Tag Archives: travel

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 ❤

 

 

Learning To Be Alone

24 Apr

Hello, dear readers!

Well, believe it or not, I have just come back from yet ANOTHER awesome trip! This time to the Netherlands to visit my friend, the infamous Gillian, then off to Denmark for some solo travel. I just wanted it to be simple & relaxing, which it totally was!

However, upon announcing this trip I was faced with the same questions I always get when I travel alone: Why are you going by yourself? Won’t you be lonely? Don’t you want to share this with somebody else?

And I can completely understand where these questions are coming from because I, myself, used to ask them. 

While studying abroad I would meet people in hostels who had been traveling alone for MONTHS & it blew my mind! I asked them the same line of questions & their answers made no sense to me.

It wasn’t until I was literally forced to partake in solo travel that I learned just how incredible it can be.

(Statue selfie during my first solo travel trip to Vienna!)

I was living in Prague & applying for my Czech working visa. In order to get the visa I had to travel to the Czech embassy in another country. The company scheduling the appointment let me know that my appointment was in Vienna, Austria for the following Wednesday at 9:00am.

Since it was a work day & very last minute, none of my friends would be able to join me. I panicked. Would I get lost?! Would I be safe?! Not to mention Mama G was freaking out.

It was then that I realized I would just have to plan, prepare & book the ticket!

The travel & navigation went off without a hitch, my hostel was cute & the appointment went well. Afterwards I had a few hours to explore before my bus back to Prague, so I decided to venture to Schonbrunn Palace.

I spent the next couple hours walking around the palace’s massive gardens alone in a state of awe. It was almost meditative. And I realized how relaxed I was on my own exploring a new place. I wasn’t scared & I definitely wasn’t lonely. It was at that moment that I was completely sold on the idea of solo travel!

(Having a stranger take a photo of me in the “I” from the “IAmsterdam” sign!)

It’s not surprising that I would enjoy solo travel because I have always thought of myself as an extremely extroverted introvert. I equally enjoy the company of others & being alone. It’s a balance & something I have learned to grow into.

And I think we all kinda are.

When you are young you value quantity. The more friends you have, the better. Popularity can only be calculated in numbers & the larger your friend group is, the more people sitting at your lunch table, or asking you to hang out, the more you feel valued.

But as you grow you learn to instead appreciate quality. 

Your friend circle may decrease a bit when you realize who actually has your back. And suddenly the number doesn’t have to be so high.

It’s the same with romantic relationships.You eventually realize that a quality relationship is the most important type of relationship.

This is part of maturing & learning to be more comfortable in your own skin–which is exactly what solo travel helps one do as well!

Because the more I travel alone, the more I realize how much I enjoy it. Of course I like adventuring with loved ones, but seeing a city on your own is something that is so liberating.

Not only do you have absolute freedom to plan your own itinerary, but you can literally be anyone you want to be. You can be a social butterfly making as many new friends as possible or you can be a pensive loner, opting instead to venture to landmarks by yourself.

Plus, in a way, solo travel can sometimes put extroverts completely out of their comfort zone.

Instead of having long conversations with others, or relying on someone else to plan activities…you are forced to experience things all on your own. You also have time to reflect on any emotions or things you have mentally been running from; it’s quite therapeutic!

(Solo travel in Budapest allowed me to meet so many cool new friends!)

On my solo trip to the Netherlands & Denmark I did so many things alone that I would be too afraid to do alone here in the U.S. Like go to a restaurant alone, go to a park alone, even go to an amusement park alone!

And guess what? I still had so much fun even though I was by myself.

I wondered why don’t I ever do things like this alone at home? Because I’m worried about being judged by others, or concerned about looking like I have no friends?

That’s so dumb. 

So I have been actively trying to do more things on my own, & not just when I’m on vacation.

I, of course, am always down to do things with friends. But for too long I have avoided activities, events, parties, opportunities simply because I didn’t have a companion to accompany me. 

And I missed out on SO much!

So now I have no problem buying one museum ticket, one concert ticket, or one theater ticket. And you know what, dear readers? I don’t just use the protective shield of my phone to make it look like I was blown off, but I am actually enjoying the experience. 

There was a specific moment on my trip where I realized just how important this lesson was.

