11.06.2009 10 °C
I left Europe a few days ago, taking a metro, 3 flights, a taxi, and a ferry, all totaling 31 hours of travel. It still hasn't set in that I really left, or better, that I won't have to look up hostels, worry about getting a map of a new city, or finding a decent grocery store for dinner stuff. It feels like I'll wake up and walk out the door and I'll be back in Madrid! Europe has been my whole life for the last 4 months, and now it's over! Like the end of an era. I can't wait to stay put for a while and be around my friends and family again, but I'll definitely miss backpacking. Won't miss living out of a pack though! I was actually parted from it for 2 days; United forgot to put in on my plane in Chicago, and then my pack missed it's next flight to YVR, so they had to put it on a later one. I was like, um, no, my pack didn't miss the flight, you guys forgot to put it on! My pack does no have a brain, or legs lol. Anyways, I've got it back now, and it's already sitting in my garage empty. It was actually a blessing in disguise though, because I didn't have to carry it onto the ferry!
My last few days of real life have hugely sucked. My car needs a new alternator, and I was stuck at home yesterday because it wouldn't start. Luckily, dad got a used one for cheap, so problem's solved already. Also, getting work isn't going quite as simply as I thought it would, but I'm hoping to hear back from a branch in Nanaimo in a few days. My friends are coming over from school today and tomorrow, so hopefully the weekend brightens up a bit! Oh, did I mention I went from 26 in Madrid to cold and rainy in Parksville?
So I read a blog before I left that outlined the highs and lows, the goods and bads at the end of it, so I figured it would be the best way to end. Hey, if it helps one person out with their trip then I've done what I meant to do with this blog! Here goes:
Best Hostel: Room Hostel, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Every room had a separate theme, all were clean and comfortable, good directions, super friendly staff, good kitchen, good location, free internet, and they had a great breakfast including vegan nutella! Perfect! Close seconds: Bulmers, Interlaken; Rituals, Lisbon; and all of the St. Christopher's Hostels, minus the fact that they have no kitchen.
Worst Hostel: This is a clear winner: Boomerang in Antwerp, Belgium. First off, the owner wanted to be conspicuous, so there was no sign on the door (and bad directions), then, it's six flights up the stairs with a heavy pack on, a horrible smell constantly, the owners sit and smoke in the common room all day, the kitchen was DISGUSTING, and everyone in my room got bed bug bites. I still have the scars. Enough said!
Best Directions: Rituals Hostel, Lisbon, Portugal. As well as giving directions on Hostelworld, they send out a personal e-mail welcoming you, including an aerial-view map with dots leading you from the metro station to the hostel.
Worst Directions: Center Hostel, Prague. The directions seemed good online, but once you got into the city, they were completely wrong. For example, they said, “Go down street A and turn left onto street B,” when street A and B were completely separate from each other! You had to go down street C and D before you got to B! I had to call the non-English speaking owner from 2 different stores, and then finally have a cop escort me there. And I didn't even end up staying after that!
Favorite Country: I always go back to saying Ireland. It was beautiful, friendly and fun. Easy to get around, and lots to see and do. Oh, and the cute Irish boys with their accents help too! The perfect place to start my trip, and I'll definitely be back.
Best Toilets: Galway, Ireland. Any club there had beautiful toilets, including hair straighteners for 1 euro. That'll do it for me!
Worst Toilets: Heraklion, Greece. You had to walk down these dodgy steps, pass the old woman who wants your change, and then you're greeted by no toilet paper, hand dryers, paper towel, or toilet seats. Dirty!
Best Public Transport: Madrid, Spain. Even though we had a horrible taxi ride, the metro takes you anywhere and everywhere, even to the airport. And, it's all colour coordinated, and every line has maps of all the other lines on it too. Only saw that in Madrid!
Worst Public Transport: Antwerp, Belgium! The metro/tram system is so confusing, it must take the locals years to learn it!
Best Tour: This one's a three-way-tie: I loved the Cliffs of Moher tour in Galway, the Giant's Causeway tour in Belfast, and the volcano/Oia sunset tour in Santorini. They were all terrific, completely worth the money, and all fun!
Worst Tour: Our walking tour of Luzern, Switzerland. The lady was nice enough, even if she thought she was a little too good and funny, but the tour was done in English and German at the same time, with a huge bias on the latter. And it didn't help that it was cold and raining. We jumped ship on that one!
Best Local Beer: Mythos from Greece, or Superbock from Portugal.
Best Wine: The white Riesling sample we got at a Santorini winery was delicious. Oh, and the 1.49 bottle we found at a grocery store in Valencia was awesome. Sorry, no actual label names!
Cleanest City: Valencia. We were pleasantly surprised at this, especially after Barcelona!
Dirtiest City: Barcelona!
Most Fun City: Galway, Ireland.
Most Boring City: Probably Bruges, Belgium, but in such a good, quiet, quaint way!
Friendliest Country: England! Everyone was really nice. And for a non-English speaking country, The Netherlands.
Rudest Country: France, though I only went to Paris, so I can't really judge the whole country!
