Tag Archives: prague

My Top 5 Favorite Travel Destinations

21 May

So at this point in my life, I have been lucky enough to have traveled to over 15 different countries around the world (more if you include Caribbean Islands)! And people always ask me, “What’s your favorite place? & “What do you recommend?” or even the most flattering of all–“Will you plan a travel itinerary for me/book my flight?” Side note: YES! Please ask me these things! I really do enjoy helping people plan the perfect trip!

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(Easy to navigate with so much to see, Vienna was a great solo travel destination!)

But sometimes the most wonderfully overwhelming aspect of planning a trip is deciding exactly where to go! When making this decision, I suggest you break it down to 3 questions:

1. Who are you going with? (family, friends, children, solo?)

2. How long are you going for? (A couple of days, a week or several weeks?)

3. What kind of trip do you want to have? (a cultural city excursion with art, museums, monuments or a beachy/relaxing holiday in the nature?)

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(Though a bit pricier, Copenhagen was a beautifully refreshing city )

While most international cities can be quite accommodating, it is important to narrow it down as much as possible. **And remember: a well-planned itinerary booked a few months prior will save you much more $$$ than vague plans thrown together at the last minute**

If you still need some inspiration on where to take your next vacation, here is a list of my Top 5 Favorite Travel Destinations…

#5. Florence, Italy & The Tuscan Region

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Why You Should Go- Italy in general is a great country for rookie travelers. There is enough English spoken & hospitality for you to get around, there are plenty of cultural activities & the food alone is enough to satisfy any type of traveler

Times Traveled- 3 (two times with friends, once with my mom)

Best For- museums, culture, shopping for authentic leather goods, wine, FOOD!

Travel With– family, children, friends, solo (but if solo female, be weary of sometimes aggressive catcalling Italian men)

Must See- Climb to the top of the Duomo! It is a daunting 463 steps, however, a beautifully epic hand-painted mural on the inside of the dome & a breath-taking view of the city await you at the top! If you are a wine-lover, then schedule a wine tour in the Tuscan countryside! The sights alone are well worth it.

Must Eat- Pizza, gelato & all your other dream Italian food can be found all over the city! I especially recommend the famous Gusta Pizza.

Where To Stay- In the city center! Since there is no metro in Florence, things are quite walkable since the city is not that big. If traveling solo or with a very small group, I recommend Dany House, a small b&b run by the fabulous Jonathan!

Things To Know- 1. There IS a small airport in Florence, however, flights may be more expensive to fly into the city. A cheaper option is to utilize the Pisa airport, which accommodates more airlines. Fly into Pisa, take a photo with the Leaning Tower, then hop on the train for a cheap (10euro, I believe) ride through the countryside into Florence. You will be dropped off at the main station.

2. To purchase Duomo tickets, you must visit a nearby visitor center. Make sure to do so before standing in the massive line awaiting to climb to the top of the church!

3. Always check what days museums/attractions are open! Italy can be very traditional in having shops closed early in the evening/on Sundays!

#4. Hong Kong

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Why You Should Go- Hong Kong is the perfect city of East meets West. While extremely modern, it is quite easy to also find authentic Asian culture in the city. English is one of the official languages, so signs are often bilingual. Plus the city is located along the beautiful Victoria Harbor, which presents a nice breeze in the sometimes humid city.

Times Traveled- Once with my grandfather

Best For– culture, theme parks, shopping, food

Travel With- friends, older family members (parents/older siblings), children (there are several theme parks, including Disney HK), solo

Must See- Lantau Island/Ngong Ping Village! This is located at the end of the metro line, then a 30 minute monorail ride over the mountains! But it was the absolute highlight of the trip! Here you can visit the remote Ngong Ping Village, complete with a Starbucks & Subway (sandwich shop), but no atms & wild cows/dogs/cats wandering around! Climb to the top of the stairs to see the Big Buddha aka: the largest outdoor seated Budda in the world!

Must Eat- Hong Kong speaks the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, therefore, most authentic cuisine is Cantonese. The most notable of Cantonese food being Dim Sum! Travel over to HK Island to sample some extremely authentic dumplings in a very “no-frills” dining experience.

Where To Stay- Though it is definitely not the cheapest option, you HAVE to stay nearby or overlooking Victoria Harbor! The buildings light up interesting colors/patterns at night & reflect off the water. Plus beautifully strange ships with bright red sails can be seen all night.

Things To Know- 1. Like most Asian cities, HK’s public transport system is incredible. Buy a rechargeable Octopus Card, which can also be used on all transport mediums (including the ferry!). Grab a metro map from your hotel or a shop & feel free to navigate the city yourself as taxis can be quite expensive & the city is too big to walk.

2. There is an obvious difference between Mainland HK & HK Island. While the Mainland is incredibly modern, the island is insanely authentic. Take the ferry over to the island to explore the large open food shops, but do not be surprised if you experience so very interesting sights or smells!

3. Like most large Asian cities, the air quality in HK is not the best. Buy yourself a mask if you have any respiratory problems as smog levels can be quite high.

#3. Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Why You Should Go- Feel like you are absolutely visiting a post card! Dubrovnik is rather less known for Americans, but has long been a vacation destination for Europeans & it’s clear to see why! The beautiful Old Town is actually a fortress (complete with a draw bridge you must walk over to enter the city!) located on beautiful azure waters & is a much more affordable seaside getaway than other Southern European cities.

Times Traveled- Once with my mom

Best For- relaxation, water sports/swimming, nightlife, food

Travel With- friends, family, teenagers, solo–anyone really! (Since the Old Town is a series of winding streets with cute shops that are easy to navigate, I would have no qualms allowing a novice traveler to wander them solo)

Must See- Hike around the Old Town walls! These were used to defend the fortress & you can still see several look-out stations & cannons! However, be weary that climbing these stairs is QUITE the workout! Avoid going during the hottest part of the day to avoid sun burn, but also keep in mind that there are a few outdoor smoothie pubs built into the wall along the trek!

Must Eat- You will never get fresher seafood than that in Old Town Dubrovnik! Dishes consisting of prawn & cuttlefish are common, while I recommend sampling some Calamari or, if you’re more adventurous, Black Squid Ink Pasta! Wines are also proudly bottled all over Croatia; ask your server about local specialties to pair nicely with your seafood.

Where To Stay- While staying in the fortress of Old Town is convenient, you must decide which is more important for you on this trip: to sleep or to party. If you want to party, stay in Old Town. I was blown away by how LATE things stay open! We went in October (off-season) yet souvenir shops, restaurants, gelato stores & bars were still open past midnight! If you want to sleep, stay outside of the fortress of Old Town as it is much quieter. We stayed at the fabulous Edi’s Sea View Rooms, which is a house run by a fabulous man named Edi. His rooms not only have breath-taking ocean views & are insanely affordable, but Edi knows EVERYTHING about Dubrovnik! …& everyone in Dubrovnik knows Edi! His recommendations of the city were always spot on & I will always stay in his house whenever I visit this city!

Things To Know- 1. Dubrovnik is a rather small city, therefore during high season (summer) it gets insanely crowded. Plus this is also when temperatures are upwards of 80 degrees daily. I recommend visiting in September or October, like we did. It will be much more affordable, less crowded, but the weather is still nice enough to swim.

2. Dubrovnik is in a unique location where it is nearby to other fabulous places such as Montenegro & Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. If you have the time, I recommend taking a guided tour to a nearby country for a different culture!

#2. Prague, Czech Republic

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Why You Should Go- Ah, my second home! Prague is EXTREMELY underrated, but is thankfully, a very up-and-coming tourist destination for Americans! I mean, it has everything you could ever want: enchanting architecture, exciting nightlife, ample history & very uniquely delicious food! A lot of people I know travel to Prague with virtually no expectations & are absolutely blown away by how awesome the city is! So put it on your bucket list right now.

Times Traveled- Lived here for 1 year, was visited by several friends & then returned for a solo trip & also another time with my mom

Best For- nightlife, culture (the city was freed from Communism less than 30 years ago), shopping (it’s insanely cheap city), food, BEER!!!

Travel With- Anyone legal drinking age (18 technically but they don’t really care) who likes beautiful buildings

Must See- Old Town Square needs to be your first stop. Here you have Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (3rd photo), the oldest Astronomical clock in the world (!), the clock tower which you can climb up, & usually some cool festival/vendors selling treats depending on the season. Plus this is not too far of a walk from Charles Bridge & Prague Castle!

Must Eat- Well, first off, get ready to drink beer 24/7. Czechs consume more beer than ANYWHERE else in the world! You can find several classic Czech brands such as Pilsner Urquell, Kozel & Staropramen. I recommend the addicting Kozel Cerny, a dark beer that literally got me through my time living there. Pubs & beer halls are around every corner.

As for food, Czech dishes are incredibly hearty. Gulas, Schnitzel & Kolbassa are classic meat served with either potato or bread dumplings, however, if you’re more adventurous then my favorite, Svichkova (Google it now!) is worth a taste! Dessert wise, try the delicious trdelnik (aka: that awesome fried cinnamon thing in everyone’s Prague insta photos)

Where To Stay- Near Old Town there are ample hostels that are very affordable for travelers of all ages. I recommend the beautiful Dahlia Inn which has affordable rooms for families. As for where NOT to say, avoid Zizkov or Karlin as these are the “rough” parts of the city. Personally, I don’t find them to be that dangerous, however, it is best to stay near more touristic areas of the city if you’re a first time traveler.