It was my last day of vacation & I decided to go to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen a.k.a. the 2nd oldest amusement park IN THE WORLD. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

I originally planned to just walk around the park, but decided at the last moment to buy an unlimited rider pass for the attractions. It was a bit awkward at first, being alone surrounded by children & families.

But I love amusement park rides & I hate missing out so I rode every single ride. I laughed until I had tears in my eyes & smiled until my face hurt.

I got to cut all the lines since I was a single rider & even sat in the front row of the park’s insane roller coaster! Of course it would have been nice to share the experience with someone else, but I didn’t HAVE anyone else so I just went for it!

(Single rider selfie in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen!)

Solo travel has taught me so much about myself & all that I’m capable of. It has helped me become more introspective & so self aware. And you know what, dear readers? I realized just how truly independent I am. And this lesson transcends more than traveling, it actually says a lot about my relationships with others.

For example: I have officially been single for a while & it used to be hard. I was lonely & craving human companionship. I went back to my grade-school “quantity” fixated self instead of caring about quality. The result was a few people who just weren’t good matches that I was using to fill a void.

Now I have become much more content with my single self & trust that things will work out how they’re supposed to.

And you know what? I don’t even feel “alone” because I’m really not. I am surrounded by so much beauty in the form of loved ones, a fantastic job & new adventures that are always on the horizon! And I am happy with that. 

(The elderly couple who took this photo told me I was so “brave”, I told them I just wanted to see Copenhagen!)

They say you must learn to love yourself before you can love others & I truly believe this. I also think you don’t need to be dependent on someone else for your own happiness. So consider this: how many wonderful things have you missed out on or postponed because of others?

How many times have you said “maybe next year”, “maybe someday”, “maybe when I find someone”?

Do yourself a favor & don’t let that happen anymore.

Stop waiting for your friends to save up to join you on a trip, & stop waiting to find a significant other to take all these dream vacations with. Because “maybe next year” could go on for a long time & soon, before you know it, you’ll be looking back on a life full of regrets.

If you learn to be comfortable with the idea of being alone & solo travel, I promise that life will gift you with so many new friends, memories & adventures waiting around every corner.

You just have to be willing to book that ticket.

JG 🙂

 

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 🙂

 

 

 

The Other Side of The World

8 Mar

Whew. Sorry it took me so long to update you on my life, dear readers! I have been so busy traveling the world & then attempting to regroup from the jet lag from said travels! But now I think I’m finally back to normal, enough to tell you about some bucket list milestones I recently crushed including:

-Drink out of a fresh coconut

-Take a Japanese bullet train

-Visit a monk in a Buddhist temple

and…

TRAVEL TO ASIA!

If you know me/have been following my blog for a while you know that traveling is definitely my true passion & it seems like I do it a heck of a lot. Well, you’re certainly not wrong, but one thing to note is where I travel–to all the SAME places!!!

I definitely have my “favorite cities”, which I cannot get enough of. So I keep going back whenever I get the chance. I mean I’ve been to Florence 3 times, Prague 2 times after living there for a year & Paris a whopping FIVE TIMES.

It was time to venture some place new!

Also remember how I vowed to treat one person to “a special vacation” every year? Well this seemed like the perfect chance. But who to take?

If you recall, my last trip was with my Mom. She is truly my best friend & really helped me the most through my dog bite fiasco. We longingly planned adventures while I laid in a hospital bed & hoped maybe one day they’d come true.

Then they did.

Last October we took a girls trip to Dubrovnik, Prague, Paris & Florence! And it was the best. I lead, she followed. I spoke the languages, held the money, organized the tickets, passports, keys & directions…and she had one hell of a time!

And it was a success! So successful that I was pinching myself. No pick-pockets, no scams, no disasters, & no sickness (well, I stuck it out until the very last night!). It was pleasant too because, besides Croatia, I already knew all the places we traveled to so well. 

I was comfortable & familiar. 

However, as much as I absolutely LOVE Europe, I knew the day was coming: the day when my wanderlust would force me to wander into the unknown aka: anywhere but Europe, or in this case–Asia.

Ever since I was young, I have always been fascinated by Asian culture. Mulan was my favorite movie growing up, I learned to use chopsticks at a young age & a few of my exes even have Asian roots.

