Whenever I tell people I’m a travel blogger, the first response I typically get (well, besides the backing away slowly) is “wow you must have so many fascinating travel stories to tell”.
At which point I laugh nervously and try to change the subject.
The truth is, most of my best travel stories happen because I did something shockingly stupid, as opposed to the fearlessly inspirational wanderlust stories most people imagine.
Truth be told, these days, my site (like many travel blogs) is more geared towards helpful, practical how-tos and guides. That’s what the people tend to want, and (truthfully) that’s where the money is.
But you really can’t beat a good travel story.
So here are my top stories about travel – zapped of all practical tips and paraded here for your amusement only.
Save this list of funny travel stories for later!
You’ll be very glad you did.
To offer a semblance of organization to the chaos, I’ve divided my travel stories into the following sections:
- My funniest and most embarrassing travel stories (short travel stories to make you laugh)
- My best travelogues (journal style content that is only slightly more serious)
- An archive of my old travel updates organized by month/year
Simply tap on each Travel Story title and the tale will reveal itself. Enjoy!
My Funniest & Most Embarrassing Travel Stories
I’ve long considered myself a magnet for cringe, awkwardness and embarrassment. Luckily. my pride’s loss is your entertainment’s gain! Here are the funniest travel stories I have in my repertoire.
That Time I Accidentally Went on a Date with an 80 Year Old in Liverpool
I’ve always considered myself a grandma in disguise.
After all, I love baking cookies, I often use the term “youths” non-ironically, and quite frankly: I’m nostalgic for time periods I wasn’t even alive to witness.
But you know, dating a grandpa by accident – that’s where I draw the line.
And as absurd as it sounds, this happened. I went on a date with a man 3x my age one night in Liverpool. All by accident.
Here is that story.
Let me start things off by saying – I wouldn’t consider it an actual “date”, though maybe he thought differently. Moreover, my boyfriend finds this story rather hilarious so let’s not slander my name with terms like adulterous and wench.
Anyways, last summer I found myself in Liverpool while criss crossing England by train. This was a true bucket list trip for me, one that I’d dreamt of ever since deciding in high school that I’d be weird and listen exclusively to music that was at least 40 years old.
So yes, an early onset obsession with the Beatles is what led me to Liverpool.
My visit coincided with peak season, meaning a hostel was all I could afford without subsisting off ramen the entire trip. I was excited though – it had been a while since I’d stayed at a hostel, and I was looking forward to the social element.
Well, the social element definitely came through in a way I did not expect.
One night, after delighting myself with countless Beatles tours that flung my fangirl heart into overdrive, one piece that remained missing was seeing a live performance at the Cavern Club, where the Beatles rocked the stage decades ago.
I stopped at my hostel to quickly drop off my things and rest up before attending the show.
To my surprise, as I flung the door open, one of my dormmates happened to be slightly above the average age of a backpacker.
… By like, 50 years.
“Oh helloooo!!” he sang as I tip toed in. His enthusiasm was undeniable.
After an awkward hello, I quickly learned that this man, easily 50 years my senior was in fact a local – Liverpool born and raised, supposedly holed up in my hostel dorm due to some water issues at his own home.
And while I was taught since birth to avoid hanging out alone in rooms with strange old men, I was captivated by his stories. He rattled on and on about what it was like to grow up in Liverpool during such an important time (yes, he grew up with the Beatles’ rise to fame), and chatted about his favourite spots in the city.
Then came my ultimate blunder.
In an awkward attempt to fill the conversation, I asked him if he had ever seen the Beatles tribute band at the Cavern Club on Thursdays.
“That sounds great. LET’S GO!”
Did I just ask him OUT?
It seems, in a comical twist of events, he had interpreted my question as an invitation, and before I could clarify he was already rattling off how excited he was to be going again.
As a safety net, I roped in another guy from the dorm to come, turning my awkward maybe-date into a definite threesie-date type situation.
We took the short 5 minute walk to the Cavern Club, and as I slipped through those iconic doors to see the exact setting where the Beatles performed decades ago, I temporarily forgot I was on a date with a strange old man.
What about my safety net invite, you might ask? Let me tell you – that man did NOT stick around. He soon faded to the back of the room and left me alone with my grand-date, who had sweetly scavenged some beers for us as the concert began.
But I was too blissed out to care. After all, I was in the Cavern Club, watching a Beatles Tribute Band that (to my blurry vision) was a dead-ringer for the real Fab Four.
This was living.
Of course, there were moments here and there that would snap me back to my bizarre reality, like when Gran-Date tried to teach me how to twist.
Or when he tapped me on the shoulder mid-twist to say “I’m so glad you dragged me to this!”, likely to the horror of anyone who could hear.
But most curious of all was when briefly after the intermission, I turned to my side mid-jam, and found my Gran-Date nowhere to be found.
Gone like the wind. Replaced with a wall of drunk tourists.
Apparently I’d been ghosted.
After the concert, I walked back to the hostel, soaking in the brisk Liverpool air, trying to process the simultaneous euphoria of a bucket list concert and the bizarre company I’d mistakenly roped into the ordeal.
And just as I pondered the mystery of my disappearing date, I slipped into our shared hostel dorm and found him snoring away in his bottom bunk, dreaming (I assume) of the golden days where he’d twist and shout the night away.
I slipped into my bunk, dress soaked through with the stench of smoke and spilled beer from the Cavern Club, thinking about what a weird day that all was.
All in all though, I’ve had worse dates.
That Time I Forgot an Entire Suitcase Before a Trip
There are few times in my life when I have laughed hysterically, uncontrollably and in sheer terror.
My dear readers, today I will recount to you one of those times.
This is the story of how I once managed to forget an entire suitcase on my way to a trip. No, I did not leave it at a bus stop. I did not negligently have it taken from me in a busy cross street. No, I simply left it on the floor, meticulously packed on the dusty carpet of my studio apartment, probably wondering why his mommy left him.
It was a hazy November evening, specifically – it was Black Friday.
Exhausted from a recent press trip and the daunting catch-up to be played that morning, I can fully admit I was not myself, mentally-speaking. Marbles might have been lost, or destroyed entirely.
But a Christmas market getaway was soon to be my reward for a hard day’s work!
My to-do list that day was the only thing standing between me and a weekend in üusseldorf munching on bonbons and frolicking wherever the glühwein was fresh.
So, dutifully, I started my day by packing for the weekend, and then proceeded to spend the next 8 hours glued at my desk, clacking away at the keyboard.
When my boyfriend got home from work, we had to act fast. Our train was set to depart within the hour, so it was very much a “grab bags and go situation”. Luckily, having pre-packed, I felt pretty smug as he darted around trying to find his toothpaste while shoving all his things into an oversized duffel.
I was clacking away at my keyboard up until the moment he said “time to go!”, at which point I threw my laptop in my backpack and off we went.
Throughout the 15 minute commute to Munich’s main train station, I kept my nose glued to my phone, attempting in earnest to craft the perfect caption for a Facebook post (yes, really).
“How Cosmopolitan of me!” I thought. A woman on the go juggling work so effortlessly en route to a weekend away in a glassy new city.
I AM CARRIE BRADSHOW MEETS MICHELLE OBAMA, I gloated giddily to myself, thumbs still working as the U-Bahn came to a slow crawl.
Hauptbahnhof. Central Station. That’s me – the woman on the go.
It was at this moment that I felt the emptiness of my hands.
I didn’t have ANY OF MY STUFF.
In horror, I realized I hadn’t brought the suitcase I had so dutifully packed, and had nothing on me but my small black backpack with my laptop and camera.
But with my train leaving in 10 minutes, I had to go. Forget running back to get my suitcase – I had to bust my butt to even make it on the train.
Luckily, I did.
And so I sat on my overheated train bound for Düsseldorf, 5 hours ahead to allow the full gravity of my problem sink in.
I had no clothes… nothing but the woolen granny sweater I threw on last minute, and a black tank top which was sure to be caked soon with 72 hours’ worth of sweat and humiliation.
And my boyfriend? Smugly unhelpful.
There are a few moments of my life that I’m not terribly proud of. In the aftermath of my realization, and amidst the hysterical laughter that followed, I would have traded places with any of those prior moments 20 times over.
But as they say, even lemons can be made into lemonade. I hurled myself into a DM upon arrival and stocked up on makeup and hygiene essentials, and treated myself to a dorky Christmas sweater to last me the rest of the weekend so I had at least one outfit change.
Add on some borrowed clothes from my cooperative boyfriend, and I was back in business, able to frolic and enjoy Düsseldorf’s Christmas markets to my heart’s content.
72 hours later, when I arrived back home to Munich, I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically a final time as I saw my sad suitcase sitting in the middle of the room, handle up, ready to go… exactly as I had left it only a few short days ago.
Maybe next time, bud. Maybe next time.
That Time I Coincidentally Met Robb Stark & Jon Snow in a Single Evening
Warning: this story will make zero sense if you have not seen Game of Thrones (or at least familiar with its main characters). Read at your discretion.
Dear readers, there was a time not too long ago that I was a raging, rabid fangirl.
Like, to the point where I would fly long distances to meet my favourite musicians, gift them fan art, and attend the PBS taping of their concert special.
And while those dark times are now (fortunately) in the past, there are still some specks of that fangirl enthusiasm that remain.
Said speck is what spurred me to buy a last-minute ticket to see Kit Harrington’s play in the West End by myself on one random London day, an expensive and spontaneous decision that would lead to one of the weirder days of my life.
(Bear in mind this took place during the peak of Game of Thrones hysteria, so try not to judge me too hard)
With a ticket confirmation in hand for the performance later that evening, I swung by the Duke of York’s Theatre in the late afternoon to get my ticket.
As I exited the theatre, my fangirl spidey senses began to tingle. Stood steps from the door, I watched as a silver car pulled up to the curb…
And the passenger door swung open to reveal a mass of curly black hair.
KIT. FREAKING. HARRINGTON.
Literal metres from me.
I froze in place as a mob of fans seemingly emerged from nowhere, swarming him for photos and autographs. He made a pretty firm beeline for the theatre, stopping only for a photo or two.
And just like that, he was gone.
As I reeled trying to process that flash entrance, a French accented voice snapped me out of my daze.
“He arrives everyday at this time. I always come when I have the day off” she said.
I turned to see a girl about my age, holding a letter she’d written for Kit and intended to give him.
For a few minutes, I chatted with my fellow fangirl in battle. She told me how she’d met Kit Harrington only twice, but she’d recently met Shawn Mendez 11 times, and how she had a group chat on Whatsapp with fellow fangirls where they swapped Shawn-spotting tips daily.
She also told me how Kit’s work had helped her during a tough time, and that she’d written him a letter with the specifics… something she intended to give him at some point today, even though she didn’t have a ticket to the show.
I knew instantly, if anyone was going to crowbar her way into Jon Snow’s heart with weaponized fear, it would be her and her alone.
So we said our goodbyes, I grabbed a romantic Chipotle dinner for one (AKA the ‘Cry for Help’ combo) and headed back to the theatre.
There, I watched the play (it was terrible) and rushed outside right after the final bows, just as I was instructed.
Immediately, I saw my new ally, feet planted into the concrete, guarding her position at the front of the gate. She motioned me over, permitting me the honour of fighting by her side in this battle.
I mean… with stakes as high as breathing Kit Harrington’s air, we needed a united front.
Together we stood, hopes high with every squeak of the door, watching with the ferocity of hawks. Countless cast members exited, each ushering in their own wave of disappointment.
Then, finally – another squeak of the door… and there he was! Black curls, black coat. “King of the North!!!!” Except, sad? Oh no….
We watched as he leaned in and whispered with his security guard. Suspenseful murmurs. In the silence, you could almost HEAR the crowd peeing their pants.