Things To Know- 1. Prague is very much a walking city due to it not being very big. However, there are fantastic public transport options! The metro has only 3 lines (you will not be able to pronounce any of the stops/they will not be in English so pay attention!) that are easy to navigate. The tram goes all over the city & runs nearly 24/7. And for more remote areas, you can take a bus. If you are using public transport, be sure to purchase a ticket beforehand in either a machine in the station, or a tobacco shop nearby. Once you have the ticket be sure to STAMP it in yellow machines at the entrance of the metro. These tickets are monitored by time. Some are 30 mins, 60 mins, 90 mins, 1 day, etc. Make sure you hold onto this ticket as there are typically ALWAYS ticket checkers. If caught without a ticket you risk paying a large fine.

2. Czechs do not speak much English & are not always the friendliest about speaking English. Keep this in mind. Learn some basic phrases like dobry den (good day) & dekuji (thank you). Do not expect anyone to speak English to you in grocery stores or normal shops that are not directed to tourists.

#1. Paris, France ! (obv)

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Why You Should Go- Are you KIDDING me!?Paris is one of the most iconic cities in the entire world & the most magical place I have ever been. There is so much culture, history, delicious food, pastries & wine & you will be absolutely blown away by the landmarks around every corner!

Times Traveled- Once in 2006, studied there for 5 months in 2012, once in 2013, once in 2014 & once in 2015! I cannot stop going back!

Best For- history, culture, museums, art, food & wine, nightlife, shopping

Travel With- ANYONE! Paris literally has activities for all ages! However, solo female travelers should be weary of catcallers in the northern parts of the city

Must See-Eiffel should be your absolute first stop. It will be the most beautiful thing you ever see in your life. Make sure you go see her at night as well! (The tower ‘sparkles’ every hour on the hour after sunset). As far as museums, I recommend Le Musee D’Orsay over Le Louvre (more do-able in a reasonable amount of time), & NEVER count out the fantastic parks of the city to have a relaxing picnic with some wine!

Must Eat- French food, even when dirt cheap, will always be well-cooked. Try classic dishes like confit canard, boeuf bourguignon, les escargots whether you’re at a five star restaurant or at a hole in the wall cafe. I recommend going to the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame for a fixe prix 3-course-meal at a set price!

Drink as much wine as possible & eat all the pastries! Crepes are classic staples, however, never discount a delicious baguette & some cheese. No matter what food you eat in Paris, it will most likely be delicious.

Where To Stay- If you look at a map of the city, you will see it is divided into arrondissments or numbered neighborhoods. I would suggest staying more towards the center, so the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7th arrondissments. Arrondissments 12-16 seem to be alright as well, however, I personally avoid anything north of the 2nd arrondissment. These neighborhoods can be a bit more dangerous, especially for female travelers.

A key to finding a hotel in Paris is READING REVIEWS. Unfortunately “you get what you pay for” seems to be true in this city, however, there may be some hidden gems!

Things To Know- 1. You must take the metro to get around since this is not really a walkable city. The good news is that the Paris metro has 14 lines & can get you basically anywhere in the city! There are ticket machines in English at all stations & workers in booths who mostly speak English to help purchase your tickets. Like in Prague, save your ticket/pass as there are sometimes ticket checkers waiting for you at station exits.

2. Beware the scammers! Since Paris receives such a high volume of tourists year round there are people literally lurking everywhere to scam you out of money. BEWARE anyone approaching you! I hate to sound negative, but in most places in Europe, if someone is approaching you, they either want to scam you or are going to pickpocket you. ALWAYS be weary! Be weary of someone asking you to sign a petition, be weary of someone trying to tie something around your wrist, be weary of everyone!

3. Your experience will be 100x different if you learn some French. Unlike the Czechs, most Parisians speak English well, however, reluctantly at times. If you say a simple bonjour (good day) upon entering a store/restaurant, & then merci, au revoir (thank you, goodbye) upon leaving, the service you receive will be much better.

4. Check the local city calendar before you arrive! Certain days museums are free, festivals take place, local markets are open! This will save you so much more $$$ if you plan ahead before your trip!

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(The Netherlands is DEFINITELY an honorable mention! Especially Amsterdam, a place where your mind will be blown)

So there you have it! A few tips for your next vacation!

As always, please let me know if you ever have any travel questions! I think the best part about venturing somewhere new is trying out all the recommendations of past travelers, while also exploring new places on your own…& then recommending them to the next traveler! Then we have a never-ending cycle of adventure seekers 🙂

As for me, I will officially be traveling with my family to Nice, France & Lisbon, Portugal this upcoming fall, two places I have never been. So please, give me some tips!

Venture on!

JG ❤

 

 

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Never Stop Exploring

2 Apr

Welcome back, dear readers!

So as you know I started this blog before my big move to Prague. It was 2013 & I was nearing my university graduation & had no idea what I wanted to do.

So in the single most important act I have ever done–I bought a one-way ticket & moved to a faraway land all alone for a year of ups & downs.

Fast-forward 3 years later to today, where I can honestly say that I am in such a happy place. While I am now living a lot closer to home, I still have made a point to surround myself with as much travel opportunities as possible.

Whether with family, friends, or solo, I made a pact to myself when I moved back to the U.S.: never stop exploring no matter what. 

No matter what others say & no matter what the news says–just keep going.

Even if you have to save up entire paychecks for plane tickets, take painfully long yet affordable budget buses cross country, or sleep on someone’s lumpy couch for a couple of nights.

It will absolutely always be worth it.

And it always has been.

But sadly while the past few years have been comprised of some of my best vacations abroad, they have also consisted of some of the most tragic world events.

Every day tells of another bombing or shooting or death toll; innocent lives are drastically being wiped out by evil.

It’s unexplainable, it’s incomprehensible…it’s terrifying.

So why would I still want to travel?

Why would I put myself at risk to be another statistic

Well, that’s simple: because travel has always given me so much.

It has given me global perspectives: shattering ethnocentric ideas, expanding cultural knowledge & fully allowing me to experience being “the other”.

(Quite noticeably the only Westerners in Hong Kong’s remote Ngong Ping village, Grampy & I just went with the flow) 

It has given me self confidence: learning to navigate new cities, new languages & unfamiliar customs all on my own.

(Living in a city with minimal English-speaking, I learned the Czech language basics fast. Especially when it came to pivo!)

It has given me my dream job, uniting students & families from all over the world to form life-lasting bonds.

(Wonderful exchange students my company brought to the U.S. & are currently living with volunteer host families)

And of COURSE it has given me all my wonderful friendships with so many extraordinary human beings.

(My Japanese “sisters” in Tokyo)

(My host mother & host brother, Simon, in Paris)

(My TEFL “family” in Prague)

(My friend Meaghan & I spending Xmas 2013 with the family of my French friend, Apolline!)

When I say travel is my passion–I mean it.

And when you are fully invested in a passion, you will let nothing else stand in its way.

And I won’t.

Think about it: some people have “risky” passions like extreme sports. Yes, there is possible danger, however, with proper education & precaution, the dangers minimize drastically.

The same way you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a race car without proper training, I would never travel to a foreign city without doing proper research.

Of course, any true traveler knows preparation is key. Making sure maps, currency conversions, accommodations & plans are finalized before moving forward. & A heightened sense of common sense can go a long way.

“Traveling smart” has saved me more than a few times abroad. Whether it be using my intuition about bad situations or being prepared should plans go wrong–this is my first rule of going anywhere.

(Though considered a “Second World Country”, Thailand had some of the nicest locals I’ve ever met)

As prepared as I am, every time I announce a new trip abroad, I am still always met by a response of worry & concern.

While sometimes it can seem understandable, I am still so sick of justifying my travels to people who know nothing about the destinations I’m going to.

To people who allow a heightened sense of media-induced paranoia cloud their logic. Reading exaggerated headlines & watching sensationalized videos that teach them that every thing outside their front door is a war zone.

& I’m sorry, but I refuse to buy into this mindset.

Don’t you understand? That is what terrorists want. They want us afraid & divided. They want us hateful & unable to continue our daily routines. They want us to scapegoat & point fingers.

Well, I don’t know about you, dear readers, but there’s no way I will let them succeed.

I will never stop exploring, asking questions & looking for answers.

I refuse to close my mind. I will not stigmatize 1.6 billion people for the horrendous actions of few. I will not panic about going to a city near Brussels when my own city has already had several shootings in 2016. I will not listen to politicians who use racism to further a disgusting agenda of hate. & I will never use blanket statements like “they” or “them” when discussing large groups of people.

(MEPI friends from various countries in the Middle East/North Africa!)

Because every human is different, & I refuse to believe that everyone is inherently bad…& travel keeps re-enforcing this for me. 

I have met with Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans who have an indescribable sense of faith in the wake of so much tragedy.

(Service trip with my High School to New Orleans in 2008)

I have had strangers in Budapest, Prague & Vienna (who spoke zero English) literally take me by the hand to steer me in the right direction when I was lost & afraid & alone.