My desire to travel there grew the more I made wonderful friends hailing from this vast continent, specifically a group of Japanese girls that I worked with at my university during Summer 2014.

Once their program was over, the girls begged me to someday come visit them in Japan.

Little did I know that fate would step in & allow that to happen much sooner than expected.

(Summer 2014 with my girls <3)

So yes, I knew that my next trip HAD to be to Asia & I was freaking out. When would I go? Where would I go? Who would I go with?!

Not sure which of my friends would be adventurous enough, let along who could even get the vacation time, I considered my yearly travel rule. Who was next on the Jessi Dream Vacation List?

And then the answer was clear. Who else but the youngest 70-something I know. The person who not only helped me through all my lowest lows, but has always been my super hero…

My Grampy.

It all made sense. He was energetic, adventurous, & had told me Hong Kong was the top of his bucket list! Oh, & one thing you should know about Grampy is he has endless energy & positivity. He may be 78-years-old, but he still does backflips into the pool & loves a good dessert. He is the epitome of a kid at heart. 

Plus he could really use a vacation from Grammy sometimes.

So I planned & planned & then it was settled: I was officially taking my 78-year-old Grandfather on a 12 day backpacking trip through Thailand, Hong Kong & Japan!

Grampy was ecstatic once I broke the news & fully packed long before the trip.

Piece of cake.

Only not at all because I was so anxious. 

So anxious that I was freaking out a bit. I was venturing to 3 countries I have no familiarity with, on the longest flight of my life, eating exotic spicy food with most sensitive stomach & babysitting the most novice traveler 24/7.

See what I mean?

But I just did what I did best: prepared. I screenshotted directions, learned useful phrases, printed out tickets, wrote emergency contacts, organized folders & finally took a deep breath. Soon the day came & there was no turning back!

The next 12 days were just purely awesome…& I’m glad I allowed myself to realize that. 

Some takeaway things I learned on this trip based on my experiences:

1. I have never felt so safe. 

I mean this on a few different levels. First off: the crime rates in the countries we traveled to were insanely low & that was noticeable. In the U.S. you have to watch your back, in Europe you have to watch your belongings, but in Asia I felt at ease.

No one tried to approach us to scam us, no one tried to grab me (in a sexually harassing way), no one even stared at us due to our physical differences. Even in the suffocating crowded yet eerily silent Tokyo metro, no one batted an eyelash when we spoke English. And it was pretty nice. I was glad to not be on alert 24/7 like I usually am while traveling.

The cherry on top of this experience was when we were waiting for a ferry in Hong Kong & a Chinese man made conversation with us. My Grampy asked him if he had even been to the U.S. & he said:

“I was going to go 10 years ago but didn’t get to. I probably should have because now it is too dangerous there, it was much safer back then.”

The LOOK on Grampy’s face. Mic drop. Perspective.

2. We are ALL the same! 

While Grampy & I met many wonderful strangers in Bangkok & Hong Kong, the real highlight of our trip was venturing around Tokyo.

We ended up meeting up with those same Japanese girls I had taught a few years ago & it was awesome. Because originally when we met I was teaching them English & showing them around a small Rhode Island town, now here we were two years later & they’re showing me around this massive city speaking their language for me.

A very special travel moment indeed. 

They could have just met us for lunch, but no, these girls were A+ tour guides. They showed us landmarks, ordered us food, took us to traditional Shabu-Shabu dinner, sang karaoke with us for 3 hours & then gifted us with Japanese goodies!

Talk about some good friends!

The best was spending one of our last days on the trip in their home town Shizuoka, which is 3 hours south of Tokyo & near the famous Mount Fuji!

Girls, I can never thank you enough. My Grampy & I had the best time in Japan because of your kindness, you are truly my sisters for life ❤

3. Follow your instincts 

One of my biggest fears going into this trip was the unknown. I was afraid of getting lost, using unfamiliar money, metros, languages, hell even bathrooms. I was nervous about standing out so much & had absolutely no clue what to expect.

But then we landed in the sweltering Bangkok airport a 10pm…& I directed the taxi driver to our bed & breakfast with the directions I’d printed out. & Then I navigated not only the Hong Kong ferry system but also the metro, which, after 4 separate transfers took us to Lantau Island & the beautiful village of Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha. And then, on our final day of the trip I figured out the Tokyo subway system, during rush hour to get to the MASSIVE Otematchi underground station & then find our shuttle bus to the airport just in time.