Then, he turned away. The King of the North turned away… and walked off.
“Unfortunately Kit is feeling under the weather and can’t do signings today,” announced the foxy security guard.
Nooooooo!! YOU KNOW NOTHING, JON SNOW!!!!! I later pieced together that this was the evening he had gotten in massive trouble in the media for claiming male actors were also “sexual objects”. Not a great chapter of sweet Kit’s life, I’ll tell you.
And so, defeated, the crowd dispersed, eager (I’m sure) to air their grievances over Twitter.
In my grief, I began my walk of sadness towards the Tube. I walked no more than a few blocks to see another mob of fans, no different from the one I had just bitterly exited. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I asked an excited gaggle of girls in line “What are you waiting for?”
Their answer? “ROBB STARK! HE’S PLAYING ROMEO!”
Like a well-trained robot, I claimed my spot in the Robb mob.
And not even 10 minutes later, the play ended, the crowds emerged and our mob doubled in size. Another 10 minutes and Robb Stark was there – right before our eyes, smiley, charming and beautiful as ever.
Somehow I had weaseled my way into the front of the mob, literally a foot away from him. Bear in mind I hadn’t even watched the play, so had no ticket, no program, nothing for him to sign.
There I stood, deer in headlights, nothing to sign, just a fangirly glob of goo vaguely pieced together as a human being. As he passed me, he smiled, Sharpie in hand, then, seeing that I was just a motionless psycho who didn’t even want an autograph, he moved on as quickly as he came.
And so, I suppose I did end up meeting the King of the North, one way or the other. Proof that sometimes fairytales do come true.
… You just have to be a little shameless 😉
That Time I Smuggled Bacon in My Pockets from England to Germany
It’s 5pm at Gatwick Airport and my pockets are filled with bacon.
Literal, raw slabs of bacon.
… as in, “salty fat strips plucked from the fluorescent freezer at Tesco’s” bacon.
I can admit this was a bizarre situation to be in, but allow me to pepper in a smidge of context. You see, for some time, one of my biggest gripes with life in Germany had zero to do with the red tape, the bureaucracy or the fact that it made me fat. Rather, my #1 complaint was simply the bacon: too thin, too flimsy and woefully unsatisfying.
So when I found myself in London for a little break before retreating back to Germany, I immediately recognized an opportunity…
“England has GREAT bacon” my brilliant mind mused.
I could simply bring home a bundle of English bacon and then rid my new German life of its one mild (but troubling) imperfection.
I’ll take my Nobel Prize by mail, thank you.
Slow clapping at my supposed perfect plan, I set the wheels in motion. One cloudy London morning, en route to the airport, I slid my way into a fluorescent Tesco’s and got my claws on a few packs of sweet English bacon.
Fast forward to airport security.
… I’m sure you can tell where this is going.
After dutifully removing my coat, my shoes, and my bag, I went through my usual security routine, perfected over dozens of airport visits and that classic Canadian fear of confrontation.
Then it happened…
I watched as my backpack zipped into place on the secondary conveyer belt, the one intended for re-checks of delinquent liquids above 100mL and rogue electronics.
Except my backpack wasn’t filled with delinquent liquids or rogue electronics. My backpack was filled with sweet, English bacon.
Paranoid thoughts began to cloud my already questionable judgment. Oh god, what did I do? Was it worth it? Was I doomed to rot in airport jail, alongside other fearless smugglers of cured meat?
I stood there, accumulating pools of sweat in my furry Uggs, as he swabbed my bag for classic things one might smuggle, like Columbian cocaine. All he managed to locate however were the tattered remains of my dignity.
“It’s bacon,” I squeaked.
The look on his face said it all. If I could translate facial expressions, his probably translated to “daheq did you just say, child?”
“It’s bacon. I hope that’s okay. I just… the bacon is Germany isn’t very good… so…” I continued to mumble.
After the disbelief washed off his face, I watched in slow motion as Mr. Airport Security flashed a smile. “So the bacon’s no good then?” he confirmed.
I breathed a sigh of relief as he handed me my bag and moved onto the next delinquent in line. No airport jail, just a crippling sense of shame. Also known in my life as an average Friday night.
I wish I could tell you the rest of the commute was smooth. Unfortunately, I found myself at the mercy of EasyJet’s strict one bag policy, meaning my backpack had to be stuffed in my carry-on suitcase, which simply wouldn’t shut for one reason:
That damn bacon.
So that’s how it ended up in my pockets. All of it. There was nowhere else to put it.
Boarding that flight, I threw on my big burly coat, pockets precariously stuffed with bacon, as I climbed into my narrow seat, I prayed for mercy from the gods of embarrassment. “Please don’t let a pack fall out… please don’t have anyone tell me Miss, you’ve dropped your…….. bacon?!”
I am forever indebted to the gods of mercy because thankfully, dear readers, all of said bacon did manage to stay unseen, all throughout the 2 hour flight and the subsequent 1 hour commute home…
Success: My sketchy meat smuggling remained secret for another day.
And yet, amidst all that chaos…. I can still say: I have zero regrets. That well travelled bacon (who has travelled to more countries than some actual humans) turned out to be just as delicious as I hoped. Just maybe next time, I’ll bring a bigger suitcase.
That Time My Boat in Venice Vanished [1/3]
I often speak about my travel experiences with a fairly a rosy lens – with words like magical, enchanting and postcard-perfect getting prominent use in my (admittedly) Disney-fied vocabulary.
But there are travel experiences that jade even me, the token overexcited corgi of the travel blogger world.
Today I’d like to share with you one of those times.
This is the untold story of when my boat in Venice vanished, and the whirlwind hell that ensued.
Once upon a time, when I was still interning for a river cruise company as a photo reporter, it was my actual job to visit magical places, live on boats and document the whole thing.
My 5th cruise brought me to Venice, one of the most romantic cities in the entire world.
I had been there before once as a high schooler, and I couldn’t wait to see it again in my more mature form. As I rode from the airport to the docks, I passed through an industrial side of Venice I had never seen before. Giant loading zones for mammoth cruise ships, and woah – roads. The Venice I knew didn’t have roads.
As we reached our stop: “San Basilio Dock”, my taxi driver pulled into an empty parking lot and gestured unhelpfully towards the water. “Boats there!”
At the time, I was confident I’d figure it out. There was no time to clarify or press. I was in Venice! There was pasta to be eaten! Gondoliers to fall in love with! Or you know, at the very least, many tourist pictures to photo bomb.
And so, I made my way along the water, passing super yachts, cruises, little dinghys. I didn’t know how long I’d have to walk but at this point, I had seen these cruises multiple times, I thought I’d recognize it instantly, so I wasn’t worried.
… About 15 minutes later, that delayed worry began to kick in. Where was this stupid boat?
Nervously, I dragged my rolling suitcase across the rickety cobblestones, demolishing the romantic ambiance with my utter lack of grace.
I still do wonder how many proposals I ruined that night.
Up and down, I searched for my boat. I doubled back twice as the sun sank lower and lower behind the rippling waves of blue.
In my panic, I ducked into the only official looking building around, showing someone a print out of my boat’s name, and the printed instructions to visit this exact dock.
The burly Italian man, with orange, sunburnt skin squinted at my papers… Then with 4 words, destroyed my already shaky sense of confidence.
“MS Michaelangelo? No here!” He accompanied his harsh words with an even harsher X made with his arms, to really hammer in the fact that no, this boat was not here, I was kinda homeless in Venice and I had no (real) idea where I actually was.
All I could muster was a weak “okay” as I escaped outside to contemplate my demise.
Searching through all my papers in a panic, I finally found the boat’s phone number. A fast-talking Italian woman greeted me on the other end.
“No no no, we are at San Basilio. Walking will take 1.5 hours, take the vaporetto and….” The rest of her directions came out in a jumbled, frenzied mess, capped off with an “okay bye”.
It turned out the boat had not simply vanished, but was docked elsewhere for the night due to scheduling/water levels.
But how the heck was I supposed to get there?!
Nervously, I waddled to the first vaporetto spot I could see. I didn’t know how to read the timetable, so I just stood there, and literally stared. I was the definition of helpless. The vaporetto schedules made no sense, it was getting dark, I had no idea how to get to this boat, and I was (quite honestly) certain of my imminent death.
Then a voice came from nowhere.
“Do you need help?”
There stood a short, thin man, teeth so bright they practically glowed.
Over a short conversation, I found out he had lived in Montreal for 10 years, now in Venice for 20 and knew the city like the back of his hand. I told him the name of my new location, and he explained the complicated route to me, which required two vaporetto transfers and a short walk in the dark. My eyes were glazed over. I had no idea what he was saying.
And so Mr. Mysterious Montreal stood with me as countless boats passed. “Not this one”, he would repeat. He probably had kids wondering where the heck he was all night. “Helping a useless Canadian girl, kids… helping a useless Canadian girl.”
Then, it came. Vaporetto #2. Like an action movie right before an impending explosion, he held his foot down on the boat, extending his hand and shoving me on board through the exit.
I sat there in fear the entire time, clutching my suitcase like my first born, as the Venetian sun came down. For a brief second, the worry dissipated as I caught glimpse of the final shreds of orangey sunset in the sky. I followed the steps as advised, and arrived to the boat like a traumatized puppy – drained and in need of a good cuddle.
And so, as I entered my tiny cabin home for the next week, I set my bags down and heaved a sigh of relief. I didn’t die in Venice that night, but what happened the day after made me wish I had.
… but of course that’s a story to be continued.
That Time I Paraded Venice in a Chocolate Goatee [2/3]
I embarrass myself often, but there are times far worse than others that make me wish I could buy a secluded cabin in the woods and never see another human again.
This tale of a chocolate goatee was one of such times.
When I arrived in Venice to find my boat was nowhere to be found, I was traumatized (to put it lightly) and in need of some serious dessert therapy.
With a free day before my cruise was set to begin (I was working on board as the resident blogger/photographer), I decided to embark on a personal mission to eat the woes away: find the largest gelato I can find, and eat it.
So that’s what I did.
If my life were a coming of age film, this would have been the montage scene of me living my best life to upbeat music, dancing through the streets of Venice as a liberated solo female traveller. I escaped into narrow streets, skipped across bridges and you know, embraced a day of feeling pretty darn pleased with myself.
I felt like James Bond gliding through the streets, only with a much less serious mission: to find and consume a gelato the size of my face.
And I found one!
A perfect, giant gelato cone the size of my face – 4 whole scoops – for only 5 euros.
I ferociously wolfed it down, realizing I had only 15 minutes to get back to the boat for boarding and introductions. I would soon be officially meeting the crew I’d spend a week with, alongside all the passengers I’d be tasked with interacting with. I wanted to make a good first impression. Riding off the sugar high, I was rocking my favourite dress and I felt on top of the world. I was ready to impress.
I walked up to the boat, many passengers already boarding. I introduced myself to passengers, to crew, to pretty much anyone that would listen because I WAS JUST SO HYPED UP ON SUGAR.
I thought I did great.
Feeling mighty proud of myself for successfully interacting with humans, I walked back to my room, still riding that sugar high (and now a grossly inflated sense of self-confidence).
That’s when I looked in the mirror.
And oh god… it even hurts to type this right now…
I had a flipping goatee.
A GIANT, CHOCOLATE GOATEE.
What had happened? Who had I pissed off in another life to warrant this kind of karma?!
I had a slow motion flashback to my first voracious lick of that gelato. My chin landed right on the chocolate scoop. I must have been too enamoured by the treat to notice. I had just met everyone on the boat, passengers and crew, had full-on CONVERSATIONS, all with a chocolate splat the size of Mt Vesuivus firmly stained on my chin.