 

(I only found my way around Austria & Hungary thanks to the kindness of strangers!)

I have had wonderful experiences in Tokyo, Istanbul & Paris that would not have been half as special if it was not for the overwhelming hospitality of local friends.

(Mike is from Chicago but he was the best tour guide in Istanbul! Thanks, brother!)

& I have met extraordinary human beings in every single city I’ve been who have shared delicious meals, informative pub debates, & deep insight into their beautiful cultures with me, an outsider.

(Like my Japanese sisters, I am also very close with the group of Brazilian students we befriended who were studying at my university in 2014)

So next week I will venture back to Europe alone. I will FINALLY be reunited with the cooler older sister I never had, Gillian, in her new home, The Hague. Then travel by myself to Amsterdam & Copenhagen.

And I have not an ounce of fear.

Because I will do what I always do. I will pack all my travel supplies: my maps, my converters & my clothing layers. I will print out all my itineraries, my plane reservations, & my hostel addresses.

& I will be aware of my surroundings.

Not a panicked hyper-awareness, but not a foolish lack of awareness–just simply aware.

Like I always am when I’m in a new city.

And I will be fine.

I mean, I get to explore two brand new cities! I will see the wold-famous Keukenhof Tulip Gardens & the beautiful seaside Nyhavn canal & get to have some much needed pub talk with one of my best friends!

(See you soon, Gillian!)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past few years, dear readers, it is that you cannot allow anything to dictate your happiness. 

No job, no lover, & absolutely no fear.

You must continue to venture on, to explore the unknown even when it can be terrifying. Because you never know what wonderful experiences or people may be waiting just around the corner.

Happy travels!

JG 🙂

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late…

19 Oct

Hello, dear readers! I’m back again to normalcy after a bit of jet-setting, only this time, I wasn’t alone! No, my adventures overseas were accompanied by a very special person–my mom (or as I like to call her, “Mama G“)! Yes, we spent 11 glorious days frolicking around Europe having the BEST time!

As you know, travel is my favorite thing; I love to explore, try new things, meet new people & have life-changing experiences! And while some people think of travel as simply a hobby, I can honestly say that travel is much more than that–travel is my passion. 

Ever since I got on my very first airplane at age 7 to go to Aruba, I was hooked. I loved that feeling in your stomach, comparable to a high speed roller coaster ascent, of the take off; when objects outside the window quickly get smaller & smaller until you pierce the horizon & coast above the clouds. It makes me giggle like a maniac because I am in my element. I am truly happiest at 30,000 feet.

(Although I was also quite happy re-visiting my Prague pub & drinking my beloved Kozel Cerny. Only thing missing: Gillian)

But my love for travel does not stop at flight; no, boats, trains, subways & even buses make me quite happy! I’m serious, I love a good metro system. I guess it’s just the idea of a mini bout of travel paired with some awesome people watching opportunities that makes me content.

As much as I love getting to my destination I always really like being there. In my 24 years of life I have been lucky enough to travel to 13 awesome countries/islands! But for me, this is not enough–I need to see the world.

My mom was a lot like me when she was younger, only she explored the various islands of the Caribbean like I have Europe. She took cruises & went to beaches & just had a great single life. Then she got married. And had kids. And it stopped.

Not going to lie, this is my absolute worst fear right now. To have my wings clipped by pressing responsibility; to lose my curiosity & sense of adventure because of a family.

Luckily for me though, my mom was the one who first gave me these wings.

She fought every ounce of her normally helicopter parent-like tendencies & allowed me to travel when I was 16 to Paris & London on a school trip. Then she allowed me to spend a semester studying in Paris. Then she (very hesitantly) allowed me to move to Prague for a year on my own.

While I love my mom & my family, this love is not enough to keep me forever in one place. But I realized that wherever I traveled to she really was always with me. I thought of her when I saw the beautiful gardens of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, I made a note to someday show her the picturesque canals of Amsterdam & I really, really, really wanted her to see my new second home, Prague.

Upon returning back home I vowed to someday show her the beauty of Europe, the beauty that I had become so familiar with & grown to love so much. But I didn’t get a chance until this year when fate stepped in & allowed me to share my passion with loved ones forever. 

I knew the first person due for a dream vacation was Mama G. I mean not only has she always been there for me, but she was especially there during this whole dog bite fiasco, so I figured she should be the first to experience the positive effects of a terrible experience.

So I had to plan a special trip, just us two ❤

(We flew on a total of 8 planes in 11 days. Luckily we had our neck pillows, which we wore backwards because that’s 100x comfier) 

Fast-forward through months & months of endless flight planning & accommodation hunting (which I complain about but secretly LOVE to do), I was ready to give her a surprise of a lifetime. I hid various clues over the house & my mom spent her birthday crying tears of joy & disbelief because she would no longer have to live vicariously through anyone anymore.

Soon the day arrived: our trip. We headed to the airport; I had our passports, credit cards, emergency cash, currency converter, camera, basic to intermediate level knowledge of 4 languages, & screenshots of all directions…& my mom had a smile. A smile that did not leave her mouth for the following 11 days & one that I hope doesn’t soon leave her now.

(Mama G approves of the view of our room in Croatia)

We ventured to Dubrovnik, Croatia, & tried black squid ink risotto then swam in the cobalt blue Adriatic Sea (in October!). Then headed up to Prague so I could FINALLY introduce her to my second home (which she loved) for dark beer, strange Czech cuisine, meet ups with friends Brandi & Petr & a fish pedicure (which she didn’t love so much). Then we had a 23 hour layover in my absolute favorite city ever, Paris (I honestly cannot help myself, if I’m in Europe, it’s my guilty pleasure) & slept over in the apartment of my French host brother Simon, who Mama G had never gotten the chance to meet before! We also had lunch with Apolline, (the adorable French girl who allowed me to spend Xmas 2013 with her family since I was too broke to fly home)! Then we concluded the trip in Florence, Italy, aka: Tuscany aka: my mom’s ultimate dream destination! Here we ate our weight in carbs, climbed up the duomo, & had a 4 course gourmet meal in a countryside villa!

(Touching this statue means that she will be back to Prague someday!)

I ended the trip sick as a dog, exhausted & in so much physical pain curled up in the fetal position on a 7 hour flight home. But deep down I was so happy. The trip was SUCH a success & I feel like I gave my mom a new perspective of life–that being that it’s not over for her yet. 

There is a saying she always says: “It is never too late to be what you might have been…” & I feel like this was the motto of her trip.

(This is actually her SECOND visit to Paris! Her & Grampy briefly visited in 2012 when I studied abroad)

Me, I have seen it all before & I will see it again. I have that ambition, that drive, that passion. But I wanted her to know that she can too. She can go anywhere in the world & cross many more items off her bucket list. Anyone can, dear readers. Adventure is literally waiting around every single corner. I believe you just need to be open to it; you need to believe it still can exist for you. 

(‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ is one of Mama G’s fav movies. & Here she is, quite literally, under the Tuscan Sun)

So thus, I have vowed that my future travels will be adventure for me, of course, but also for someone else. Each year I will bring a lucky loved one to a bucket list destination & design a trip just for them. Because for me, dear readers, I know that feeling. The feeling of disbelief when you literally cannot believe you are living out a dream; so what better gift then sharing that experience with someone else?

Up next: Asia, Spring 2016. 

My amazing, youthful, hilarious, loving Grampy has a birthday February. He has always wanted to go to Hong Kong. So guess where he found out this past weekend he will be soon traveling to? We’re also heading to Japan & Thailand along the way!

It will be his 78th birthday & he will finally get to cross off his bucket list dream destination. See, it really is never too late to be what you might have been.

JG 🙂

The Slow Climb to the Top

27 May

Hello there, dear readers! I promised you I would continue to have adventures right? Well, this Memorial Day weekend certainly was one!

How?

Well, my friend Astrid was visiting from Germany & after a few days of Boston & Sutton she was planning on driving up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire alone. In a very un-Jessi turn of events at the last minute I decided to join her!

Since everything was booked we stayed in an Organic Farm Homestead hippie commune for a night (D Acres Homestead in Rumney, totally recommend it!). This commune was basically just a bunch of people who lived in this whimsical house in the woods & survived off their crops/farm animals. Very different way of life, but pretty damn cool.

(Oh you know, just an intimate mixed dorm/floor of 18 people)

Since Astrid loves nature we decided to go for a hike.

Note: ‘hiking’ for me is walking through the woods for an hour or two & enjoying the scenery before heading back to civilization. ‘Hiking’ for Astrid was climbing to the 5,000 foot summit of Mount Moosilauke in a grueling 6 hour trek.

Did I mention I went on an adventure? 

(We climbed one of these…)

The first hour was fine, fairly flat & peaceful. There were streams, leaves, mud & a sense of serenity. Then we hit the incline…& it kept going…& going. Now I am not typically a complainer, but I was getting the workout of my life. And (just like my caving adventure) was doing this all without water/a very empty belly with nothing in it but a few handfuls of Chex Mix.

Long story short–I was severely under-prepared.