The funny thing about this trip is I realized it didn’t matter that I’d never been there before, because I already had all the skills I needed to find the way. 

My sense of direction, my judge of character, my intuition are all tools that I use whether I’m in Boston or Bangkok. They’re survival skills that all true travelers rely on wherever they go.

And if something goes wrong that’s okay too. 

If you don’t understand–ask. If you don’t know what to do–observe others. If you realize you’re headed the wrong way simply turn around. Don’t panic, don’t freak out, just take a deep breath & continue on, you are on vacation afterall, remember? 

So thus, our trip was a HUGE success! It went better than I could have ever hoped & Grampy had such a good time.

He drank all the mango juice in Thailand & laughed on the back of the tuk-tuks. He stared in awe at the massive Buddha on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island & slept like a baby in our luxury hotel (my one splurge!) overlooking Kowloon Bay. & He sang his heart out during karaoke & he lovingly told everyone in Tokyo that the 5 Japanese girls following him around were his grand-daughters.

(Admiring the wats/Buddhist temples in Bangkok)

(The world’s best Pina Colada in Thailand)

(Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong)

(Ngong Ping Village & the Big Buddha) 

(The Tokyo Tower)

(Singing some karaoke in Japan with the girls.)

So there you have it, dear readers! Another amazing vacation spent with some truly wonderful people. I will definitely be back, Asia!

In the meantime, stay tuned for my next adventure!

JG 🙂

 

Resolutions.

23 Jan

So, dear readers, the last you heard from me I was bracing for life as a 25-year-old. Now it has been almost one month & let me say, not a whole lot has changed (except I can’t believe I’m saying that number when anyone asks me how old I am)!

What has changed for now though, is a few parts of my lifestyle.

Backing up a bit, 2016 will mark my fourth year of writing in the Czech It Out Blog! To sum it up: You have watched me graduate from college, prepare to move to Prague for a year, move there, freak out, find a job, find the BEST friends, hate my job, fall in love, quit my job, come home, sink into a depression, find my dream job, break up, climb out of the depression, get political, then travel back to Prague & beyond!

Haven’t we grown so much together? I know I have–I mean my writing is proof of that. I went into this blog thinking I would just write some fun wanderlust-inspiring posts for friends back home. Little did I know that this blog would soon become a vault for writing done during the most prominent metamorphosis of my life. 

Honestly! I have a new friend who has begun reading from the beginning of Czech It Out & is a little shocked at how different of a person I am NOW compared to who I was in June 2013 when I published my first post!

And then there are you, my dear readers. You are the family, friends, acquaintances & strangers who have been tuning in from the beginning. Thank you again for your constant support!

And you know how I look at the beginning of each new year; how I structure my ‘resolution’. You know I don’t believe in giving something up or adding something new, but instead ask: what do I want to get out of this year? 

Some of the past few years were very successful:

2013: I Want To Find Adventure- I moved to Prague alone in July 2013, just two months after my college graduation. I had no friends, no job & couldn’t speak the language!

2014: I Want To Find Love- I met Filip in January who was one of my greatest love stories to date. Later that year in September I realized just how loved I truly was while healing from my dog bite.

2015: I Want To Find Success- Towards the end of 2014 I got my dream job working at EF with exchange students. The following year (after a ton of hard work) I received a pay raise & two mini promotions & now feel more successful & content than ever.

So you’re noticing there is kind of a theme with my resolutions–they are not very black & white. True to my poetic soul, each year I give myself a resolution that can be interpreted many different ways.

I determine what I want & need based on my current state going into the year, what am I craving the most & a goal I hope to achieve? After a little deliberation about what my current values are, I have decided…

2016: I Want To Find Health For The Mindy, Body & Soul 

Once again, this is not as black & white as “go to the gym more” or “cut out sweets”. This resolution will probably be the most challenging of all, because where my previous resolutions where 1 part me & 1 part fate this one is all me. I have to work very hard to achieve these goals myself.