It was my worst professional blunder to date.
But it didn’t retain that honour for long.
Because less than a week after, I would do something far, far worse.
Though again, that’s another story to be continued…. 😉
That Time I Missed a Flight by 24 Hours [3/3]
When people lightheartedly ask if I’ve ever missed a flight, my entire body cringes.
Because my dear readers, the answer is Yes…. Yes I have. By an entire 24 hours.
You might be wondering how this is even possible… well, here is that story.
During the summer of 2015, I worked as an intern on board European river cruises, documenting the experience for the company’s blog and social media channels.
My 5th cruise brought me to Venice, where I encountered a rough start (the boat had vanished) and an even rougher middle (when I introduced myself to everyone while rocking a chocolate goatee).
Little did I know, the end of this cruise would by far take the cake… and it still goes down as one of my worst travel fails in history.
My next destination was Croatia, the cruise I had been looking forward to most. I had heard time and time again that this was one of the company’s best cruises, and I even had a friend I met on a previous cruise set to work that route with me.
So on my final day in Venice, I was excitedly awaiting my taxi when I got the worst phone call I’ve received (probably) in my entire life.
Sat in the ship’s lounge, sipping a too-sweet cocktail, my phone began to shake, quickly lighting up with a string of mysterious numbers.
Nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
“This is the captain of your Croatian cruise. Where are you????” an angry voice shouted on the other side.
My heart sank. My stomach dropped. I might have peed a little, who knows.
Over the course of a panicked conversation, I was made to realize I had somehow missed my plane by 24 hours, that the crew had been expecting me since yesterday and that they were set to depart in a few hours, without me on it.
Through a further round of panicked phone calls with my supervisor, I went through rounds of apologizing profusely, them saying they would get back to me and then, the gutwrenching blow: There was no way I could make it to Croatia in time for this cruise.
I felt like I could literally see my dreams get thrown out the window.
I ended up staying in Venice an extra 3 days, and placed on a cruise in Berlin in lieu of Croatia and the Loire Valley in France. Of course, things could have been much worse, but I couldn’t shake that feeling of complete failure and humiliation.
Of course, in time, as most things do, this story resolved itself. The first fully sponsored trip I was offered on this blog was, you guessed it, a sailing trip through Croatia. It felt like my life had come full circle, and you know what – things do (no matter how mortifying) happen for a reason.
I guess, sometimes happily ever afters come a little delayed.
That Time I Hitchhiked with a Lavender Mogul in Bosnia & Herzegovina
For many, the prospect of hitchhiking sounds like an enchanting shortcut to getting murdered.
Having grown up on movies and TV shows where hitchhikers were exclusively murder-bait, I too subscribed to this belief.
But when a few friends and I attempted a really poorly planned hike in Bosnia & Herzegovina and missed our last bus in the process, we had no choice but to give it a try.
After all, we were three nervous girls stranded in Blagaj with no more buses until the next day. The sun was setting, the hanger was imminent, and times were getting desperate.
So with a deep breath, we stuck out our thumbs.
Within minutes, a BMW began to slow as it came up to us, and it truthfully took everything in me to not immediately run for the hills screaming for my mom.
Luckily, my friends were brave.
“Mostar??” we collectively said, trying to sound as non-threatening as possible. He nodded wordlessly and then waved us in.
And so, like the start of any good horror movie, we three girls piled into a stranger’s car.
As we drove, the language barrier became clear immediately.
Attempting only with excessive gesturing to get his point across, our driver admitted to knowing zero English and continued to furiously blab in a language we knew zero of.
But soon, his tone changed. We turned onto a vast county round and his eyes lit up.
“Lavanda!” he proclaimed.
“Lavanda, lavanda! MY lavanda.” The repetition was Pokemon-esque, and deeply confusing.
He whipped out his ID card, and in minimal English tried to explain to us his roots, his religion and what he did for a living.
Tough topics to tackle when you know like 3 words.
But nonetheless he persisted and continued the drive, which was scenic and somehow pleasant despite the broken conversation.
The short drive passed uneventfully, and as he pulled up to the curb a few blocks away from our hostel, he ejected himself from the driver’s seat and popped open his trunk.
“This was it! He was gonna throw us in the trunk and never look back!!!” The paranoid freak in me lamented.
But no. None of that happened. Instead, he flashed a toothy grin as he unveiled his roomy trunk…
Which was filled with tiny draw-string packets of dried lavender.
Lavanda. Lavender. This man was a lavender farmer!
“Lavanda!” he said for a final time as he waved us off and got back into his car.
Relieved and dazed, my friends and I continued our walk home, laughing to ourselves that we had just rode through Bosnia & Herzegovina with a baller lavender mogul.
And true fact: he’s the reason why to this day, I still smile every time I see lavender.
That Time “my Appendix Burst” in the Dolomites
Once upon a time, I drove through the Dolomites with a burst appendix.
Except just kidding – my appendix hadn’t burst, though for some time I was very convinced it had.
You see, being a drama queen and mild hypochondriac has troublesome consequences.
For one, WebMD will literally keep me up at night. By my own diagnoses, I should have died twenty seven times.
Another consequence, clearly, is interpreting mere stomach pain as a serious medical condition, whilst among the mountains in a foreign country.
It was while driving through the stunning Dolomite mountains in Northern Italy that the latter happened.
And it’s painfully embarrassing to recall, even now. It was an early morning and we had been driving for about an hour, en route to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike, one that has dominated my bucket list for years. That’s when it hit me.
“Ow. My stomach hurts.” I whined to my boyfriend as he diligently weaved through the route’s hairpin turns.
It could have been all those winding roads, or perhaps the fact that I was practically inhaling a bucket of yogurt because I wanted to save time on breakfast… but my stomach started to clench, like someone had clamped over my intestines and just started twisting.
I couldn’t tell if I wanted to vomit, cry or what.
We pulled over to a scenic viewpoint, and as I opened the door, I keeled over like a little baby.
Truly, without exaggeration, I had never experienced this level of pain before in my life.
“I think maybe my appendix burst” I declared to my all-too-worried boyfriend as I sprawled out on a luckily placed bench.
Here’s a hot travel tip for you: when you literally pull out Google maps and search “hospital”, there’s a high likelihood you could in fact be in trouble. This is what he began to do just in case.
Then came the WebMD. A list of vague symptoms that apply already to most people.
“Do you feel nauseous?” YES
“Do you need to pee?” I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE.
And while I was ready to speed off to an Italian hospital for what I was sure would be an emergency surgery, my boyfriend, every the rational one, tried to calm me down. He encouraged me to lay still for a few moments and try to breathe.
Within minutes, the pain began to ease.
He then suggested we go for a walk around the lake to hopefully “walk it off”.
Indeed, a loop around the lake and I was fine.
As we headed back into the car, appendix (most likely) in tact, I realized maybe I was indeed being a bit of a drama queen.
But if there’s one thing you take away from this story, it’s this: do not eat yogurt in a fast moving vehicle. The symptoms may lead you to believe that death is imminent.
My Top Travelogue Stories
If you’re looking for more journal-style travel stories complete with photos, here are some of my best ‘travelogues’, from Verona to Istanbul!
That Time I Booked an Accidental Valentine’s Weekend in Verona [1/2]
“So, how did you meet your boyfriend?”
For me, that’s always a fun question to answer. I could tell you that I met my boyfriend halfway across the world while dressed as a teddy bear (which is true), or that our first date involved building an IKEA table (which is also true).
I could detail the very random circumstances that led to our meeting, and the string of punny conversations that promptly followed… but the reality is: I probably would not have a boyfriend if it weren’t for one thing: Flixbus.
Yes, the budget bus company.
I guess, in the random tangled mess that is my life, this odd choice of Cupid makes sense. Here’s how a simple bus trip landed me a new leading man.
Let me start by saying the obvious: dating in the 21st century is a very interesting thing, full of secretive codes, unspoken rules and bucket loads of uncertainty. I’ve never been good at these kinds of games, especially since my first relationship started at the bright-eyed age of 15 and lasted… well, until last September.
Call me rusty, call me out of touch, but one thing I pride myself on is that I’m not a complete and total maniac.
… Well at least I thought so… until I booked a VALENTINE’S DAY getaway to ITALY with a GUY WHO WASN’T MY BOYFRIEND.
Yes guys… raise those red flags.
To be fair, I’m a spontaneous exchange student.
When you’re doing study abroad, weekends away are pretty much on par with grocery shopping in terms of frequency.
So naturally, one day, while chatting with a new boy in my life, the conversation switched to a cheap sale that Flixbus was having. 10 euro tickets for almost all their routes. It was a tempting offer indeed.
With a midnight cutoff pending, we proceeded to plan a trip at lightning speed.
“Where do you want to go?” Uhhh Verona. “Let’s do the weekend of the 12th?” Okay.
30 seconds later, we were booked. Sure, a weekend away seemed a bit committal for two 20-something ‘seeing each others’, but we got along really well, so what could go wrong?
Turns out that was Valentine’s Weekend.
Valentine’s weekend in Verona, to be precise… one of the most romantic destinations in Europe.
There would be red wine, beautiful art, cheesy candles, and many guitar serenades from men named Pablo.
The result of our epiphany was not panic or cancellations… on the contrary, after bouts of nervous laughter and jokes, a mutual decision was made to embrace clichés and make this the cheesiest weekend we possibly could.
So, with this mindset, I packed a suitcase decked in red and black, channelled my inner rom com heroine and embarked on a ‘romantic getaway’ for the ages.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and soon learned the hard way that storms do not press pause for anybody, not even two dummies on a ‘special romantic getaway’.
We arrived at our bed and breakfast in the state of two drowned cats.
Our chatty host Vittorio (a burly Italian man with a perfect beard) welcomed us in, at which point I could have passed out. In an unexpected turn of events, our room was gorgeous. I mean, for a last-minute booking on Hostelworld, I definitely did not expect this:
Gold-framed mirrors, dreamily draped curtains, and wall motifs of books and clocks… There was even a tray of snacks, aperitifs and wine to welcome us.
By the end of our first interaction, it’s safe to say we were both head over heels for Vittorio, who sang Rihanna at the top of his lungs when he thought we couldn’t hear him (another true story).
After collectively fangirling over our room, we hit the city, armed with a map scribbled with recommendations from our bearded Italian angel. Hence began Operation Romantic Getaway.
It wasn’t until we arrived in the city centre that we realized just how Valentinesy this trip was going to be. Strolling through Verona was like getting punched in the face with red, hearts and chocolate.
The city was brimming with festivities for the annual ‘Verona in Love’ celebration, which meant heart lanterns, an endless parade of couples and chocolate-dipped everything.
While we weren’t quite Romeo and Juliet, we did spend our first day #coupling pretty hard, wandering around Verona’s gorgeous little streets, exploring picturesque piazzas and cozying into cafes for gelato and drinks.
The rain only got fiercer as the day went on. By dinner time, we were a shivering mess of wet boots and numb fingers… which prompted us to seek refuge in the closest restaurant on Vittorio’s recommendations list.
We ended up in Ristorante Maffei, one of Verona’s top-rated restaurants – a place where fancy waiters wore white and we walked in (literally) on a red carpet. The verdict? We left very full, and very bankrupt.
The next day was a maniacal whirlwind of sightseeing. With Verona being a small city, we were able to cover an impressive amount of ground.
In the span of 10 hours, we explored grand churches like San Zeno and Sant’Anastasia, scaled the Torre di Lamberti for incredible panoramic views, got our culture on at the Achille Forti Gallery of Modern Art, soaked in the grandeur of the Verona Arena and walked through the Teatro Romano.