Astrid was having a blast though so I tried to power through…that was until I felt like I was on my death bed & we passed a woman who informed us that we still had two hours to go. Every other person descending the mountain chuckled at our light fleece jackets warning us of the snow waiting for us at the peak…oh yes, I was just chipper.

(When I thought we were just having a peaceful stroll in the woods…)

But I kept walking.

Soon we ascended the forest & walked up the dirt peaks. The sun beat down on us & I was sweating like a maniac. I was thiiiiis close to stopping because I couldn’t do it, the pain was too much.

But then–like it always seems to do when I’m having a rough time–fate stepped in.

A couple walking with 3 small dogs passed us. The woman watched me weeze with a look of sheer empathy as she passed. Then suddenly I hear the voice of an angel speak to me:

“Here, do you want this bottle of water?” 

I felt like I was hallucinating. Actually I could have been. I typically drink 3-5 giant water bottles a day so by this time I was so dehydrated I was seeing little white spots in front of my face.

I graciously thanked this saint of a woman & am reminded of my life mantra that has always stuck with me no matter where I go: never under-estimate the kindness of strangers. 

I take a refreshing gulp of the somehow still cold liquid & am brought back to life. This is enough to power me through the next mile, however, by this time I tell Astrid to go on ahead & I will meet her when I meet her.

(…As if the experience wasn’t grueling enough, look what was waiting for me at the top)

For almost 45 minutes I walked completely alone in silence on the mountain. You/anyone who knows me would never believe it–but I am quite the introvert deep down. I love long periods of not speaking, something I have only learned to appreciate after my time in Prague.

 The sharp incline of a path winds on forever. To both sides of the path is deep, dark woods; creatures rustle within & watch me from afar. I am not afraid because I am too lost in thought.

& All I can think about is the grueling incline my life has recently assumed. My mind races with deep contemplation.

Sometimes I feel like my adventures are over. I feel stuck in one place, with the same people & the same experiences. I can almost hear a clock ticking away in my head, counting down the days, months, years until I have to start a family/buy a house/be an adult in society’s eyes.

Dreading the day when the party is finally over. 

But what about all that space in between?

How does one truly get from A to Z when they’re too busy day dreaming about G, L & S?

It’s actually a lot like hiking up that mountain: I know where I am standing in this moment right now & I know where I eventually hope to be (the summit)…but what about everything in between? The babbling brooks, jagged rocks & slippery snow? The sweat & pain & terrible defeated thoughts cursed over a sweaty brow?

Could that be the most important part?

(Oh, the places you can go at D Acres)

I used to love the fact that I was 24.

I was young & most importantly I was free. But it’s scary the types of phrases people start repeating once they stop flying. They complain about money & the future. They care about 401k plans to take care of their hypothetical families. They stay in every Friday night & when they do go out sit across from a person who also has their eyes glued to a phone.

How do you even know you want a family? How do you even know you’ll have one?! 

I guess that’s just a socially acceptable 5 year plan.

But my 5 year plan used to be so different from the average 24 year old. When I was in Prague I pictured teaching in Asia & South America, constantly migrating to different zip codes when I got bored & craved new adventure.

But now my joy comes from planning my next vacation. How will I carefully distribute those generous 21 days to temporarily suffice ravenous almost painful wanderlust? I dread the day ‘responsibility’ threatens to clip my wings.

(Above the tree line, I made it)

Because I love being out of my comfort zone. 

I love being pushed off into the deep end & teaching myself how to swim.

I love testing my physical limits; risking bruises & cuts in order to accomplish what I’m capable of.

I love going into a room of strangers chattering away in another language.

I love being forced to create familiarity in the terribly unfamiliar because to me it is so much better then sinking into a constant settled state of numbness. 

I would take this sharp awful incline of a trek over a flat boring promenade any day.

Because that’s the only way you will ever grow! It’s how you realize your true strength–by testing it!

So yes, every single step I took up that mountain was pain. My heart was pounding, my sneakers were slipping, my back was aching, my legs were tight & I cursed myself all the way. Cursed myself for not being more fit, more athletic, quicker, more relaxed, more cheerful.

But then, after 3.5 hours of struggling–I did it.

I would like to say that the views at the top or the feeling of achievement was enough to negate all the pain. I would like to feed you some cheesy line about ‘never give up’ or ‘pain is temporary’ but it’s been 3 days & my legs STILL hurt.

If anything climbing to the 5,000 foot summit of Mount Moosilauke gave me the same feeling I had after I completed the caving trip in Budapest–that my determination is the strongest thing about me.

I am not as fit as you, not as fast as you, not going to be whistling the whole way & will certainly not turn around & hike the whole mountain again the next day–but if there’s one thing that’s true about me it’s that when I want something, I go get it. 

And to me right now, I can have virtually anything I want. I can go teach English in Taiwan, I can get my masters in Sweden, I can join the Peace Corps in Africa, I can road trip to California, I can learn my goal of 7 languages.

Because what they don’t tell you when you’re young, dear readers, is that you have all the power. 

Age is not power–freedom is power. Choice is power.

& When you think about it, the obstacles (or mountains) in between you & your goal, whether they be blisters or student loans, in actuality, are not really holding you back.

You just need to notice all the choices, the opportunities, the different paths you could take.

Some people choose to drag themselves to the top of the mountain, some people choose to turn back after their first cramp & some people choose not to even get out of the car at all.

So regarding life, which one are you?

JG 🙂

Life Lessons Abroad: Euro Trip 2015

11 Apr

I’m back! Sorry it took me so long to post about my trip abroad, dear readers, I have been so busy but now here, on this slightly-sorta-not-really hungover Saturday afternoon I finally have time to tell you alllll about it. Are you ready?

First of all, let me say it was in no way a ‘typical vacation’. Typical vacations are relaxing & relatively slow-paced, right? Mine was a non-stop adventure that tested my emotional AND physical limits! I laughed harder & cried longer on those 10 days of traveling more so than I have in months. Whoa, right? I mean you knew it just wouldn’t be a normal trip because,

Jessi + alcohol + old friends + new friends + tax refunds + cheap countries + ex-boyfriend + ex-city + caves = one crazy time!

But being me, I must take a poetic look at my time abroad, & while I would love to just write a travel blog post listing all the things I did, what is more important for you to know is what each experience taught me. Because each of the 3 countries I visited were so different, & they each presented a different life lesson. 

First Stop–>Turkey. Life Lesson: Female/Human Rights Abroad

(Above: Mike & I at the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey)

Every time I book a trip I always strive to be a thrifty traveler. I would rather have long layovers in a plane, or rough it in a hostel so I can save money for spending during the trip. Turkish Airways has some of the lowest prices of any airline, & I totally recommend them! Cheap prices, EXCELLENT food, comfy seats, & a ton of free swag! However, one of the knocks of Turkish Airways are their infamous long layovers. Typically midway through arriving/departing your destination. These layovers can range from 5 (the WORST) to 23 hours, mine was 17.

For me, long layovers are fun because it’s like a free pass to explore a new city. I had a 22hour layover last year in Dublin, Ireland, when I was moving home from Prague. It was a blast! I got a good night’s sleep, a hot shower & a meal (and an AWESOME night at the pub) in between a long traveling journey! This is a traveling tip I recommend, if you’re up for it.

Anyway, I was excited for my 17 hours in Istanbul, Turkey, because thanks to my global network of friendships, I know someone living there who is basically my brother from another mother. I met Mike when we both got our TEFLs in Prague. Now he has been living & working in Istanbul for almost 2 years. During my long layover he was gracious enough to not only let me sleep on his couch, but actually be my tour guide! He’s the best! We explored the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia & Old Town area. Then we chowed down on an AMAZING dinner.

(Above: Turkish food is delicious! I got the kebab sampler aka: beef, chicken & lamb with veggies, yogurt sauce, rice & that thing on top is ‘Turkish pizza’)

I was really excited about visiting Istanbul. It was the most ‘exotic’ place I have ever traveled & I knew things would be very different. And I was so right. First of all, let me say, this is my opinion based on the few areas I unbiasedly saw in a short amount of time, but what I did see was kind of disappointing. First of all, I didn’t realize how MASSIVE the city is (nearly twice the population of NYC?! NYC pop. = 8.4mill, Istanbul pop. = 14.2 mill!) this would explain how filthy it is. Trash was all over the place, stray dogs & cats roamed freely rummaging through it & the Romany population is overwhelming.

It’s no secret that the Romany people (or “gypsies” according to the ethnic slur) are all over Europe. They swindle, steal & scam; a troublesome minority that a clueless tourist is sure to attract. While I am always sympathetic yet cautious towards Romany people when I travel, in Istanbul the population was so overwhelming it really affected me. I heard that Turkish Romany, like in parts of India, will frequently maim their children in order to get more money/sympathy from tourists (remember Slumdog Millionaire?). It’s a sick & sad practice. During my time in Istanbul, maimed children were everywhere & it broke my heart. So much so that I actually let my walls down & gave them money.

There comes a time when you realize that regardless of what the Romany child/homeless person will use your money for, they are still a person. They are just as human as you are. In Istanbul the most touching moment of this realization was when Mike & I were getting on the tram & there were two boys by the station. They were not begging, they were not pick-pocketing, they were both sitting down, barefoot & shirtless (it was about 50 degrees out & the sun was setting), covering themselves with a single jacket. They chattered away in their language. To me, I saw my two younger brothers.