Plus this goal is the most personal of all, let me break it down for you…

1. Mind. Stay away from toxic thoughts (anger, jealousy, revenge, etc.) both towards others & self.

This one is a lot harder than you’d think. I may have the occasional ill-will towards others, however, I have always been the type of person who avoids those that I do not like. I don’t give them the time of day.

However, one thing I have been struggling with my whole life are the horrible thoughts I have towards myself. Whether this is socialization or society or a toxic combination of both, I truly can be my own worst enemy.

And I never realized just how bad it was until last year.

Shortly after my dog bite fiasco in August 2014, I began visiting a wonderful therapist named Dorothy. She was patient, understanding, & honest. She made me feel comfortable confiding in things I have never told anyone before. 

We would discuss the thoughts & issues I had & then construct how we could improve them. This was really helpful for me to overcoming the depression after my dog bite, however, we soon had to confront the terrible elephant in the room: my crippling body image.

This was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I wasn’t just ripping off flimsy band-aids from lifelong cuts, I was digging through the hard shell I had acquired in Prague then ripping off the band-aid to expose my deepest & darkest wounds.

There were times when our conversations helped me overcome huge obstacles & there were times when we couldn’t even continue the session because I was so upset. But these talks were something 24-year-old Jessi needed, they were something 14-year-old Jessi needed & they were even something 5-year-old Jessi needed.

2016 began with insurance telling me that they would no longer cover my visits with Dorothy. And there was no way I could afford them, so it was time to say good-bye.

It was a lot harder than I expected because this woman has helped me through so much. Fighting off the demons that have always tortured me & confronting them with a new-found strength. The sad realization is the demons will always be there it’s just now I realize how much artillery I have to defend myself.

This is why I ask 2016 to please allow my to continue to strengthen my mind.

2. Body. Respect & thank your body for all it has helped you through. Do not poison it or maim it, instead focus on how to nourish & replenish it. In return it will continue to function properly.

During my time with Dorothy she would have me complete several writing exercises where I was forced to divulge all my insecurities of my body, but also realize all it can accomplish. 

The sheer idea of it being able to recover completely from such a horrific injury is pretty incredible. As is its ability to help me get through so many early morning gym workouts & then extreme physical activities like caving in Budapest & climbing to the top of one of the New Hampshire White Mountains!

Bodies can do some pretty cool stuff when you get past all your hang ups about their exterior design ! 

However, this got me thinking what have I done for my body lately?  Not a whole lot except critique it, shame it & fill it with a whole lot of things that are not too good for it.

Besides having a very sensitive stomach & a bit of scoliosis, my body was considered quite healthy. All limbs work, white blood cells respond promptly to illness & all my vitals are perfect. So why was I basically poisoning it with processed food, alcohol & trans fat?

It is time to make a change.

A few months ago, I went on a medication that didn’t allow me to drink alcohol. I followed this stringently & was pretty surprised to realize how easy it was. 

That is why I have now decided to give up drinking alcohol altogether.

Not to make a big deal about it or shame you for drinking it, but because all that sugar isn’t good for me, my hangovers in the past year were unbearable & alcohol lead me to a few scenarios where I put my body into even more harm.

No more.

Another change will have to be diet. But not your typical fad diet, one that is just simply logical. I know when I am eating/drinking something that does not properly nourish my body. I know when I am consuming chemicals & preservatives that will make my stomach hurt later. So I am simply trying to do that less & less. 

3. Soul. Live an existence that is genuine & true to yourself. Bring good energy into your life with positivity & avoid spreading or encountering negativity. Live a life that makes you proud to be you!

This sounds like the most abstract one of all, but it’s really quite simple: just be a good person! 

Believe that by spreading good karma to others, you will also receive it yourself. Little kind gestures go a long way & negativity can physically make you sick. Know the difference & avoid situations, habits, or people that are no longer making a positive impact.

I began this post by highlighting just how much I feel I have changed as a person since I started this blog almost 4 years ago; however, I believe that these changes were catalyzed by an abrupt change of surroundings.

I had no choice but to change who I was as it was a direct adaptation of my new environment. 

However, I never want to stop changing. I want to keep meeting new people, keep gaining new perspectives & keep challenging my mindset to stretch & mold to new ways of thinking.

And dear readers, I think this all comes back to my passion: travel.

