act like it’s not happening”.

Brussels has a casino that I could not find for the life of me (this is probably best).   I was able to find Mannekin Pis though, so that was good.

mannekin pis

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Walking around Brussels felt like walking inside of a movie set.  One minute you are walking down a small street, the next you are in this enormous courtyard of beautiful buildings.   I realize that most of Europe is like that.  But this was my first “walking around on my own” experience in Europe ever so it hit me really hard.

After I got to the point where it was clear I could not stand up any longer, I went and fetched my bag to hop a train to Geel.  I would be staying here for the next three nights to attend Groezrock Fest in Meerhout.

At the time I was in line to buy my train ticket, I can recall my patience wearing very thin when my train was almost leaving and the person in front of me on line was taking forfuckingeverrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr at the window.  Looking back, I have no idea why I didn’t just buy a ticket on the train.  Being that I have taken this line before, I know for a fact you can do that.  Perhaps if I had been awake enough to do this, I would have had time to stop at the Starbucks I spotted as I was running to my train.  Hours searching for iced coffee, there is a Starbucks right where I started.  God damn it.

My “home” hotel in Geel.  I love this place.

corbie geel

Rooms come with a free minibar, which has BEER, wine, water, soda, iced tea, different kinds of fruit juices and a chocolate crisp bar.  Did I mention FREE?

The rooms also have really sweet balconies.  Here’s the views I had this time.

balcony

balcony viewbalcony view 1

So pretty!

Geel has a town square right outside my hotel.  It’s so quaint.

geel square, belgium

geel square, belgium

geel square, belgium

geel square, belgium

I tried to stay awake until it was at least dark outside, so as to not wake up at six am.  Well I didn’t manage to stay awake, and I ended up getting woken up at six am by a text anyway.

Ahhhhhhhhh BED!!

corbie bed