So I walked over & gave them each the same amount of money (no clue how much it was but Mike said it was enough for them to buy some candy or chips), & their eyes completely lit up. They both smiled widely & thanked me in Turkish to which I replied, “In English, we say ‘thank you’” & I made them each repeat me (once a teacher, always a teacher!), afterwards they said “bye-bye!” to me & as I walked away I could hear the excited tones in their voice, the same tone you would get when your grandparent slipped you $5 when you were 6 years old.

(Above: Just nomming on some corn on the cob outside a giant mosque, sticking out like a sore thumb!)

While this exchange was one of my favorite moments in Istanbul, I have to admit there were a few other things that happened which changed my mood. Most memorably, Mike & I were walking around the shops of Old Town, browsing the beautiful souvenirs (in the broad daylight), when I was discretely harassed.

Let me be clear: I know I stick out in Europe. I have blonde hair, blue eyes & am not stick-thin like everyone else. In Italy I get hissed at, in Paris I get fondled walking on the street & sitting on the metro & in other countries I have been on the receiving end of awful comments from men who are extremely aggressive.

This used to really scare me. It made me nervous & worried & to this day I avoid the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. However, since moving back to Boston I have become a strong feminist. I have confronted my cat-callers & stood up for myself. But while I was in Istanbul I sank right back into my terrified little shell. 

Maybe it’s because you think you’re safe in certain areas, you think you’re okay in the daylight, you think at the very least no one will try anything when your male friend is right next to you. But this wasn’t the case in Istanbul. Because I was walking alongside Mike in a crowded tourist area at 4:00pm & I feel somebody smack my butt. At first I was shocked & thought maybe someone just bumped into me because it was so crowded. But then it happened again followed by laughter. I immediately spun around to confront my assaulter & there was 4 of them. Four boys my age.

I wanted to throw something at them, I wanted to violently attacked them, but I didn’t do anything. I glared & turned around & they continued snickering in the opposite direction. What do you do in a situation like this? And from then on, my trip changed. I was nervous when it got darker & was constantly looking over my shoulder. The damage was done. 

The next day, at 6:00am, I take the metro 4 stops to the airport alone. Men watch me struggle with my luggage like I am a circus creature. They do not just stare at me on the subway, they leer at me. They see I am uncomfortable about being watched (something they seem to find funny) & still refuse to turn away. People on escalators ahead of me actually turn around to watch me. I wanted to scream out at them to f**k off, but I am honestly nervous of what will happen as a result.

Every woman I come across (most in hijab & fully shrouded in black) cling close to their husbands & keep their eyes to the ground. I left Istanbul with a bad taste in my month, & while I love you, Mike, & I had fun, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ll be back :/

Second Stop–> Czech Republic. Life Lesson: Fact is Stronger Than Nostalgia 

Next I flew to Prague. And this was THE FIRST time I have been back since I moved back home last June. It has almost been one year that I have been away from my old city & I had no idea how much I missed it. It’s always such a strange feeling to be back in a place with so many memories. Some people have come & gone, some things have changed, but overall nothing really has. My neighborhood (Jiriho Z Podebrad for lifeee) was still the same, Charles Bridge was still packed with tourists, the same people were still working at Gillian & I’s favorite pub, Svichkova was just as delicious as I remembered & all my friends were still just as awesome as when I left.

(Above: The Jiriho z Podebrad neighborhood is not traditionally beautiful, but the distinct church & perfectly hideous Zizkov TV Tower were wonderful landmarks in my old Prague neighborhood)

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous about coming back to Prague. I just had such mixed feelings, mostly because this was the first time I would be re-united with the city, my friends who still resided there & the ex-love of my life, Filip. As you may remember, Filip & I ended our relationship back in December when the long distance became too much with our hectic schedules. It was a break-up technically, but I guess for me it was just pressing pause on things until we could re-unite. Sure, I tried to move on with other people, but the effort was so half-hearted & I always found myself hoping we could somehow get back together. Filip’s sent me very mixed signals prior to my trip, but promised to host me.

He picked me up at the airport & everything was like old times again. It was just as I had hoped. We got lunch & I was reunited with the delicious Svichkova & finally drank my beloved Kozel Cerny! But something felt off. Talking to Filip more & more, I realized just how different he was. Long painful story short, after more discussion I realized my greatest fear: we were not at all on the same page & he was completely over me. It was done, officially over & there was no more hope 😦

I know you probably have no sympathy for me, because it’s like, ‘Well you did break up, Jessi, of course he will move on’, but let me just say, this was the greatest relationship of my life. This person was not only my best friend & greatest love they helped me survive. They were my biggest support system through so much when I was so alone & the relationship ended simply because of distance. Sometimes I wish something dramatic would have happened, I wish someone cheated or lied or backstabbed so I could just dismiss it & hate him forever. But it ended with me still so in love with him. And even though you know circumstances are impossible, it still hurts so much to watch someone you’re still in love with move on from you. It hurts to think about them being with someone new. It hurts to feel them forget you. 

It also hurts to travel 3,000 miles to be reunited face-to-face for the first time in 4 months in a city where everything reminds you of them only for them to pat you on the back as you sob, saying ‘Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else’.

Yeah, it hurts like hell. But it was also something I really needed. Because that little sliver of hope locked deep within my heart was holding me back. It was making me closed off to anyone new, it was keeping me in one place. And now that it’s shattered–I am free. I can actually move on to new things. 

I realize this now, but in the moment, between the jet lag & dehydration, it was all too much for me to handle.

I knew I needed to get out of there. 

I thanked Filip for his offer to host me, but there was no way I could stay with him that week, I needed some distance in order to maintain sanity. So, like Prague always has, it continued to shelter & protect me with the help of two of my closest friends.

I met Brandi when I got my TEFL in Prague, but even before we arrived I knew we were one of the same. Weeks leading up to the course we excitedly messaged on Facebook from different coastlines of the country about the life-changing experience. Brandi is from Seattle & is one hell of a strong woman. During her time in Prague she began a new life, now living with her awesome boyfriend Honza (who I drunkenly introduced her to one night 😉 ) & even flew her two cats to Prague to live with her. Brandi has always been a great shoulder to cry on. She’s compassionate & nurturing, & even though she’s only a few years older than me, she served as a second mother to me in Prague. 

She was the first person I messaged after my fight with Filip. I stood in a nearby cafe to steal fuzzy wifi pleading with her to let me spend the night while bawling my eyes out. And like a true friend for life she said to come right over. I quickly packed an overnight bag (too shaken up to take all my luggage) & commuted 40mins across the city to her apartment.

(Brandi & I during a way too wild TEFL party in August 2013…)

(…And just last week. I love this girl for life!)

I ended up spending the whole 5 days I was in Prague sleeping on her comfy couch, cuddling her two cats & having much needed girl time. The thing I love about Brandi so much is how nurturing she is. Instead of lecturing me, she listened as I fell apart for the next two days & cried actual gallons of tears. It is exactly what I needed & Brandi, I can never thank you enough for always being & continuing to be such a good friend to me. Love you, girl!

As for Filip & I, we were able to end it on decent terms. After I had a good cry, I realized this was the closure I needed. Everyone hopes to be friends after a break-up, but it’s not always easy, especially when it’s with someone who you were never actually friends with. We met at a bar, spent the weekend together & I promptly fell in love. But I do not look back on things with any sort of ill-will, he was there for me when I needed him in my life & now it’s time to move on.

After I was done going through this emotional roller coaster, I realized that this was my vacation. And I wasn’t about to spend it moping around, dammit! So the next day I had some ME time. I walked around the city all day, visiting landmarks, exploring new streets, buying souvenirs & just being so happy to be alive. So invigorated in the moment & environment. It was great!

That day Brandi & I took a day trip to Kutna Hora, a village about 1 hour outside of the city. For someone who lived in Prague for almost a full year, it’s embarrassing how little ‘tourist things’ I’ve done. One of those things being visiting Kutna Hora’s infamous bone church!

(Above: The eerie Bone Church in Kutna Hora is about 1 hour outside of Prague. Made with 40,000 skeletons it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Although the church took us a whole 10 minutes to explore, Brandi & I had a great time hanging out in a nearby pub. Pub life is one of the biggest things I miss about Prague. I can’t explain it to you if you don’t understand it, because it doesn’t sound that great. You sit in a no-frills restaurant, drowning in second-hand smoke, sipping massive beers, eating super filling food as people/dogs/babies/children sit around you. And it’s awesome. Pubs are a big part of Czech culture & I have yet to find something to mirror this in the U.S. A place where I can drink 5+ extremely cheap beers without judgement, & have philosophical or political discussions speaking at normal Jessi volume (aka: LOUD). Please let me know if something like this exists in Boston, okay?

The next day I spent some more time walking around the city exploring, but the best part of the day was my reunion with the one & only Gillian!

If you have been following this blog for a while then you understand the awesomeness that is Gillian Bradford. She is this cool punk rock Californian who used to be my assistant boss (for a short period of time) at that hell hole of a school I used to work at in Prague. She was the one who lectured me about life & served as an unwavering source of support. I could always count on Gillian to give it to me straight but at the same time always have my back. She truly is the cooler older sister I never had. 