Of course, we capped things off with a mandatory stop at Juliet’s House, where we did NOT rub her statue’s boobs for good luck, in case you were wondering…
… But you know what? We didn’t need Juliet’s boobs. (Now, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say). Instead, it seemed the magic of Verona was enough.
Throughout the two days of extreme coupling, we had indulged in all the cliches: running through the streets while holding hands, watching the sunset with a bottle of red, eating at fancy restaurants that we couldn’t afford.
Despite this story having all the trappings of a classic rom com, it wasn’t… this was my actual life.
A life that did, against all odds, get more cliched… because the weekend wasn’t over.
We were going to spend Valentine’s Day in Venice.
And it was there that he popped the question.
… to be his girlfriend though. Obviously. Read on for Part 2 of this Valentine’s Saga.
That Time I Went to Venice for Valentine’s Day and Ended Up with a Whole Boyfriend [2/2]
I’m a cheesy person, I really am.
BUT, sometimes, I’ll do things that even I find tremendously cringeworthy.
Spending Valentine’s Day in Venice was definitely one of those things.
A few weeks ago, a boy and I planned an accidental romantic getaway to Italy… (backstory here), and yes, if you’re still reading this, it was a genuine accident.
And, to clarify, we did not murder each other.
On the contrary, we decided to embrace the cheesiness of our circumstances, and inadvertently became an official couple in the process. I mean… Valentine’s weekend in Italy. We were kinda asking for it, weren’t we?
A visit to Venice is quite possibly one of the world’s most romantic holidays… I mean, come on. There’s the beautiful canals, the picturesque houses, and enough gelato to feed ten armies. Apart from the kitschy souvenir stalls, this city feels like a step back in time, and yes, it is extremely, heartachingly romantic.
But enough about Venice. You’ve probably read a million stories about it already.
You’re here for the stories of a psycho girl who dragged a guy to Venice on Valentine’s Day.
So how did that play out exactly?
After two days of non-stop red and hearts in Verona, we boarded a train to Venice, only a short hour away.
As far as romance goes, it seemed we had the odds stacked against us.
We arrived to an absolute downpour of rain, with a long drizzly walk from the train station to our canalside AirBNB. Surrounded by poncho-clad tourists and jabby selfie sticks, this was hardly the romantic vision that taunted us from the city’s many postcards…
But, you know how we dealt with it?
Alcohol. No, just kidding – optimism… and creativity! As it turns out, there’s no shortage of romantic things to do in Venice, even when it’s pouring rain.
Sure, you can’t laze out in sunny piazzas, but you can still explore the countless hidden backstreets that make this city so mysterious and wonderful. Along the way, you can still discover the hidden gems that give Venice its inexplicable magic, places like the Libreria Acqua Alta (one of the prettiest bookshops in the world) and the many mask shops that fill the Venetian streets.
And sure, with the rain, at times the gondolas don’t run, but you know what’s perfect rain or shine? The delicious comfort of a perfect, Italian meal.
So I guess what I’m saying is: Venice can be amazing with or without rain… you just need to find what makes it special for you.
And so we spent our time experiencing Venice differently… Instead of trudging around the main tourist sites, we ducked into cute cafes and shops whenever we could, enjoying the simple joy of perfect cappuccinos and crazy masks we could never pull off.
We took a day trip to Burano, rode up to St Mark’s Campanile and ate until we were human blobs. Genuinely, the city seemed void of V-Day gimmicks, a welcome relief from the heart explosion seen in Verona… Although I did have to run from a rose salesman (or ten).
And as for Valentine’s Day dinner? A cozy table for two, in a tiny restaurant where we were the only customers the entire evening. That’s the funny thing about Venice – no matter how crowded and touristic it gets, there’s always little pieces of this city that you can call your own.
And despite the torrential downpours, the rain-soaked crowds and the many many silly encounters with rose salesmen, I had the best time exploring Venice, the most cliched city in the world to spend Valentine’s Day.
… all because of a boy that I invited to Italy by accident.
A boy that, at the end of the weekend, formally asked me to be his girlfriend.
Which I now am.
So you know, sometimes life throws you a curveball, annnndd you get a boyfriend out of a Flixbus seat sale.
Seriously guys, never underestimate how random life can be.
That Time I Accidentally Went on the Weirdest Pub Crawl in Berlin
You know what? I have to admit, sometimes I love it when things go wrong.
Tales of misadventure are my favourite because they’re the funniest, and well, like any optimist who hates dealing with their problems, laughter is my coping mechanism of choice.
You see, when things go awry for me (which, I admit, is often), I remind myself that no matter how scary, awful or random things are at the moment, a hilarious new story is waiting at the finish line.
With that in mind, I want to tell you about one of the most ridiculous nights of my first backpacking trip in 2014 – my accidental foray into Berlin’s alternative nightlife scene.
In a single night, I braved a gothic horror bar, a boozey Ping Pong pub, some punk rock tavern and a gay club nestled in an underground parking lot. An epic adventure for sure, which, like all great journeys, began because of a mistake.
This is the story of how I accidentally ended up on Berlin’s 666 Anti-Pub Crawl.
Truth be told, it was pretty much all my fault. As cliched and touristy as it was, I had my heart set on attending at least one pub crawl during my time in Europe.
After all, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it right? When we arrived at our hostel in Berlin, it seemed like it was fate that the welcome chalkboard wrote in bold letters: “PUB CRAWL TONIGHT – MEET IN THE LOBBY AT 8:45”. I figured, of all places, why not Berlin? Despite my travel partner’s reluctance, she gave into my puppy dog eyes.
That was her first mistake, because I should not be trusted with decisions.
A few hours (and coats of makeup) later, I had my party girl disguise on, eager to blend in with the throngs of cool, Berlin partygoers.
We were led to our first bar by a slightly-out-of-it tour guide, who rolled his cigarettes on his lap as we sat on the tram. Ha, oh Berlin, you so alternative.
Our night began at Yesterday, a quirky cocktail bar decked out in a crazy, over-the-top mish-mash of decor. Sunflowers topped the blue ceiling, with assorted knick knacks clinging to the walls.
There was just about anything you can imagine filling the corners of this place – even pinball machines. Our group appeared to be the only ones there, so we took this opportunity to get acquainted with everyone, shouting introductions over the mellow mix of 60s-80s oldies.
So far so good, I thought to myself. I’m so freaking hip! These people have no idea I’m a 20 year old granny.
A few potent cocktails later it was time for us to venture into the great unknown of Berlin’s nightlife. We were ushered outside, and huddled around our tour guides, one of which began with a compulsory spiel on what a great night we were going to have.
But, we knew something was off when he ended this pep talk with “Welcome to the 666 Anti-Pub Crawl!”
That didn’t sound right. 666? Anti? It seemed like there was a simultaneous epiphany on our parts that this wasn’t what we had signed up for.
My group exchanged confused glances… Hmmm, the hostel never mentioned that this was, in fact, an “alternative” pub crawl and that we would soon be whisked away to solely off-the-beaten path nightlife destinations in Berlin.
Full disclosure: I’m not much of a partier. Yes, I’m a huge fan of wine and beer, but even at home in Canada, clubbing and going out is not my activity of choice.
This chronic homebody syndrome was probably a huge source of my discomfort throughout the night. Luckily, I’m a much braver soul when I travel, so I wasn’t too phased initially… I mean, what was the worst that could happen?
We were promptly separated into three groups, our new friends ripped from our clutches as we were dragged separately into the glittery abyss of Berlin’s party scene. With enthusiasm, our tour guide informed us of our first stop: Dr. Pong!
If the name doesn’t give it away, Dr. Pong is a ping pong bar. What exactly does that mean? It is literally what it sounds like – a bar where people play ping pong.
Immediately as I entered, I got the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there.
It had a seedy garage feel to it, with bare decor and a single blue ping pong table in the centre of the room. “Oh my god we’re in a crack den”, exclaimed my travel partner.
She tends to be a worrier, and maybe she was being a little dramatic, but I felt some truth to her words. The bar’s windows were suspiciously covered, and the entire space had a grungier feel than us innocent girls were used to. No doubt, we were out of our element.
But alcohol could fix this right? A minimalist bar was set up in the back, so I grabbed myself a beer and took a seat on a creaky plastic chair. Drink until this feels okay was kind of the motto for the night.
After watching some sweaty men circle around the table playing ping pong, we were whisked off to our next stop. But first, we were treated to some free shots on the sidewalk! No doubt, I wasn’t in Canada anymore… But again, drink until this feels okay, right?
The next stop of our adventure was Last Cathedral, a heavy metal-blasting gothic horror bar.
… Talk about not fitting in.
The decor of this place was crazy. With skulls lining the bar counter and torch lighting on the walls, I felt like I was in Dracula’s basement. I’m pretty sure the locals could smell my nervous sweat from miles away.
Apparently it was singles night too, so yay lucky me.
Berlin’s gothic horror crowd (is that even a thing?) was out in full force, and they sure were singles ready for minglin’. I’ll never forget trying to dance to heavy metal that night, a feeble attempt at fitting in with the lone dancer – an enthusiastic German headbanger who flung his majestic mane like nobody’s business.
To ease my discomfort, I ate nachos here. I like nachos.
I didn’t take down the names of our last two stops, but nonetheless, we journeyed onwards. The first was a tavern featuring a live punk rock band. I think this spot was the most in my element. I love live music, and the band playing was pretty cool.
Save for the eye-stinging smoke machine, I was rather into it.
This stop gave us a chance to relax a bit, especially after braving three bars that were way different from what we were used to.
My travel partner was no doubt ready to murder me for this accidental adventure at this point, but I tried my best to laugh it off.
After all, travelling is your time to live a little and try something different. Even though some of the stops felt sketchy and unsuited to my taste, I learned a very valuable lesson that night:
Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow.
After our chill punk rock session, we headed out to our last stop of the night, where we were reunited with our entire hostel group.
What magical place marked the end of this wonder tour, you ask? Of course, it was an underground gay night club! And when I say underground, I mean they literally brought us into a small elevator and lowered us into a smoky parking lot.
Well folks, I guess it doesn’t get more Berlin than that, right?
With blaring electronic music, glittery drag queens and an alarming lack of ventilation, it was a thoroughly interesting end to a crazy night.
As we trekked back home, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself about the last few hours and where I had been. Sometimes, travelling brings you the most random moments and adventures.
Absolutely, I was out of my comfort zone and felt totally sketched out half the time, but there was honestly no reason for me to be scared.
I was in a completely different part of the world, spending time where locals do, taking in new cultures (and subcultures!) that I would have never otherwise encountered.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what travelling is all about? Looking back, I could (and should) have been more openminded… and that’s a big lesson I learned for sure.
And although this little nightlife adventure was a bit much for my prudish, Canadian heart, it is still to this day one of my favourite memories from my Europe trip.
There’s something about Berlin’s nightlife that you just don’t forget. Regardless of whether or not I’d do it again, it’s safe to say: I had my taste of Alternative Berlin, and a great story to toss around for the rest of my life.
That Time I Went to Fasching in Munich as Banana
It’s 2pm on a Tuesday, and I’m strolling through the streets of Munich in a banana suit.
There are times when I do really question my life decisions, and no doubt, this was one of those times.
Now, before you assume I had some kind of mental banana suit breakdown, let me inform you that there was a reason for my fruitlicious garb.
One of the best things about living in Europe is the many reasons to celebrate and have fun, and this past Tuesday (recognized as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras elsewhere in the world) was one such example of mad celebrations at their best!
I mean, with Lent about to begin, it’s a common occurrence that good boys and girls get together and unleash all their madness before giving something up.