Travel will put me in these soul-shaping situations I have so desperately been craving.

In 2016 I will have the opportunity to travel to roughly six new international cities. 

In February I will head to Asia with my Grampy, in April I will head to The Netherlands & Scandinavia to visit Gillian & in the fall I will head with my family to Europe.

While seeing new places is exciting as a tourist, I am going to try my best to keep in mind my resolution & be open to any new global perspective or lifestyle these travels may bring. 

& You know I will be writing about it every step of the way!

Cheers to 2016 & cheers to a new year of exciting experiences! I hope you are all blessed with nothing but happiness, good health & new adventure!

JG 🙂

Quarter Life Crisis

28 Dec

Today (December 27th, 2015) is my 25th birthday.

For some reason, it’s an important number to me, one of the milestones. But not like 18 where you’re considered an ‘adult’ or 21 where you can finally legally drink (in the U.S.A.), no, turning 25 is a much different feeling.

First off, I have officially lived a quarter of a century! 

That is insane when you think about it. WHAT an accomplishment. 1/4th of my life (if I tentatively live a full ‘life’ a.k.a. 100) is already over.

Kind of sad.

A bit more scary if you consider how many people are living to be an entire century old. Not too many.

Therefore, I have even less time. 

A lot of people have mixed feelings about turning 25 years old, mostly apprehension.

Why?

Personally I think that it’s an age where you’re a full blown adult & not even you can deny it anymore. 

College has come & gone. The world of work has been (somewhat?) mastered & responsibility is in full effect.

So why is this number so scary?

Because it’s an age where society kind of really expects you to have it together by now.

…& not everyone does.

Now, dear readers, you know that I am all about forming your own path in life. I believe in chasing crazy dreams, relocating, & ignoring societal pressures.

But as much as I have tried to do that in the past 25 years, it all circled back. 

I am right where younger me envisioned myself to be at age 25: college degree, nice apartment in the city, cool job.

But the thing that I could have never predicted were the beautiful, treacherous twists & turns of life that would get me here. 

The dull plateau that would abruptly turn into a vertical ascent, with a tedious incline followed by a few painful drops…which somehow slowly turned into this content happy place.

The number 25 does not scare me, because I cannot see myself anywhere else in life right now.

I am truly where I am meant to be; which is something I have not always felt & will most definitely not always feel.

But for right now, on my 25th birthday, it’s nice.

I’ve spent a majority of these years working my butt off in school, striving for the best grades possible & now even though my classroom days are long gone–I still thrive on learning new things.

I was lucky at age 16 to discover my true passion: travel. A passion that I have turned from just a hobby into a incredibly fulfilling career. 

While they have come & gone, I have always surrounded myself with great people. Though you outgrow those who no longer contribute positively to your life–I feel like now I have a pretty tight knit crew.

Family is the #1 but my international network of friends is one of my greatest accomplishments so far. I love you guys, thank you so much for helping me through all the various stages of these 25 years.

Then there were all the ADVENTURES! 13 countries visited, schools in 3 states, 5 sports played over the course of 15 years, 6 different addresses, 3 years working on television. I have been caving, parasailing & swam with dolphins. I filmed an international commercial that’s still on French television. I have had conversations with celebrities at movie premieres. I have written a 32 page thesis about Lasik Eye Surgery (& got an A). I have lived in 3 countries. I speak (roughly) 6 languages. I have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity 3 times. The show Family Guy may or may not have parodied me in an episode. I have been to 2 European Fashion Week shows. I used to competitively horse back ride. I have a blog that officially has over 9,000 views from all around the world.

It certainly has been one HELL of a ride!

So yes, some people have a ‘quarter life crisis’ but for me, 25 is just another number. I am living the life that works best for me & I absolutely cannot wait to see what lies ahead next!

Thanks for being a part of this year, dear readers, & here’s to many more!

Cheers 🙂

JG

 

Toujours

14 Nov

I am just so in shock right now.

I am hurt, sad, angry, but most of all I am mourning. It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a terrible nightmare that an Atlantic ocean’s distance could allow me to ignore. Because I’m here in Boston, & it’s sunny & I have to start getting ready for work soon, like any other day. But I can’t pretend it didn’t happen–because it did. It’s all over the news, it’s all over the internet, it’s all over social media. And my heart keeps breaking over & over again.