Meeting up with Gillian was so much more exciting because we were going to be meeting up at OUR PUB.

Originally when I started working at Keytone Preschool I obviously had no idea wtf I was doing. My boss was insane & provided no guidance or support for me. One day Gillian (who just happened to live the next street over from me) asked to meet me at this nearby pub for a “work meeting”. The meeting was her warning me to step it up or I would get fired. In actuality my boss was just insane because I’m a great teacher & Gillian & I promptly got drunk discussing her insanity. And a beautiful friendship was born. 

(Above: Gillian models our ‘receipt’ in the our pub. All those tallies are our beers. Needless to say, it was a good night)

During my time in Prague, even after Gillian epically told our boss off & quit her job, we still remained very close. We still had weekly ‘work meetings’ at the same pub & those were probably some of my best memories of living in the city. Gillian is smart, fearless & has lived all over the world. Gillian is the woman I want to become. And she has mentored me through all my life obstacles & is one of the main reasons I grew so much during my time abroad.

So it was so wonderful to be reunited! Like most of our adventures, we say it will be ‘an early night’, which is code for I won’t get home until 3am. Obviously this happened & in the course of the THREE pubs/bars we visited that night, we had so many adventures. Multiple acquaintances, a ton of dogs in the pub, one non-stop/strip club/slot machine venue, one gay club piano bar & a few new friends. I had the hangover of my life the next day, but this night spent with Gillian was emotionally healing. From Filip, from personal obstacles, from all the disconnect I have felt since moving back home, I feel so much better.

Thank you, Gillian! You are, & continue to be, one of the most fantastic people I have ever met in my life.

And so Prague ended on a high note! Even though it started pretty low, I left the city realizing just how much I absolutely love it there. Upon leaving last summer, everyone asked me why. At that time I felt like I had my fill of Prague & the Czech attitude & the impossible job situation, but now I feel like I could very easily move back someday. I went through all the growing pains & am now in a great place with the city where I know how life works there & if I spoke more Czech feel like I have a real shot at happiness. So who knows what the future holds  😉

Third Stop —> Budapest. Life Lesson: Being Alone Is Not So Bad

The next day, after saying all my good-byes to Prague & vowing to return soon, I hopped on an 8 hour bus ride to Budapest alone. Yes, EIGHT hours. Like I left at 10:30am & arrived at 6:30pm. This may sound draining or daunting, but for me it wasn’t so bad!

First off, buses are always cheaper than planes or trains, like significantly cheaper. So yes, I could have taken a $200 1 hour flight or a $100 4 hour train ride, but instead I took a $30 8 hour bus ride. But I was prepared, I booked Student Agency! They are the best bus line in all of Europe. I have taken their competitor Eurolines in the past ( 10 hours from Paris to Amsterdam with NO BATHROOM) & will never go back. Student Agency hooks you up, not only do you get a bathroom, you get a tv screen in the seat in front of you, & a complimentary newspaper/beverage (aka: the BEST hot chocolate!). Plus you get a break midway to stretch your legs. So honestly my journey wasn’t that bad!

I was journeying down to Budapest because I had heard great things about the city. Hungary may not be on anyone’s initial dream destination list, but it’s cheap, has great architecture & yes, fantastic food. I was headed alone only because my friend Alex, who is currently teaching in Barcelona, wasn’t able to come with me last minute. While I was sad that she couldn’t go, & apprehensive about spending Easter alone, I wasn’t too worried.

Because solo travel is awesome.

To some this sounds crazy. I can remember when I was studying abroad, I would meet people in my hostel who had been traveling alone for months. “But aren’t you lonely?!” I asked, “Don’t you want someone to share these memories with!?” But it wasn’t until I was forced to travel by myself that I found these answers.

You are never alone in the world. 

When in Prague I had to take a solo 24 hour trip to Vienna in order to apply for my visa. I was a bit nervous about going alone, & of course my mom was straight up panicking, but I had a great time! The beauty of solo travel is you have the most flexible schedule. You can literally do whatever you want! And from past experiences with stressful overwhelming travel companions, I can honestly say having the freedom to choose is liberating. 

(Above: Fall 2013, my solo trip to Vienna lead me to the beautiful Schonbrunn Palace, which was 10 mins from where I got my visa!)

I booked a hostel with great reviews, knowing that I am a social person & would meet new friends. And then after visiting the consulate, I spent the rest of my time in Austria walking around the mesmerizing Schonbrunn Palace Gardens taking it all in! Short but sweet!

I knew my time in Budapest would be similar, I just had to prepare. I booked 3 nights at the Home Plus Hostel, which has very high reviews on the always trusty HostelWorld.com, & then knew I had to plan another unique excursion to distract me from any loneliness I might feel on Easter. I consulted the wonderful Trip Advisor (I know, PR plugs left & right, but I’m being legit here), for a different sort of adventure then just visiting tourist sights or seeing the bathhouses.

I came across Caving Under Budapest which was a very different kind of city tour to say the least. From reading the reviews I gathered that for just $40, I could spend 2.5 hours exploring the underground caves with a guide & a small spelunking team. I am not an adrenaline junkie by any means but this was one of those once in a lifetime travel moments so I apprehensively booked the tour!

My time in Budapest was so fun. My hostel was perfect & I met SO MANY NEW FRIENDS on their pub crawl (although Prague Pub Crawl is obviously better, but hey, I’m biased). I tried new foods, explored the picturesque Buda Castle, Chain Bridge & Hungarian Parliament Building areas & my Easter dinner consisted of a traditional 3-course Hungarian meal for only $9.

(Above: Windy selfies at the Hungarian Parliament building!)

(Above: Buda Castle is a total CAN’T-MISS)

While I was enjoying my time in Budapest, I was a little nervous about my upcoming caving adventure. I had scheduled it for my last full day in Europe, hoping it would serve as a sort of grand finale for the trip. The day of I was so worried! I couldn’t eat anything & was this close to backing out. I found one of the downsides of solo travel: when you sign up for things alone, you are the only one motivating yourself to follow-through with them! That day I wished I had a friend who was relying on me to accompany them in the caves, but nope, it was all me.

And the reasons why I was freaking out so much was not the typical ones. I was not worried about my safety, was not questioning my claustrophobia, no, I was panicking about caving so much because I was 100% convinced I would get stuck. I was worried I was too big, my hips were too wide & I was not athletic enough to complete the tour. And it sounds absolutely ridiculous now typing it out & admitting it. I knew people who completed the caving experience but they were petite & athletic & for them it was a challenge. 

One of the things my super adventurous 76-year-old-going-on-16 Grampy always says is, “If someone else can do it, so can I!” While my rationale is not as positive, I did have to fully consider the fact that I had already told everyone I was going to do this, yes, so it would be embarrassing if I chickened out, but more so I would be totally letting myself down & would regret passing on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

So, after this mini soul searching pep talk, I grabbed my things & was off.

(Above: More terrified than I look, but there was no turning back now!)

I arrived at the meeting spot where we were greeted by our caving tour guide. He was a cheerful awesome Hungarian man. He took us on two different buses until we were in the outskirts of the city. We were divided into 3 groups of 10 & suited up in our jumpsuits & helmets. I began to relax & pictured how much fun I would be having. 

Soon we were in the caves, for a split second it’s overwhelming. You realize it’s pitch black & you’re trapped inside, but then you just have to breathe & keep going. At the beginning of the tour you climb down this rickety metal ladder about 30 feet into the mouth of the cave. At that moment there is truly no turning back. For the next 2.5 hours I got the workout of my life. We climbed over rocks, slid down tunnels, army crawled underneath rocks & then in the toughest spots shimmied through crevices. It was exhausting. Even though it’s chilly because you’re so far underground, you are sweating like maniac. Your elbows & knees & legs get bruised. You hit your head numerous times & are covered in dirt (good thing for the caving gear!).

After each set of obstacles our guide would give us a breather & tell us some history about the caves. It was fascinating. He was funny & so positive, he really helped motivate me through the whole thing. There were a few times where the words “I can’t” escaped my lips. They were met by an extended hand from my guide, a push upwards from a fellow caver behind me & kind words of encouragement from the others. This was more than a tour, it was a bonding experience. 

(Above: Headed straight down in a tight tunnel)

(Above: Taking a breather with our guide while the rest of group completes the climb)

I am not going to lie, there was one time during this experience when that viscous little voice returned. It was during the tightest descent in the whole tour. We went one-by-one down the tunnel, our guide telling us to lay sideways & use both legs & arms to propel our bodies. It started fine, but then the space got tighter & tighter & soon my wide ‘child-bearing’ hips were completely stuck. And the voice whispered to me that this was it, I was stuck, I was too fat to do this & I was holding the group back.

But before I could be affected, my guide came to the rescue. In the calmest, most cheerful voice imaginable, he silenced the cruel words & instructed me to wiggle my hips & use my hands to push off while he literally grabbed my legs & pulled me through. And in an instant it was over. I had made it through the most challenging part of the cave. I could have hugged him. Because overcoming that simple obstacle was a massive victory for my self-esteem. The rest of the trek was easy & soon it was over.