In Munich it’s called Fasching, elsewhere in Germany, it’s Karnevale… Carnival in Brazil, etc. etc. No matter how you name it, it’s a fun excuse to get out, be ridiculous and have a good time. It’s serious stuff though: Bavarians even get a half-day at work for the occasion!
So, eager to get in the Fasching spirit, I zipped up my teddy bear onesie, layered on my floppy ‘too long for me’ banana suit, and clasped the hand of my boyfriend, dressed up as a tropical version of Frozen’s Olaf.
What a pair.
Our plan was to visit Munich’s main square, where we heard there were tons of stages, festivities, dancing, etc. happening.
With a 15min trek to Marienplatz, we couldn’t wait to get out and see everyone’s vibrant costumes and onesies! My mind was dancing with images of all the awesome party photos I had seen from the year prior, and I was certain the streets would be abuzz as soon as we stepped out.
And so, the banana and snowman hit the town.
… and there was nothing.
Well, besides some judgemental German frowns, there was nothing.
It was SO weird! Besides our ridiculous outfits, everyone else was cloaked in the unofficial Munich uniform of black waterproof coats and boots. For the 15 longest minutes of my life, we walked through town to reach Marienplatz…
A number of questions ran through our heads, namely…
“… Did we get the date wrong?”
“Are snowmen and bananas offensive???”
“How quickly can we run if a hypothetical mob chose to attack us?”
Even as we crossed into Old Town, through the (usually lively) Hofgarten, we didn’t see a single soul dressed up. We were 100% sure we had somehow gotten the traditions or dates mixed up, and were already thinking up an escape route that would minimize our public humiliation.
Then, we saw it.
A tiger onesie here, a crazy clown there…
We had found our people!
Despite a shaky (and paranoid) start, we got to Marienplatz and finally found the party. The weather might have been grey and soggy, but the next few hours were an absolute blast.
Even better was the fact that there were all these traditions that we had no clue about, which made things all the more fun. From the many kids aggressively throwing confetti (AT us, by the way) to the red-faced partiers hollering German hits that I didn’t know the words to… it was all in all, a pretty wonderful way to spend a Tuesday.
We ate crepes, chowed down on Hungarian langos, bobbed in the crowd during a bunch of musical performances and in true Bavarian fashion, drank plenty of beer. The periodic rain and dreary Munich grey didn’t seem to deter anyone from being their craziest selves.
I even got stopped for a few photos, because clearly I’m one irresistible banana.
Maybe one day I’ll make it to the big Karneval celebrations in Cologne or maybe (let’s dream big), even Rio!
Until then though, I’m pretty happy with my first Fasching experience. In fact, I’m already brainstorming the costume ideas for next year…!
That Time I Went on a Fairytale Road Trip (Gone Very Wrong)
I need to make it known that I am the absolute worst road trip partner (possibly in the entire history of road trips).
Not only am I an inept driver, it seems I was also born without any inner compass, which means maps are (ironically, as a travel blogger), my kryptonite.
I had high hopes and dreams of exploring Germany’s romantic road last weekend, a plan quickly dashed by my lack of navigation skills and complete inability to stay awake in moving vehicles. You know how children unfailingly doze off in cars? That’s me, except far less cute.
This is how I ended up 100km off course during said road trip. The initial plan was to grab a bus up to Frankfurt, rent a car, take a detour to Eltz Castle and then onwards to Würzburg, where we’d drive along the Romantic Road down to Munich.
These were great plans, except for one fatal flaw: they counted on me being able to accomplish basic tasks… which I am not. After loading up the Google Maps route, I perked up as chief navigator and informed my boyfriend “It’s only 1.5 hours away!”. We got on the ever speedy Autobahn and those were the last words I remember, until I was gently nudged awake about an hour later.
“Are we almost there?” my boyfriend asked. I felt silly (but not surprised) that I fell asleep, but I assumed there weren’t many turns or exits anyway. I picked up my phone and realized that… nope, we were nowhere near Eltz Castle, and were in fact, en route to Cologne, about 100km away from where we had intended to go.
SOOO, I guess we were going to Cologne!
Now, this accidental detour wasn’t my first time in Cologne, but it was the first time I’d seen it so empty. I have to admit – it was really nice to step into the epic Cologne Cathedral without a huge crowd mobbing the front square.
The city was setting up for Karnevale (with big festivities this weekend), but there was barely anybody on the streets. With shops not yet open, and because apparently I hate myself, I decided to climb the cathedral’s tower, which was a thigh blasting 533 steps. A good morning workout to jolt me out of my zombie-like state!
We spent a little while exploring the city centre. I have to say, Cologne’s Old Town is ridiculously pretty, with picture-perfect sights like this that we got to enjoy all to ourselves. Not a bad place to chow down on a pretzel, I’d say. It was a short stop (mostly for a driving break/sustenance) but a pretty happy accident all in all.
After fuelling up with some breakfast and (maybe 10) energy drinks, we made the drive to Eltz Castle, our initial 1st stop.
I have to say: Eltz Castle is a sight truly worth the detour. I mean, hey, after all, this is travel guru Rick Steves’ favourite castle (sorry for that nerd fact), and for a guy who’s travelled a ton and seen (I assume) his fair share of castles, that’s a rather big deal. We visited knowing full well that it would be closed. After all, it’s super off-season for them, but I desperately wanted to prance around, play princess, and see the prettiness for myself.
To reach the castle actually requires a 15-20min walk through the forest (which, I promise, is much less shady than I make it sound). The suspense was killing me. Every time we turned, I expected to see the castle towering above me, Disney intro style. When we finally caught our first glimpse of it, we saw the castle from the side, and I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by how normal it seemed….
It was a very quiet day to visit, with no more than 2 or 3 groups of people there at a time. All the better, since I hate crowds and had lugged a helium heart balloon with me (for a rather cheesy Romantic Road photo shoot I had planned).
As I shamelessly posed #forthegram, I got the craziest surprise ever…
I was almost run over by a van!
Like huh?? Where did it even come from?! It was the most bizarre sight, seeing a regular van pull up to the old wooden door of this fairytale castle.
An old man climbed out of the car, opened the door and proceeded to drive in, worriedly peeking at me to ensure I wasn’t going to follow them in.
Yeah it’s okay man, I’d be terrified of the crazy girl with the balloon too.
Since my boyfriend is more of an athletic explorer type, we went on a little trek around the grounds to get a new perspective on the castle. That’s the thing – Instagram ever only shows you one side, so it was really cool to be able to climb up some hills and dangle my feet off some (very muddy) rocks and see the castle from a whole new perspective.
After bidding farewell to my dream home, we made a quick detour to Frankfurt to visit Chipotle (where all my burrito dreams came true) and then continued onwards (in the night) to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Naturally, this didn’t go according to plan either. Thanks to yet another Google Maps disaster, for an hour, we drove towards another Rothenburg that wasn’t actually where we meant to go. For a variety of reasons (including severe sleep deprivation), I lost it.
And I started bawling like a baby.
“I’m… just… so… bad… at… MAPS!!” I remember heaving through the lamest sobs known to man. It was at that point that my tears mixed in with my day-worn eyeliner and I started looking like I’d been dumped at prom.
Some Class A consoling later (gold star for boyfriend!), I picked up the shambles of my dignity and watched Google maps and every sign like a hawk.
By some miracle, we made it to Rothenburg ob der Tauber before midnight, through its epic city walls and into the cozy bed of our guesthouse, strategically positioned above a lovely Italian restaurant.
When in the morning, it was a blue sky day in Rothenburg and I finally got to see the medieval town that we had driven into, I could have cried (out of happiness this time). I’ll have full guides on Eltz Castle and Rothenburg ob der Tauber coming soon, but for now, just take a peek at these picture-perfect photos:
So in all, despite many wrong turns (literally) and more than a few missteps on my part, what started as a romantic weekend did end up being one… with a few unexpected stops, 100% more Chipotle and much less of the Romantic Road than expected. Still, it was one for the books.
That Time I Visited Rome in the Off-Season
It might surprise you guys to know that at one point in my life, I absolutely hated Rome.
*gasp* I know, how could I? Rome? “But Gladiator was suuuuch a good movie!”
Trust me – nobody was as shocked as I was.
Call me a starry-eyed backpacker, but the first time I set foot in Rome, I was ready to be swept away like the heroine of a cheesy rom com. I had all these dazzling images of Rome in my head (thanks Lizzie McGuire) and I had my heart set on loving the city as much as I always thought I would.
But, following a mucky week of thunderstorms, sketchy guesthouses, sweaty crowds and one pickpocketed purse… I was done. I shook my fist at the unfair travel gods and left in a huff, vowing never to return.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago: I was swept away in my usual 3am Skyscanner binge (#rowdyFriday), testing all sorts of dates and combos for a quick January escape. Because Munich had turned me into a walking popsicle, I craved a visit to someplace warmer. That’s when a suspiciously cheap flight caught my eye.
… a cheap flight en route to Rome.
It seems my impulsivity outweighed my pettiness, and I decided that Rome was worth a second go. A week and a half later, I had recruited a travel buddy and soon found myself in the mecca of carbs and glorious architecture. And you know what? In an unexpected turn of events, Rome won my heart in four short days.
Visiting Rome in January was drastically different from June.
For one – you only get stabbed by a selfie stick once every few hours, rather than thrice per minute. Second – the insane heat fizzles out, and you feel much less like a melting slab of dough. For the first time, I felt like I could see Rome for what it was – a glorious city with epic history and sights, rather than a cesspool of fannypacks and tripods.
It’s genuinely incredible how many amazing things you can do in Rome for free.
Our first day was devoted to exploring all the tourist must-sees, starting off with the Trevi Fountain, which recently re-opened after a 2 year restoration.
One of the most bitter moments from my last visit was when I trekked to the fountain, excited as a puppy to see it for myself, only to discover (upon arrival) that it had been drained out, covered in ugly scaffolding and shut down for (literally) 2 years without a word.
For me, this visit was redemption time, and you know what? It was worth the wait.
The fountain was absolutely stunning, and while I felt embarrassed throwing my coin in, I later learned that 3000 euros are collected from the fountain each day, and are then put towards social programs.
So hey, cheesy photo opps for a cause!
After an amazing lunch where we ate our weight in pasta, we rolled our food babies to the Pantheon, Rome’s most famous temple.
The inside was absolutely gorgeous, and substantially less crowded than in June. With bright light flooding through the oculus, the entire temple was lit up with unbelievable golden tones…
Like an idiot, I stood there with my mouth hanging open, trying in vain to capture the beauty on camera. We lingered here for a few minutes, soaking it all in before we pried ourselves away to our next stop: the Piazza Navona.
Truth be told, it almost felt like the universe was saying “yo Christina, your last visit really sucked. Have a balloon and let’s make this right.”
But actually though, when we arrived at Piazza Navona, it was decked out in gorgeous balloon arches (in heart form, no less) and all sorts of carnival booths with colourful toys and prizes. Coupled with kids running around having the best day ever, it was quite a different vibe to the Rome I remembered.
Sadly, all this hub bub wasn’t actually to appease me, but rather to celebrate Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas. My favourite bit? The live band looking dapper in their matching outfits.
All love’d up from the buzz at Piazza Navona (where we coincidentally ran into a classmate of ours from Germany), we raced to our final stop off the day – Castel Sant’Angelo, the cylindrical beauty at the end of the Sant’Angelo Bridge.
The views at this museum (formerly a mausoleum, fortress and castle) were just ok. No, I can’t lie to you – they were amazing. So amazing that my SD card filled up.
When Day 2 came, I had already formed an odd attachment to the city. I just couldn’t believe how much better it was the second time round.
According to my phone, we logged almost 20km of walking on Day 2 alone… but don’t worry – the calories lost were promptly replenished with oversized gelato cones the size of my (already rather large) face.