Paris, I have no words, only tears for you right now.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will have noticed that I have a bit of an “obsession” with the city. Yes, while I love to speak French, own anything Eiffel Tower related & reminisce about that enchanting place–this obsession is much deeper. It’s love. Love I actually cannot describe because I have never felt it before. Love for a place, a technically inanimate object, but for me, I am always able to personify.

Love that is built around experience & atmosphere.An atmosphere that you will never be able to understand unless you’ve been there too.

(First visit: a school trip in 2007 with EF Tours, which is actually the company I currently work for!)

It’s funny, because people always have such polarized opinions about the city. They truly either love it or hate it. They either come back saying the French are rude, the streets are dirty, & they just don’t understand what all the fuss is about or they come back feeling exactly like me. 

Personally, I believe that there are only two types of people: those who love Paris & those who haven’t fallen in love with her yet. 

Like in most literature, Paris has been referred to in feminine pronouns, which is something I have always believed myself. She is undeniably beautiful, but at the same time, she has a sense of pride & sharp wit that can take some time to warm up to.

Parisians themselves, can be a bit like this. They can be “rude” or “rash” but I have always really admired them; they’re proud. They don’t suck up or kiss ass & defend themselves when they’re right. On top of this their culture is centered around so much passion. Passion for good food, passion for quality clothing, passion for fine perfumes, passion for love-making. They truly believe in quality over quantity. This is something I feel can be lost in my own culture at times. Indulgence is for the rich & presentation is not always important. In Paris, I feel that these are things that can be available to anyone. 

Of course, I only realized these things after experiencing some culture shock.

(Second ‘visit’: Spring semester 2012 I studied abroad in Paris)

I have been learning French since I was 8-years-old & after my first trip abroad to the city it was clear where I wanted to go when the time came to study abroad. People asked me, why don’t you go somewhere else? And I considered that, of course, but at the same time, in 2007, I had only gotten a mere taste of Parisian culture, I wanted more.

Paris has a funny way of seducing you like that.

Of course after a few months of the initial “honey moon stage” of culture shock wore off, we were soon at each other’s throats.
“Why doesn’t anyone smile?”

Why do people stare at me all the time/why am I the only blonde here?”

“Why do people glare at me when I speak on the metro?”

“Why do shop employees follow me around in stores?”

“Why do they just let their kids do WHATEVER they want?!”

“Why do people want to debate politics with me?! & Attack me for being American?”

“Why do men feel it’s okay to grab my butt casually on the streets?”

“Why is customer service so obviously NOT a thing here?”

“Why do the Scammers near Eiffel/Sacre Coeur always target me?”

“Does my host mom hate me?! She keeps scolding me!”

Oh yes, this love story was definitely not perfect. There were so many ups & downs & I felt a lot of disconnect. Luckily with 3 of my 5 classes being completely en Francais & my host mom speaking virtually no English, my French was rapidly improving.

*Pro tip: in Paris (& also MANY other cities) simply just attempting the language will get you a drastically different experience*

Parisians are proud, they love their language & culture, they also have to deal with being the TOP tourist destination in the world. Millions of demanding, rude, loud, dirty tourists who sometimes have no respect to their culture or language visit them in droves year round. So if someone has been rude to you on your trip to Paris, please think about what it might have been that you were doing. 

(Third visit: In 2013 there was no other place I would rather celebrate my 23rd birthday. I was living in Prague at this point)

Another great class I was taking while studying abroad was an Anthropology class that compared French & American culture. Soon class by class, each of my previously culture shock questions were slowly answered. I learned to distance myself from my American perspective & instead tried to understand things from a French viewpoint. It’s not easy to do but it certainly helps when you have an awesome host brother & friends to explain along the way.

And slowly but surely, my generalizations turned into understanding & acceptance. 

And this is truly only something that could happen after spending a significant amount of time in another country & also being actively open to walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s not easy, it’s not always comfortable, it maybe feels strange, but I promise at the end you realize just how much we all have in common.