Most Vegan-Friendly: Glasgow, Scotland. Tons of veggie restaurant, and even a veggie pub! And you can get veggie haggis from the street venders! And they have Boots, a pharmacy selling 3 types of vegan sandwhiches, and tons of fruit and veg to go. Nice!
Least Vegan-Friendly: Paris. The only thing I could eat there was McDonald's side salads and Subway. Remember the veggie burger with the fried egg fiasco? Yep, that was Paris.
Best Vegan Restaurant: Mono, in Glasgow. Best veggie burger ever, as well as a completely vegan menu to choose from. Runner up: Napfenyes Etterem in Hungary, where they served pizza with melted vegan cheese. Mmm!
First Place I'd Go Back: Anywhere in the UK. Great shopping, great people, great food and bars, and great accents. It's like heaven, except for how much the pound kills you!
Last Place I'd Go Back: If I have to pick a whole country? Probably Spain. It didn't quite live up to my expectations. But it's hard to say because I still had fun there!
Best Market: The Sunday market in Galway was full of goodies! Cute jewelry and bags, and yummy homemade hummus, bagels, and olives, and a veggie fast-food stand.
Cheapest Place: Valencia. Cheap dinners, markets, and booze. 27 cents for a beer from the grocery store, and 80 cents for a 2 litre of sangria. Did I mention 1.49 for a great bottle of wine?
Most Expensive Place: Dublin. The cheapest beer you could find out was 5.50 euro. That's like $8. Scary!
Favourite Single Moment: Getting to watch the Backstreet Boys in Lisbon, and for only 34 euro! No, wait, the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh. It was everything I thought it would be and more!
Least Favourite Single Moment: When, after having bad experiences with meeting people (and creepy guys in my hostel), it poured down rain so hard in Edinburgh that you couldn't even see outside. And, it was 3 weeks in so I was majorly homesick! A few calls to some friends and family and I was a little better!
Prettiest Square: Oh, I don't know! I adored all of the squares in Europe, all pedestrianized, and cute and old, full of fountains and statues and monuments and flowers... I think I have to pick the Old Town Square in Prague. Google it, it's just beautiful. So colourful, open, and it has that amazing astronomical clock! But every square in Europe was cool. Vancouver/Victoria needs those!
Hottest Men: Must I pick? The boys from the UK were nice, sweet, and a GREAT time to listen to
Best Accent: Scotland. I'd find myself listening and not even hearing the words! It was just so beautiful...
Worst Accent: Italian, but only because of the Chianti girl. (“Andah the winah is ah goodah with the breadah, ah?”)
Best Dressed: Ireland. Both the guys and girls always looked their best here, it seemed. And all I had were my backpacking clothes! That's what started the shopping crazy...
Worst Dressed Country: They were pretty slack in Portugal... but they also didn't have the best shopping there, so maybe that explains it?
Best Airport: YVW by far! It is abolutely stunning, and so full of nature!
Best Thing I Packed: Other than the obvious' (rain coat, lap top, camera, travel towel, etc.), I think this goes to my ski/cable lock. It came in handy a ton, and should be on any backpacker's list!
Something I Wish I Packed: My dog! Especially in Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, where all the dogs go EVERYWHERE with their owners!
I accomplished a lot on this trip, and I figured out a lot of things I didn't expect to. I met amazing people: a priest and his wife, a group of med students, a brother and sister from Canada, a cute, funny Welsh guy who let me make fun of his accent, two sweet girls from Victoria, a Californian couple, an Aussie I could talk to for the whole night, a Seattleite turn Parisian political queen, a Kiwi who's still pen pals, a veggie from the states, an Italian army boy, and so, so many more! These people I will probably remember forever. Some people I will forget, but everyone I came in contact with had an effect on my trip, whether good- playing rocks with Chris is Brighton, or shopping in Paris with Tierney- or bad- anybody remember those 40+ English ladies who kept me up all night in Amsterdam? Ya, I'm trying to forget too. I am now a professional map reader, and a pro at getting around on public transportation. I can start a conversation with a stranger. I can communicate with someone who doesn't speak my language. I have learned incredible patience and understanding. Every day had it's own moments, struggles, and highlights, and I am proud to say that I dealt with it all! I've learned that I only have to do what makes me happy, and not what I'm supposed to be doing. And I've learned that life's too short to live it any other way, and that life is your own, and nobody else's. I've also learned that family and friends are amazing things; they can help you through anything, even when you're halfway around the world. And there's no place like home; my country is beautiful, and I'll never take that for granted again. Hopefully soon I'll get to explore Canada more.
I just want to thank everyone who read this blog while I was away! I had such a good time writing it, and I'm honestly quite sad it's over! It's something I hope to have forever, and I thank you for being a part of it with me.
To Europe: You were amazing! Even the worst of days were pretty perfect in hindsight, and I hope to see you again soon!
Au revoir, ciao, arrivederci, auf wiedersehen, sbohem, viszontlátásra, αντίο, adeus, tot ziens, slán leat, adiós, goodbye...