Our long walking day took us from Termini Station onwards to the Spanish Steps, passing gorgeous attractions like the Santa Maria Maggiore, the Opera House, Piazza di Republica and more along the way. While the Spanish Steps themselves were sealed off for restoration (oh Rome), we were able to walk up to the Villa Medici, where we got the most gorgeous view ever of the city:
As we climbed back down, we made our way past Piazza del Popolo and then to the quaint neighborhood of Trastavere, an amazing subset of Rome with the laidback vibes of small town Italy.
The lovely cafe-lined streets were a welcome change from the heavy tourist bustle, so we decided to rest up in the coziest possible way – sipping foamy cappuccinos while wolfing down cups of panna cotta.
We held nothing back on Day 3, when we conquered Ancient Rome with the agility of badass gladiators. One combo ticket was all we needed for access to the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
Pro tip: if you purchase your combo tickets at Palatine Hill (which usually has little to no lineups), you can then jump ahead in the queue at the Coliseum.
That alone saved us 1.5 hours in line! If you’re looking for an opportunity to improve your smug face, this would be an excellent one.
The logical reward for all this sightseeing was an unnecessary amount of food.
On this particular day, my waistline was heftily expanded through the following events: a pre-lunch sandwich that ruined me for other sandwiches, a delicious seafood pasta lunch and a post-lunch suppli (a deep fried rice ball oozing with tomato sauce and melted cheese).
Yuh huh. It was as good as it sounds.
And rather than give into a food coma afterwards, we lugged ourselves to see the Altare della Patria (the massive typewriter-esque building that Romans love to hate) and the Galleria Borghese, one of Rome’s most well-known art galleries.
And for our final day, we crossed into the world’s smallest country: the Vatican. Our first order of business was climbing the dome (cupola) at Saint Peter’s Basilica, a feat not suited for the claustrophobic or exercise-averse.
After cramming myself through some pretty narrow passages, I survived the 551 dizzying steps up and came head to head with this stunning view:
And then onwards to the impossible grandeur of the Basilica’s interior…
Even though it was my second time inside, I still couldn’t believe how incredible it all was. For real, I was getting neck pains from staring at all the ceiling’s fine details. I even saw a few people who were so moved, they were crying. If there’s one thing you can’t miss in Rome, to me this is it.
By 2:30pm (after a long lunch of course), we had made it to the Vatican Museum, surprisingly void of crowds. What’s it like getting a massive museum like this all to yourself? Well, it was tough to resist the urge to just slide down this epic stairwell, but I assure you: I kept my cool and acted like a proper adult.
We ended our last night in Rome with a lovely outdoor dinner beneath the twinkling lights of a Roman side street. On our way home, we picked up our final scoops of Italian gelato (dulce de leche and stratiatella to be precise) and headed home, 10 pounds heavier and with the fondness of Rome I always knew I had.
And so, for those thinking of visiting Rome in the off-season, do it. Just remember to pack stretchy pants.
That Time I Visited Istanbul Solo
Sometimes in life, you just have to trust your gut.
Truth be told: when I found myself with a plane ticket to Istanbul only 48 hours after a terrorist attack, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Frantic pacing was involved of course, alongside incessant Googling and nervous wine guzzling… but as I’m sure you can appreciate, “TERROR ALERTS ISSUED FOR ISTANBUL” weren’t the most comforting of headlines to read.
It didn’t take long for my travel buddy to cancel her trip, prioritizing safety over the lost cash from our bookings. Simultaneously, the panicked phone calls from home began to pour in, with my parents urging me to play it safe and (essentially) lock myself at home in panic position.
My ever-so-lovely parents even offered to fly me home from the chaos, despite the fact that I was in Munich, miles and miles away from where the bombing even occurred. But… you know how logic can often escape worried mothers.
So I did what I thought was right: I assured them of my safety, cancelled my hostel booking and went to sleep in a huff, feeling robbed of my dream trip to the beautiful city of Istanbul, which had glittered for ages at the top of my bucket list.
I’m not quite sure when or why I woke up and said “screw it”… but I did. Maybe I dreamt a particularly adventurous dream… but something in my gut told me I would regret not taking this trip of a lifetime. So, with a few white lies told and a quick panic packing session, I found myself all alone on a plane bound for Turkey’s capital.
And it was the best decision I ever made.
I can’t lie to you and say it was all Turkish delight and free apple tea… although my waistline can attest that there was much of both. Instead, I’ll say this: it was one of the most amazing, but challenging travel experiences of my life.
Istanbul is a stunning city oozing with depth and culture. I ate some of the best food of my life here, and saw some of the most beautiful sights and architecture.
I originally wrote this post in 2016, leaving the story at that – the good stuff, but I feel I’d be doing you a disservice to not tell the whole truth. I adored Istanbul and I adored being out of my comfort zone, with zero clue how to do anything properly (even buying a ticket for the metro)… but as much as I’d like to romanticize this experience as a whirlwind adventure, it was also the same trip that I got hopelessly lost, partially stalked, a few times followed and as a result, became more of a badass solo traveller.
So here’s a (rather long) photo diary of my trip – a review of the good and the bad. This experience is by far one of my most memorable, not just for the impossible beauty that is Istanbul, but because it reminded me of why it’s so important to travel, and to try it solo every so often.
Traveling is supposed to challenge you – your assumptions, your limits and of course, the boundaries of your comfort zone. I’m beyond thankful that I got this chance to learn, grow, and eat baklavas til near-implosion… here’s what I got up to:
The culture shock began as soon as I arrived at the airport. Without even a clue of how to buy a metro ticket (or token, I guess), I realized just how out of my element I was.
I’m used to travelling on my own, but mostly through Western/Central Europe where most systems are the same, and cater to dummy tourists like me.
After a great deal of confusion, I took the long ride from the airport and got off at my stop, realizing all too quickly that I never saved walking directions to my hostel.
It was at this point that I got hopelessly lost navigating the steep streets of Istanbul’s Galata neighborhood, following a zig zaggy blue dot on my iPhone.
It took over an hour of searching (and a terrifying roaming bill), but I finally found my home for the next few days.
After resting up, my first full day was dedicated to seeing all the sights. Even in the winter, Istanbul was absolutely breathtaking, and unlike any place I’d ever been.
The byproduct of this beauty was of course, utter distraction, which led to me walking straight into a poor old Turkish man en route to the Old City, whose tea did an impressive splat across his entire body. I apologized profusely, he smiled, and I felt bad for the rest of eternity. #CanadianProblems
One of my first stops was the Basilica Cistern, a famous underwater reservoir known for its appearance in “From Russia with Love”. In full tourist garb, I didn’t feel much like a Bond girl, but I did manage to sneak a few glorious long exposure shots.
It was an eerie but fascinating setting, with long illuminated columns lining pools of still water. Wonderfully tranquil (bar the many other visitors who thought flash photography was a good idea…)
I then emerged from the darkness (which is a cool sentence I never thought I’d say) and set my sights on one of Istanbul’s biggest attractions: the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (AKA the Blue Mosque).
With its close proximity to the bombing site just a few days prior, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure enough, there were security guards all over the place, patting people down, plus a sea of police officers and civilians making their way to the mosque.
I had arrived at prayer time (during which it’s closed to visitors), so I explored the area, made friends with stray cats and people-watched from a gorgeous courtyard nearby.
When I was finally able to go inside, I got dressed in the robe, skirt and headscarf that they provided and stepped inside.
The detailed tile work was absolutely mindblowing, and was of course a recurring theme in all my Turkish sightseeing. After grabbing myself a quick lunch (did I mention how cheap and wonderful the food is?! They even gave me free tea as I waited!), I set my sights on my next big attraction of the day: the Hagia Sophia.
Once the world’s largest church (before it became a mosque), the Hagia Sophia today is a badass museum that will truly make you stop and stare.
I’ve seen a lot of churches throughout my time in Europe, but this one genuinely blew me away.
The sheer scale and beauty of the place is borderline unbelievable, with ornate mosaics and towering pillars everywhere you look.
Coincidentally, it was while lining up here that I ran into one of my hostel roommates who I had met earlier that day, along with two guys he had met while sightseeing.
It’s always interesting how quickly plans can snowball when you’re a solo traveller. Case in point: within a matter of seconds, I went from roaming solo to conquering Istanbul with 3 friends (two of which were apparently entertainment moguls who knew Jet Li. … or so they claimed).
We spent the evening together, sampling Istanbul’s best sweets while sipping gallons of apple tea. My new friends even treated me to a dessert of my choice, and after an agonizing few minutes staring holes into the menu, I chose a delicious Burma Kunefe (a swirly pastry wrapped with layers of pistachio).
It was oh so perfect.
After completing the night with a smoky local shisha bar (where I most definitely did not blend in), I spent my next day doing something I’m a bit better at: shopping.
As a female travelling on her own, and one that’s visibly not Turkish, I wasn’t surprised at all that I’d be subject to much hollering and swarming at the local markets. I wasn’t bothered by it – more amused by the eyebrow swaggles and “HEY LADYs” that became the soundtrack of my day.
After getting attacked by pigeons at the New Mosque, my first stop was the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, where I was greeted by picture-perfect spice mounds, sparkly tea sets and stand after stand of unknown treats.
Here, I learned about the Turks’ very liberal sample policy (which meant I ate my weight in Turkish delights) and moreover learned flavours like cheesecake DO exist!
Of course, despite my earnest attempts at haggling, I still walked away with a much lighter wallet, and a camera bag crammed with spices, teas and treats.
Ugh, weakness is me.
Mourning my monetary losses, I made my way to the Süleymaniye Mosque, the 3rd largest mosque in the city.
It was probably the quietest and most peaceful spot I visited in Istanbul. Right next to the mosque was a gorgeous Ottoman cemetery and a big courtyard boasting the best ever view of the Bosphorous.
While admiring this viewpoint, I caught a photographer using me as a prop for his photos, his ninja snaps not being as subtle as he thought.
Recognizing that I do have a pretty good “staring out wistfully” pose, I pretended to not notice and instead tossed the guy a few gramworthy poses. You’re welcome bro, I know the struggle.
From oddly peaceful to hopelessly touristic, I made my way from the Süleymaniye to Topkapı Palace, where swarms of tour groups had arrived to snoop around, just like me. Once a main home for the Ottoman sultans, today the palace is a museum and tourist magnet.
It’s not hard to see why. All I can say is: dang those Ottomans knew how to live.
Sprawling over four courtyards, this place was like getting smacked in the face with opulence. Especially in the Harem (my favourite part of the visit), I was surrounded by an endless display of elegant tiles, intricate patterns and vibrant colours. Needless to say, I wouldn’t mind moving in.
Of course, a little retail therapy was needed after all that hard sightseeing work.
Off to the Grand Bazaar I went,where I came face to face with a Turkish movie starlet.
… except well, not quite.
Passing by my 10000th rug shop of the trip was when I met a dapper mustached salesman who with a prideful tilt of the chain, waved me over. I had gotten pretty good at dodging salespeople at that point, but something about him seemed intriguing.
He gestured at my giant Nikon and beckoned “Take my photo… I’m a famous Turkish movie star!” This guy couldn’t be for real. I laughed, ever the skeptic, but indulged him in a mini photo shoot.
After showing me a few of his rugs, he sheepishly confessed to me that he wasn’t in fact a movie star, but was happy to have some company for once.
Well shucks. I of course forgave him quickly.
Going through the markets was a really interesting experience for me, mainly because it was so much emptier than I expected.
While chatting with a shopkeeper (a young guy who got sucked into the family biz selling lanterns), he told me that tourism had been going down a lot in the area… but that for locals, life went on as normal. “What are we going to do, stop our lives?”