Which is hard because Americans & Parisians are so different, maybe even opposites. Which CAN lead to miscommunication & disagreements. The best analogy I heard in my class in regards to how Americans & the French generally form relationships:

Americans: like a peach, soft & easy to confide with. Makes vague future plans (oh we should totally hang out!) & asks how you’re doing (Good! And you?), but has a hard, hard pit for a core. Very difficult to get in the inner circle of trust.

French (& a lot of other European countries I’ve noticed): like a coconut, hard shell & tough to approach at times (How’s it going? Everything is shit, piss off!). But once you get past the shell, the center is soft & not mention extremely loyal. Every time I travel, I have been amazed again & again of the hospitality of my international friends–even if they’re not my ‘best’ friends! They feed me, let me stay with them, etc. …American friends on the other hand, not exactly the same.

(Fourth visit: stopping by my old school 2 years later in 2014)

Once I got to really know Paris past all the infatuation, it truly did become a deep love. A love that was so strong that it actually began to cloud future relationships.

Upon moving to Prague, I actually really didn’t like it for the first few months. It wasn’t what I expected. Most people had no style, cuisine was so much different & a fun night out was not in some swanky cafe but in a smokey pub. & It wasn’t even Prague’s fault! It’s just that deep down I knew I felt like this because Prague wasn’t Paris. 

I even wrote a post on here “breaking up” with Paris because I felt that it was making me so miserable in Prague. It was like an unhealthy relationship with an ex that was ruining it for me with all future romances.

It sounds cute how I’m wording this but I am 100% serious. This is truly how I felt about this city. So much that when I was beyond broke living in Prague, with limited opportunities for travel, I chose to visit Paris not once but twice. I literally could NOT stay away!

It’s because I don’t just love the city & everything about it–I love who I am when I am there.

I have a level of confidence & courage that I don’t feel anywhere else. I feel comfortable with my body, my directness & sass–things that I don’t always feel at home. I feel a bit invincible.

An example of this would be while studying abroad whenever me & my friends would go out, guys would make a beeline for me (it’s the hair) & I would ask them to buy me a shot (guys don’t even really do that in France!), they would agree & then I would say Non, est pour mes filles aussi (No, & for my girls too). The guy would give me a bit of a wide eyed look, glance at my friends Meaghan & Sam & nod.

Like WHO did I even think I was?!

I am a whole other person in that city, & Paris, it’s all your fault.

(Fifth visit: It was my mom’s second time in the city, but on 10/8/2015, during our Euro Trip, I purposely made us have a 23hr layover here)

Paris has shaped me as a person, & is ingrained in my character. My room is decorated in all mementos & I have literally made a point to travel there once the past four years in a row. And every time I’m there, the feeling comes back. The nostalgia & familiarity of the streets, the beautiful phonetics of the language rolling off my tongue, the scowls & groans on a late metro, the beautiful well-dressed men walking the streets, the delicious food nourishing my palette & I feel home. 

It’s a different home than Prague, a different home then Boston & a different home than my original town of Sutton. But it is definitely a home. 

It is the toughest act to follow, the day dream that is always in my head, the city that strengthened my bond with some of my best friends. Paris is the city where I first found myself & to that I have a fierce loyalty. A loyalty that will always have me sharply defend the stereotypes & plan lengthy itineraries for anyone wishing to travel there.

There is a French word that has always resonated with me: toujours. It means “always” or “every time”. It conveys an idea of permanency; something that never changes.

It’s a difficult & scary concept for me to understand, because I feel I am always changing & have especially changed the most after being in Prague. The idea of staying in one place, making long term binding plans, makes me nervous because after you fly away once, you never want to clip your wings. I have no idea where I will be in 10 years, 5 years, even 1. And I feel foolish or trapped when I’m forced to predict such things. 

Especially with love.

I know that someday I would like to be married, but the fear of permanency makes me apprehensive. But then I realize, I already am in a permanent state of love…with Paris.

And that’s what gives me hope, I say “Paris, je t’aime toujours” (Paris, I love you always) & I know down into the core of my heart that I always will feel this way. And if I can ever hope to find someone else who I feel this type of love for–then they are the one. 

Today I mourn for those lost, those affected & those who love the city just like me. But Paris is proud & Paris is strong. Je suis une americaine, mais aujourd’hui je suis une parisienne. Nous sommes tous parisians.

& I will never stop thinking of you ❤

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 🙂

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 🙂