Afterwards I was sweaty, dusty & staving. Me & some fellow cavers ventured back into the city for dinner. We found an awesome restaurant & spent the next few hours laughing & sharing stories.

(Above: New friends from all corners of the world share a great meal together. This is why I travel!)

There was a couple from England & 3 friends from Singapore. Since we had all survived the caves, it was like we were already old friends! This was the perfect last night of my vacation because it was a culmination of why I travel! The couple will hopefully visit me in Boston this summer, too!

So there you have it, dear readers! I told you, it was one heck of an adventure, right? I feel like it was just what I needed. I found closure, re-connected with old friends, visited old places & some new ones & made so many great new friends who I will hopefully have future adventures with! Thank you to everyone reading this who made my trip so special! Please know that you are always welcome to come visit me!

And while it may seem like my adventures are over for now, you know that the CzechItOut Blog will still live on! I am a world citizen with insatiable wanderlust & I am already planning my next trip!

So until then, stay tuned for all the exciting things that lie ahead! Cheers 🙂

JG

It Was The Best Of Times

14 Nov

Hello, dear readers! Sorry I haven’t written to you in a while, but let me say I have been pretty busy. And no, not busy laying on a couch healing from my dog bite watching my 385th episode of Maury or getting rejected by yet ANOTHER dream job in the final round or body-shaming myself to tears…but busy being happy.

Nice to have a little change, huh?

The root of this happiness is, unsurprisingly, the root of my happiness for over 8 months. The person who I ever-so-romantically approached in the Chapeau Rouge Bar while double-fisting a Gin & Tonic AND Rum & Coke (French Bachelor party men are quite generous!). The boy whose very first exchange with me was:

“Um, do you speak English?”

“Yeah”

“Okay, you’re sitting on my coat.”

My amazing Czech boyfriend, Filip! 🙂

Fifi is the best ever

Although we did not have the dreamiest first meeting, Filip & I hung out a few more times, then began dating in February when I was still living in Prague. I know all relationships are like this at first, but we soon became inseparable. I can only characterize it like this: ya know those first few ‘honeymoon months’ where you laugh at everything, hang out 24/7 & are just completely infatuated? Well, my ENTIRE relationship has felt like this. I’m serious. Even when our honeymoon stage was well over.

This is a boy who has seen me at my absolute WORST: panicking about my crazy boss in Prague, comforting me when I was in the fetal position sobbing about not getting my dream job, & feeding me with his last few dollars when I was dead broke in another country. He even honest-to-God almost flew to USA for a weekend to sit with me in the hospital after my dog bite. Plus he 100% loves me for the quirky, crazy, opinionated, strong woman that I am. We are not luck, we are chemistry. We are compromise & hard work.

Honestly, I was pretty nervous in June when my days left in Prague were numbered. I was worried about the future of our relationship. Here I was, having found the hands down best boyfriend of my six years in the dating world, & now I was going to have to move 3,000+ miles away from him for an indefinite amount of time. Scary.

But we planned Filip’s trip to USA & promised to Skype regularly. I’m not going to lie, a long distance relationship is in no way fun. You miss each other a lot & you miss the little things, things like holding someone’s hand, watching movies together or going out to eat. But then again that’s just the price you pay for this lifestyle. However, Skype & daily message updates are the key to staying in tact. It made me feel like we were still on the same page. 

And after over 4 months of Skype & daily messages, Christmas finally came, Filip came to visit me in America.

fifiandme

(4 months & 1 week apart will make you appreciate your boyfriend 100x more)

I think one of the best things about Filip’s visit was the huge sigh of relief that came along with him: nothing had changed. We were still best friends, laughing at weird Youtube videos, trying strange food combinations & completely crazy about each other like we were in Prague. Our relationship had survived the test of distance & time; now I felt like we were even closer. 

During Filip’s 3 week visit (thank YOU, CZ for your long paid vaycays!) I made sure we stayed busy. Shopping, parties, pumpkin carving, a mock Thanksgiving dinner, & trips to Boston, New York & my beloved college, Roger Williams. We even went trick-or-treating on Halloween in costume since he had never done it before! As Mama G would say, Filip certainly had some F-U-N! And you know what, dear readers? It was about damn time that I did too.

This summer (after returning back home from a summer working with the MEPIs & Japanese girls) was not really the most ideal situation. But when Filip came to visit I was able to laugh harder than I had in forever & it felt great. It really was like I was complete again. It was a nice change of pace.

It was sad to see him go, but I plan on visiting him in Prague next February. It will be our 1 year anniversary! And this time at the airport when we said goodbye, something was different. There were no tears or feelings of uncertainty, it felt like we knew exactly where we stood & these next months apart would be much easier than last time.

Plus, little did I know, my usually awful (& in the past months straight up terrible) luck was about to do a complete 180.

ef

(This building officially opened like LAST WEEK)

Since before my dog bite I had been desperately & quite aggressively trying to find a job. Unfortunately I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do. I liked helping people, I was quite good at talking to people…& oh ya, here’s the kicker, I wanted to travel for free. I started my attack plan with colleges first, thinking working on a cute, well-manicured campus like Rog would prevent me from wanting to kill myself every day. I applied to every school in New England basically & got nothing. I decided to think more outside the box…& it hit me. I remembered while working with the Japanese girls my awesome supervisor, Christine, had praised my skills & said I would do wonderful at a tour company. I took the idea & ran with it.

Well, ran as far as you can with a heavy limp because this was around the time I was attacked by that stupid dog. The bad part was that I was basically immobile for almost a month, not even being able to attend an interview had I scheduled one. The good news was that all this free time allowed me to dig into Christine’s broad suggestion of ‘tour company’. I scoured the internet & eventually stumbled across EF Tours.

The name sounded familiar, then I realized it was the company I had traveled with my very first time abroad to Paris & London in high school! The trip that inspired me to study abroad in college, which gave me the courage to move to Prague. Through a series of ripple effect events this company had basically changed my life. My passion for travel was discovered on my trip with EF Tours.

sillycaro

(This stoic moment in France brought to you by EF Tours)

This was cool! But I mean that was like almost 7 years ago! Surely, EF is some boring little company with cubicles & draining customer service telephone jobs right? Wrong, wrong, WRONG. EF Tours is this huge awesome Swedish company with 5 international headquarters, one of them just happening to be in Boston! Oh my God, is this a sign? Destiny? It must be because for your first year of work you get THREE WEEKS of paid vacation & FOUR for the second year (take THAT, Czech Republic!). More than that the Boston office is that awesome building in the photo above that was designed to have breath-taking panoramic views of the city, sits right at the majestic Charles River & was just built like a month ago! I actually trembled browsing the website–I belonged at EF.

I ended up applying to two positions & heard back from both, however, interviews were delayed due to my immobility issue. As the weeks went by I found myself making it to the first, then second, then third round for an extremely competitive sales position at the company. When Filip was here I made sure to always keep my phone near, jumping every time I received an e-mail, cursing every time it was a Groupon promo. After 3 whole days after the company said they would contact me with their final decision I mustered up every ounce of courage & called them. The phone call was about 2 minutes long & by the end Filip saw me at my worst again because I was sobbing in the fetal position. It wasn’t fair. I was crushed.

Crushed for an entire day, then I got angry, then I got motivated. I applied to three other jobs with travel agencies trying to shake off the immense sense of hurt I felt.

stonehill

(Stonehill: I am forever haunted by ‘what could have been’)

Sidenote: so not sure if you have noticed by reading my posts, but I can get pretty dramatic at times (I mean I DID do plays all through high school…). I also love a good metaphor & some personification. A prime example of this would be my college search. After almost a year of hunting, I applied to 5 different schools but all that mattered were the top 2, Stonehill College & Roger Williams University. Now, from my posts you may think I was a die hard RWU Hawk from day 1, but that’s not true. Nope, fall semester senior year I was 100% infatuated with Stonehill. I was obsessed with the school. I stalked the website, forced my mom to take me to 2 open houses, I even shadowed a class. I loved that school. So much that I opted for the ‘Early Action’ application option which meant applying to the school earlier than required in order to find out if I was accepted earlier than others.

I did the same thing for my RWU application because I loved that school as well, but not as much as I loved Stonehill. I can remember waiting every day for that letter. Running to my mailbox like a mad woman. Finally, it came, & the envelope was tiny. Inside my worst fears were realized. I was ‘deferred’ which meant I was not accepted with the first group so my application was put with the rest & I would have to wait until spring to find out if I was accepted.

To anyone else this would have been sucky but not completely awful–but not to me. It was over. This was personal. A few days later I received not just a giant envelope but a personal phone call from RWU accepting me into their university. & My mind was made up. Stonehill, if you didn’t want me now, then I don’t want you ever. (Stonehill did eventually try to ‘win me back’ by calling me up with a bouquet of apology flowers in the form of a theatre scholarship/scouting opportunity when they accepted me in April…too late, I was already Rog’s girl!)

rog

(In the end, Rog was obviously the right choice)

My point with this tangent? I take things like rejection quite personal. If you don’t want me, I don’t want you & I will never want you & we’re done! So, EF, sorry, but we’re THROUGH.