Over a few cups of tea, he told me about how he just came back from studying in Australia, and how he hated the way Turkey was portrayed in the media.
I opened up to him about some of my safety concerns… like how I avoided being out on my own at night “just in case”. He laughed and asked what I was afraid of. “If you’re afraid of being robbed, I can promise all these guys are richer than you are”, he said as he gestured to the shops around us.
Despite how lighthearted our conversation was, it did make me think.
While I loved Istanbul, there were definitely moments where I felt uneasy being on my own.
There were some men who approached me on the street, walking with me and asking me questions for several blocks.
There was the shopkeeper who shook my hand as an introduction and then didn’t let go for an unsettling amount of time… There was even, in my own hostel, a guy who waited for me to wake up so we could hang out (another story for another time), but all these experiences did (as much as I hate to admit) make me wish I wasn’t travelling on my own.
My new shopkeeper friend dismissed my worries as paranoia. I’m still not so sure it was. When he decided to close up shop early and invite me to another place for tea, that’s when those same worries began to settle in.
“We’ll go for shisha at a local place too, I’ll show you!” The sky was getting dark, I was pretty far from home and this guy, while very lovely, wasn’t someone I actually knew.
So I declined the invitation. The offense he took was clear. A quick, snappy goodbye later, he stormed away in the opposite direction.
Maybe I should have been a bit more openminded… but if there’s anything I’ve learned from my travels, it’s to trust your gut. I love venturing abroad with friends, but one of the perks to solo travel is that you develop assertiveness, thick skin and an ability to fend for yourself.
Our interaction may not have ended so well, but I’m still thankful for the eye-opening conversation, whether or not I was being paranoid.
On my final day, I had just a few short hours left to explore the city before heading to the airport.
I had been eyeing the Galata Tower all throughout my stay, mostly because it was part of my daily walk back to the hostel. My last day seemed a fitting time to finally visit.
Unlike most tower views in Europe, this one omits the typical leg blasting climb and opts instead for a quick elevator ride that zips you right up. It was a very quiet morning, which meant yes, I felt like the queen of Istanbul with this view all to myself:
The rest of the day was dictated naturally by food. I had a few remaining liras in my wallet, and the most accurate description I can use is I went full Pacman through the streets of Istanbul.
It was, without exaggeration, a marathon of Turkish street eats, with me buying essentially every item that caught my eye.
After leaving the tower, I made my way to Karaköy Güllüoğlu Üretim Tesisi, renowned by many as the maker of Istanbul’s best baklava. 5 flaky, gooey baklavas later, I can confirm that it was a most heavenly experience, one that made me melt into a puddle of caloric joy.
This proceeded with many cups of fresh fruit juice and creamy ayran (a Turkish yogurt drink), plus a doughy simit (a circular bread encrusted with seeds) and lamb köfte (spiced meatballs). Not a bad consumption record for like… 3 hours. No regrets, because every bite was absolute bliss.
It was with that eatathon that I ended my time in Istanbul. I hopped back on the metro (my pants feeling much snugger than before), and promptly made my way back to the airport.
In hindsight, I am so extremely glad that I went with my gut and boarded that plane.
This experience taught me that fear should never hold you back, and that despite all the risks and dangers everywhere in the world, it’s still important to venture out there and experience what the world has to offer. It won’t always be easy, especially if you’re travelling alone, but you’ll widen your perspective
Thanks for an unforgettable visit, Istanbul… I hope to be back someday soon.
my Travel Update Archive
Once upon a time, this travel blog had a ton of Dear Diary type posts that I eventually phased out. Looking back on these updates though make me smile and realize how far I’ve come, so if you’re also curious to see snippets of my life from years ago, feel free to flick through these old travel stories and updates.
Surrrprise, guys… I’m alive!
Okay, I really have to own up to it… it has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve blogged.
I could make up a million excuses for this bit of Internet silence, but the simple truth is this: since packing my bags for Munich three months ago, I’ve been caught in a whirlwind of new friends, new experiences and jam-packed days.
I’ve been trying so hard to soak up every single moment that I’ve gotten a little neglectful… erm, lazy even… with documenting them properly for the interwebz.
That said though, with 2016 just around the corner, I figured it was finally time to resurrect this little site of mine… hopefully, for good 🙂
So what’s new?
Well… On September 1st, I left Vancouver to live abroad on my own for the first time in my entire life! I am now more than halfway into my exchange semester at LMU in Munich, where I’ll be studying until the end of February.
After that, I intend to travel around Europe for a few more months before settling back in Canadaland.
I’ve been sitting here for about 20 minutes trying (in vain) to explain how much I love my life here in Munich. Do you know those moments in life when everything seems to just fall into place?
That’s exactly how the past few months have been. From randomly meeting the greatest group of friends to landing an unexpected job, my exchange has been an absolute dream. I have so so many stories to share, and I can’t wait to blog them up for you soon.
Onto more site-related news, some of you might have noticed the name change!
As of now, Hello Guanster is no more, and here’s the simple reason why… You know that cringey feeling you get when you revisit your first email account? (e.g. ahh [email protected]… what was I thinking??)
That’s the feeling I was starting to get about Hello Guanster. It seemed catchy and cute at the time, but I definitely feel like I’ve outgrown it.
My plan is to orient this blog more towards travel in the coming months, and beyond just a place to offer tips and guides, I want it to be a place where I document how my adventures have helped me grow.
My plan is to turn this blog into a space where curious optimists can get together and fangirl collectively at how great this world can be, so here it is…! I think Happy to Wander has a pretty nice ring to it… don’t you?
To sum things up, 2015 was hands down the best year of my life so far, and I’m determined to make 2016 just as great.
With trips in January to Rome, Istanbul and Marrakech, I think I’ll be off to a good start.
And on a more bloggy note, I plan to spend a lot more time working on Happy to Wander, writing up stories, tips and all that good stuff for you. Finding a good balance between ‘living in the moment’ and documenting moments can be tough, but striking that happy medium is undeniably rewarding.
Like all good things, travel blogging takes a great deal of dedication, hard work and patience, and I’m making it my goal for 2016 to really give my all to this site. I hope you’re ready!
I’ll have plenty more posts for you soon. Until then, enjoy the rest of 2015!
With an overflowing backpack on my shoulders and an unshakeable grin on my face, I’m thrilled to announce that I am officially on the road again, and will be travelling full-time for the next 1.5 months.
While I’ve travelled quite a bit in the last few months, this will be the longest trip I’ve taken in a while. Going back into ‘constant travel’ mode will take some getting used to, but it’s a challenge I’m sure I can handle. With eight new countries in the pipeline, here’s a sneak peek at where I’m headed in the next few weeks:
1. Finland and Scandinavia
I’ve seen quite a bit of Western Europe, but never the North, which is why I am so excited for this part of my trip. I just stopped for a long layover in Riga and am now in Helsinki for a few days.
From what I’ve seen, this city oozes ‘cool’ and I can’t wait to spend a few days museum & restaurant hopping. From here, I’ll get a chance to relax at a friend’s summer cottage near Turku before working my way through Scandinavia. See you soon, Stockholm, Bergen and Copenhagen!
2. Amsterdam and Rotterdam
After wrapping up my mini tour of Scandinavia, I’ll be spending Easter Weekend in Amsterdam at my first music festival! This will be my third year in a row visiting the Netherlands, but hopefully this time around I’ll get to dig into more ‘off-the-beaten-path’ itineraries for both Amsterdam and Rotterdam. If all else fails, I’ll just stuff myself with Dutch cheese and apple pie. I’m pretty good at that.
My excitement for this trip borders on ridiculous. Iceland has been a dream of mine for years, and finally, at the end of March, it’ll become a reality!
From Amsterdam, I fly to Reykjavik, where I’ll be driving across the country with two friends in a cozy camper van.
From the Blue Lagoon to mindblowing nature at every turn, I’m pretty much ready to vomit from excitement. If you want to see why, here’s the video I watched years ago that inspired my Icelandic obsession:
4. Ireland and Scotland
Last but not least, before returning to Munich, I’ll be flying from Reykjavik to Dublin! This part of my trip is still a bit fuzzy on details, but I definitely plan to see Dublin, Edinburgh, and many undecided places along the way. Any recommendations would be much appreciated!
March and April 2017
Apparently I do monthly updates now!
I know this is pretty random, but the past few months have been packed with existential crises, the most recent of which made me realize my blog has been severely missing a personal touch.
While I LOVE writing guides and photo diaries, sometimes it’s nice to remind you that there’s a human potato who’s behind these giggly words, which is why I’m now committing myself to monthly updates that catch you up on what I’ve been up to, AKA which countries I’m currently pillaging for carbs.
And so, for the creepos interested in tracking my movements, this one’s for you 😉
Now, why two months bundled into one?
Well, I just came up with the idea now (#showerthoughts for the win), plus March and April have been absolutely insane months packed with travel, which will make me seem a lot more exciting than I am 😉 I am so painfully behind on blogging about all the beautiful places that I’ve stumbled through in the past two months… but I’m slowly working my way through! For now though, enjoy some highlights!
You know those major bucket list destinations that haunt you from the corner of every Pinterest board and Instagram? Since moving to Munich, that has been Slovenia for me.
No joke – some days I would just stare longingly at a map, daydreaming about how close I was and how easy a weekender would be. Mid-March, I finally did it!
A short road trip later, I was able to do a sunrise hike around Lake Bled, discovered the unreal beauty of Ljubljana and found zen at Bled’s less famous cousin, Lake Bohinj. The verdict? Not enough time at ALL. I’m already plotting my return.
After Slovenia, I took the slow route back to Munich and spent a few days in the all-too-underrated Croatian capital of Zagreb.
I’m a rather stubborn person, so after repeatedly hearing that Zagreb was boring, I set out to see for myself. People, Zagreb is so far from boring!
At the end of March, I headed off to Malta for a press trip and it was absolutely incredible. One of the coolest, most interesting countries I’ve visited in a long time in terms of architecture, history and food. Four days of pure bliss, I came home with a full SD card and a little extra cushioning around the tummy. I guess some sacrifices need to be made eh?
PS: The swishy hotel I stayed at even had a tanning bed in the bathroom (which I did not use) and a Jacuzzi on the balcony (which I used plenty). My lifelong dream of eating chicken nuggets in a hot tub? Fulfilled at long last.
MONTENEGRO, CROATIA AND BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
After catching my breath for a few days in Germany, I headed off again for a week in the Balkans. For the first time in my life, I went in with absolutely no plan, embracing a go-with-the-flow spontaneity that would make any backpacker proud.
This was my first solo “backpacking” trip in ages and was such a great reminder of why I started travelling in the first place. From Podgorica, Montenegro, I had a week to make it to Tuzla, Bosnia. Besides that, no fixed plans!
That’s how I ended up hiking fortresses in Kotor, meeting friends who convinced me to stop over in Dubrovnik for a night, then falling absolutely head over heels with Mostar. So much that I kept extending my stay, leaving only one day in the capital of Sarajevo.
I’ll be writing more in-depth about how this trip affected me, but truly – there is no country in the world like Bosnia. Besides its stunning beauty, it is a genuinely captivating country that will simultaneously break your heart yet fill it up with hope.
Mushy and vague I know, but I’ll elaborate further in some future blog posts. While here, I did some wild things… I climbed an abandoned sniper tower for sunset, scaled a mountain on all fours in a dress and even hitchhiked for the first time. I know, right? Who have I become?!
Hey you guys wanna hear a funny joke? I ran a half-marathon.
For real! Me! I am now officially Christina Guan – human potato / half-marathon runner. My packed travel schedule meant almost zero training, so it’s a miracle that my knees didn’t just snap off. Here are some fun screen grabs of the awful photos they got of me at the finish line. I know, I look like a thumb.