But then I realized I was 23-years-old & this was a company that was just trying to run a business, not some guy who lead me on. Plus, I really did want EF. So bad. So, I got back on that horse. I went right back on the ‘careers’ section of the website & started from square one. Why? Because I knew I belonged there & I was not going to give up or let something like pride get in the way. I applied to one more position while holding my breath.

Fast-forward to the next week & Filip is getting ready to leave but I can’t be completely sad because I’m too busy being excited about the travel agency company that is rapidly on the fast track to hiring me. Within a few days I had completed a phone interview & online business test, by the time they’re background checking me, I know things look good. Then, out of the blue, fate steps in: EF wants an in-person interview…the same day as my final in-store-assessment interview with the travel company! Taaaalk about adrenalin!

I walked in to two buildings on Monday & was then somehow miraculously offered two of my dream jobs on Tuesday. And you know exactly which one I accepted. I did more than get back on the horse after I fell off. I knocked on every single door I could, & then, when one was opened only to be slammed in my face–I broke that mother f**ker down. 

EF-Tours

It is a strange, strange thing looking at your life through hindsight. To look back & try to remember the pain of the setbacks, the sting of countless defeat, the endless waiting for something to finally happen. And then suddenly, that day comes & you are on the top again.

4 months & 1 day has shrunk down to nothing…only for it to start a new countdown all over again until the next big reunion. And waiting at the top of that damn roller coaster for as long as I did seems like nothing, because now I am finally moving & the ride as the newest regional manager for EF High School Exchange Year has finally begun.

JG 🙂

American Outcast

2 Aug

Yesterday was a bittersweet day. It was the one year anniversary (Prague-iversarry) of the day I moved to Prague. And while a few of my fellow TEFL classmates celebrated this day cheers-ing pivo in Old Town, & a few spent the day looking back on the time they resided in Europe instead of China/Turkey/UAE, I spent it right here in the good old USA.

I spent it reflecting & saying things like ‘On this day one year ago I left’, instead of ‘Wow, I have lived here for a year’. & I don’t like that. 

I have currently been back in the USA for almost 2 months. And while I have watched other friends gracefully transition back into this lifestyle, with their new city apartments & impressive jobs, I just can’t. 

I am well aware I am going through what is called ‘reverse culture shock’. When you travel/move somewhere foreign, you feel first excitement, then sadness/frustration, then eventually content when adaptation comes full circle. And the same pattern happens when you return back to your homeland. In theory. 

Well, if we’re being completely honest right now, dear readers I should have never moved back home. I should have spent 2 weeks visiting family & friends, living on that initial excitement stage & then headed right back to Prague. Because Prague & I, while we suffered through some rough times, were finally beginning to establish that sense of content. My acculturation was well on it’s way.

But then I moved.

& Now it’s too late. Now I’m trapped. Trapped in this sad/angry stage because my time abroad changed me, so much in fact that I realized I do not want to live the American lifestyle right now. So I am fighting so hard against my reverse culture shock hoping that I never reach the final stage where I am more concerned with a Wifi signal than current world events.

This new attitude doesn’t always sit well with others & I have watched again & again how uncomfortable they become around me when I start to bring up things that matter.

Were you always like this?

Or was it just always easier to debate whether Kim Kardashian’s ass was real or not instead of the current situation in Gaza?

I guess our American society just plays it out that way.

Coming from countries where discussing political events ranged from chatting about the flaws of Australia’s Prime Minister over wine, to heatedly explaining the crumbling American school system in bars, to being forced to defend my ‘Americaness’ in front of a firing squad of questions–I experienced it all abroad.

I can remember when I studied in Paris & went out with these guys who mocked American’s shameful geographical knowledge of the rest of the world. I defended & defended, taking offense to the conversation. Then 10 minutes later they casually talked about sports & I was shocked.

“Oh, you Americans,” they said, “always so sensitive!”

& Then it hit me–I was being sensitive. They were simply doing what the French love to do, debate, & I was taking it as a personal attack. They were just making conversation, as heated as it got, but then it was on to the next topic. Yet I was still fuming.

In America, they say to never talk about politics or religion on the first date, or better yet, it any conversational setting.

Why?

usa

Is it because you might have an idea someone else doesn’t share? You may believe in something someone else doesn’t? And in the USA, the land of diversity & opportunity, apparently that just doesn’t sit well. Because what would happen if your pretty little dinner party was ruined because a conservative & a liberal started discussing Obama? Would they sit & listen to each other’s points or would someone have to storm off? 

Why can’t we just TALK?! Not yell, not insult, not ruin the entire evening, but just exchange ideas.

Personally I think we have blanketed everyone so much with ‘acceptance’ ‘political correctness’ that we cover up the fact that deep down we don’t accept each other at all. Instead actors go on homophobic rants & CEOs fling racial slurs & everyone is so shocked. 

There is no medium.

We are so busy trying not to ‘offend’ anyone, because God forbid my opinion should differ from yours! & If it does, then what? We can’t be friends? I automatically hate you forever?

Please do not sell the idea of ‘diversity’ if you will not allow it, or if you cannot handle it. Diversity & a difference of perspective is a good thing. It’s productive! Talking (& actually listening) to someone who has opinions so different from your own forces you to challenge your own beliefs.

Maybe you will even see something in a different light, who knows!

But this will never happen until we learn how to actually debate like the educated, open-minded individuals we are.

Since I have been home I have time & time again tried to debate ideas ranging from gun control, to immigration, to woman’s rights, to Ukraine, to Gaza & I have come across mostly 3 types of people:

1) ‘MERICA, F**K YEAH

“America is the greatest country in the world, everyone wants to be like us because we are the best & most powerful country. You don’t like it here? Get out. We have so many freedoms no where else has! For saying those things about our government (your First Amendment Constitutional right!) you could be killed in some places! [Goes on to regurgitate facts from one news source]”

These people are patriotic to the point of being in dangerously ignorant denial. I am not being anti-American, I am just challenging the system. They are closed off to believing there is a more effective solution than one the USA has adopted. They also don’t understand the idea that media is biased & instead just quote one source. 

I feel like these people think that there is only a spectrum of America on one end & repressed corrupt countries are on the other end. No medium exists. & Nothing higher than America exists. Um, hi have you ever heard of the life quality in Sweden?!

twinkie

(Above: Priorities.) 

2) F**K AMERICA

“I hate this stupid country. I hate the government. I hate the rich, they cause all my problems. I hate the poor, they cause all my problems. I hate my life here. Everything is so corrupt & unfair here. I hate the media, it is brainwashing us. Other countries are so much better than America.”

The complete opposite of type 1, these people have a more anarchist leaning than anything. They see the problems in America & notice the corruption & damage within our countries. They are completely against the government & all it stands for. But to this I ask: WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?! They whine about things but still continue the problem. Worried about pollution? Become more eco-friendly! Worried about your child’s health? Stop feeding them processed food! Concerned about international wars? STOP BUYING PRODUCTS THAT PROVIDE WEAPONS TO THE ENEMY!

These people are all talk & no walk. If you really care so deeply about an issue, educate yourself & see what you can personally do to prevent it!

3) WHY THE F**K ARE YOU ASKING ME THIS?

“Well, I don’t know, I mean there’s two sides to every story. & You don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes. Both sides are at fault, really. Can we change the subject, now?”

These people infuriate me the most. They have NO OPINION AT ALL. Or just choose not to voice it. Instead they remain neutral & polite. They play devil’s advocate in a half-hearted way that is just sickening. Silence is acceptance! 

Sadly, I feel like most Americans are type 3. They are the ones who just want their dinner parties to run smoothly & not rustle any feathers. They don’t feel the need to question elected officials or media because they just don’t care enough. & In a society with as many freedoms as ours, it becomes a dangerous situation when the general public doesn’t care enough to challenge (or even EDUCATE themselves) about the powers who govern them. That sounds like a recipe for corruption.

news

(Above: Uh oh! Hard news!)

This is what I’m currently dealing with here. I feel like all of this worldly knowledge & perspective I gained from traveling is slowly slipping away. So I am fighting to keep it. & To also, educate others. However, not everyone wants to hear these things.

Because all I keep hearing is a disturbing us vs. them mantra.

“We could have free health care, but they abuse it!”

“We could have more maternity leave but they ruin it!”

“I work so hard to pay for them.”

“Why would they work? The government hands them everything for free!”

“We could have a better quality of life but think of the taxes!”

All I keep hearing is it’s your problem, not my problem, well isn’t it really becoming our problem? And not even in a nationalistic sense, but regarding humanity?

Global warming, poverty, racism, mass shootings, immigration, & even those starving children in Africa who cause us to quickly change the channel is everyone’s problem. How long can you turn a blind eye before your completely forget you have a heart?

I may seem anti-American, radical or crazy for talking like this. I certainly feel like an outcast at times when I voice my opinions. Hell, I may even be on some sort of government watch list just for writing this post.

But until I am able to travel again & gain more perspective, I will continue to be the voice for those who are either to afraid to use theirs or have none at all. I will continue to talk about the things that truly matter while my society is shushing me with celebrity baby news.

And if you don’t like, please stop reading my blog.

Wake up, it is time to get out of our bubble of comfort, time to question things that just don’t sit right, time to tackle the injustice we see going on everyday.

Sorry, USA, but I am calling you out.

-JG