And now, as I type this rambly mess of an update, I’m sitting in a beautiful artsy café in Bulgaria, a country that has challenged and surprised me daily. I’ve been here since the end of April, and will continue making my way through the country until mid-May, when I’ll be in Bucharest, Romania for an awesome event called #ExperienceBucharest!
I’ll be joining over 100 other bloggers, vloggers and influencers who will be storming through the city to experience what it has to offer and showcase the epicness of Bucharest.
It’s my first blogger event ever – can you imagine? I’ve got my business cards ordered and have been practicing being a normal human daily in the mirror, but we’ll see how that pans out. I’ve never been one for networking, but this will be interesting!
SO if you’ve made it this far… congratulations and thanks for reading! I’d love to hear in the comments what your travel plans are. Talk to me, friends! 🙂
May and June 2017
When the other day, I had the epiphany that we’re over halfway into 2017, I might have peed a little.
Here’s the thing – I don’t deal well with time passing. It makes me feel old and weirdly vulnerable. I mean, despite my “early 20s status”, there are some days when I feel ready to just procure a rocking chair, learn to knit and call it a day.
That said, after I staved off my existential crisis, I realized how long overdue I was for a monthly update! I have to admit, when I valiantly promised monthly updates back in April, I didn’t expect my plans to unravel so quickly.
To be fair though (as will be revealed in this post), May was non-stop go go go and June was packed in a different way. Hence hello, yet another “monthly update” – 2 for the price of one 😉
May was a month spent entirely on the road, which sounds really cool and romantic, but in reality was just a mix of poor nutritional choices (I’m nursing a prominent #BalkanBulge around my midriff as I type), coupled with wearing the same 4 shirts over and over.
BUT, if that’s the tradeoff for seeing and doing epic things, I guess I’m okay with that.
Here’s where I went in May!
When I first told people I was visiting Bulgaria, initial reactions consisted mostly of “why” and “where??”.
But seriously, I need you to know this: Bulgaria is ridiculously awesome.
I’ll admit, I endured a shaky start travelling solo in a country where I couldn’t even read the alphabet, let alone carry any kind of conversation.
But in spite of initial struggles, Bulgaria amazed me. It is hands down one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. My two weeks took me through Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Veliko Tarnovo – the unsuspecting city that completely rocked my world.
It was here that I met the coolest group of friends who adopted my little scaredy cat self and transformed me into a (slightly more) adventurous badass.
With them, I shimmied into abandoned Communist monuments, went night time swimming in waterfalls and hiked trails that would make former-me cringe.
It was the best experience ever, and the biggest “eff you” I could have given to my comfort zone.
I plan to write way more in the future about Bulgaria, but here are some photos of the amazing things I saw. If you get the opportunity, please go. I’ll pay you a good chunk of my savings to bring me back some banitsa and tarator soup. *drools*
Waddling into Bucharest, I felt like the chosen one.
Chosen for #ExperienceBucharest that is – the largest ever tourism campaign the city has ever seen, and run entirely by volunteers to boot. It was my first time at an event of this kind, where I got to rub shoulders with over 100 other bloggers and influencers, many of which I have
stalked admired for years.
I mean… business cards were exchanged, so you can imagine how important and fully “adult”ed I felt.
But I bet you can also imagine also the 50 shades of awkward I breezed through, because I am me, and cope poorly in social situations.
Here’s an actual photo of me awkwardly sipping wine at a networking event:
Blue wine aside, the main focus of this trip was about discovering Bucharest, and I have to say: this Romanian capital was a wonderfully unexpected surprise.
From cool hidden cafes to colourful, secret passages – Bucharest was absolutely nothing like I imagined. If you’re looking for a unique getaway that’s more off the beaten path, book a flight to Bucharest and you will be smacked in the face with awesome. I promise!
Plus, despite initial networking anxiety, I met some really cool blogger friends along the way. Woah – I have real (non-Internet) friends again. #bigstep
Straight after Bucharest, it was onwards to London.
Oh, London… AKA that time I went bankrupt. I can’t lie, my budget had ten heart attacks jumping from Romania to England, but in the spirit of “hey it’s expensive anyway”, I decided to go 1000% wild and treat. mah. self.
I’m talking: fancy brunches with ridiculous views, high teas where the pastries looked like makeup (lol) and all sorts of frolicking around neighbourhoods I couldn’t afford.
Here, I met up with some friends from home and just tore through the city’s food scene with Pacman-esque enthusiasm. I have zero #ragrets.
Exploring England by Train
After a few amazing days in London, I spent the next week city hopping around England thanks BritRail. I admit, train travel is not the cheapest option for seeing the country, but I’ll be damned if it ain’t amazing and convenient.
Oxford was my first stop, and it was just as gorgeous as I always imagined. I got the chance to tour a few of the colleges and realized, Hogwarts is REAL. (Well, pretty much anyway). The architecture in this city is both droolworthy and photogenic – a must visit when you’re in England.
After that, I caught the train to Liverpool, a place I now affectionately dub as “my spirit city”.
I always knew I would love it because my Beatles fanaticism knows no bounds, but beyond that – I discovered a buzzing and vibrant hub for food, culture and entertainment.
Plus, it was here that I accidentally went on a date with a 70 year old who grew up in Liverpool during peak Beatlemania. No joke.
We met at a hostel, and with so much excitement, he told me what it was like growing up in the city during such a crazy time. I then asked if he’d ever seen the tribute band that plays at the Cavern Club every Thursday (where the Beatles themselves played hundreds of gigs). He paused, then was like “great idea! LET’S GO!!!”
SO that’s how I spent the entire evening at a (pretty convincing) Beatles tribute concert, while this crazy 70 year old jammed out and relived his youth next to me. He knew every lyric to every song, and kept saying “I’m so glad you dragged me to this!!”
Well, I didn’t, but okay.
My little England tour was capped off with my greatest travel fail to date – or rather, my boyfriend’s (FYI, my actual boyfriend, not the 70 year old Liverpool guy). He was joining me for the weekend and had literally one job: book a hotel.
He ended up booking a hotel in the wrong city.
(And people wonder why I swim in trust issues).
Ending up in Eastbourne rather than Brighton, I soaked in the serendipity of this booking gone wrong. Though my time in the city was brief, I got to enjoy a cotton candy sunset, a pretty walk along the water and a rather unexpected tribute concert for one of my favourite bands, the Killers. Random, but very wonderful.
We did end up in Brighton the next day, where I ate my weight in sweets at Choccywoccydoodah and soaked in the buzzing atmosphere of the seaside, crowded despite the cloudy skies. I’ve always admired the Brits for their optimistic weather outlooks! Brighton was a really cool city – I mean, it was no Eastbourne, but I liked it alright. 😉
[FYI – that was a joke. Both cities were great. You can put those tomatoes away.]
Before flying home, I returned to London for one last nerdy hurrah.
… at a fan convention!
Yes, I’m a geek and I refuse to apologize for it. I mean, a chance to breathe the same air as some of my favourite TV stars? *swoon*
Wrapping up my London celebrity bingefest, I caught John Bodega in Woyzeck, an amazingly powerful play where as a bonus, I had Steven Ogg from the Walking Dead sitting at the end of my row, much to the gleeful joy of my TWD fan-boyfriend. He never mustered up the courage to talk to him, a fact that I am confident will haunt him until the end of days.
A Month Back Home
In June, I returned to my hometown of Vancouver with a sole purpose: vengeance.
No just joking, I really just needed to graduate and get my degree. Or, you know, the pricey piece of paper that tells the world I’m apparently worth something.
I officially walked the stage on June 9th, after a week of rejuvenating naps and eating all the sushi within eyesight. Without a doubt, Vancouver sushi joints have learned the wrath of Guan.
Fun story about my graduation: after years of buildup and moral support, my parents somehow managed to miss the crucial moment they’ve waited so long for – me crossing the stage.
They heard the announcement of my faculty “Communication, Art and Technology”, heard only the “technology” part, thought: “oh she’s not studying that” and decided on that exact moment to take a washroom break and not pay attention.
Oops. I also managed to be the only girl out of the hundreds of grads to receive the wrong hood pinned on her by accident.
We were all properly lined up, ready to walk out when another girl noticed my hood was a different colour. They had (obviously foreseen my genius) and decided to give me a Master’s hood. I had to waddle in heels to get a repin, but made it out just in time. Only me, am I right?
After my grad fiasco, June was mostly a homebody month, apart from…
A Road Trip to Alberta
Father’s Day weekend was a really special one for me. It was the first time in over ten years, I went on a vacation with my dad… and I got to make it ridiculously special by surprising him with his dream hotel, a promise I made when I was a silly nine year old girl.
His reaction was priceless. You can watch it here.
Onwards to a Journey Across Canada
And now, as I type this, I’m on a shaky Canadian train eastbound to Saskatoon, where I have literally no idea what awaits me.
This month, I’ll be crossing Canada by train (a dream of mine for ages) so I’ll be on the road, being ‘interesting’ again.
Then, at the end of the month, I’m jetting off to a mystery destination… and I can’t wait to tell you where. HINT: it’s a country I’ve never been to before… and it’s in ASIA!
I can’t wait to submerge myself in noodles.
What can I say? Miracles do happen.
Every once in a blue moon, something truly extraordinary graces the planet with its rarity, an unexpected anomaly disrupting the fabric of existence itself.
Today marks that moment… because Christina’s monthly update is actually on time, and finally for a single month, rather than two.
Please be wary of the flying pigs on your way out.
I apologize for the dramatics, but I am (quite frankly) shocked that I actually published this on time, and I can’t wait to share my crazy month with you… which I spent entirely on the road.
Before we begin, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for real time updates/stories, since that’s my go-to platform when I’m travelling. Wait what? Was that a desperate grab at followers? Shhhh – just let this happen.
July: All about riding the train across Canada
Long story short: Canada’s national rail company this year released a few thousand special edition tickets celebrating 150 years of the Canadian confederation… This meant the lucky fools who got one (me included!!) received unlimited train rides in July for the swoonworthy pricetag of $150.
Ripped straight from the pages of the Willy Wonka playbook, this publicity stunt worked, and when July hit, thousands of bushy-tailed backpackers descended upon the country with blankies in hand and snack-stuffed backpacks.
Truth be told, it wasn’t exactly a glamorous experience.
After all, we had no access to showers or proper beds on board, making dry shampoo and baby wipes the most precious things one could own. Plus there were often delays exceeding 12 hours… but hey who was keeping track? 😉
Luckily, I stopped every few days to explore a new city, particularly ones that I never thought I’d see. This turned out to be the best decision I ever made.
Canada is one beautiful, badass country. Here are some of the places I visited by train. Let me know in the comments if any of these were new to you!
If you’re wondering Saska-where, I feel you. Honestly, Saskatoon, located in the Canadian prairies (read: the middle bit) is a city that I never in my life thought I would visit.
I grew up being told that it was a boring place with nothing to offer. For the two days on board that it took to get from Vancouver to Saskatoon, I had countless travellers laugh at me for stopping there at all.
And so, I skipped into the city expecting a barren wasteland of tumbleweed nothingness.
Instead, I discovered a colourful city with hip neighbourhoods, crazy good food and fun events going on all over the city.
From open mics and DJ shows, to watching a bluegrass twist on Shakespeare, I found myself unexpectedly falling for the underdog. Saskatoon won me over, and is solid proof that “boring” cities are some of the most fun to explore and discover.
Onwards from Saskatoon, I rode a day-long train to Winnipeg, found in the heart of the Canadian prairies.
Similar to Saskatoon, common west coast snobs will dismiss Winnipeg for being flat, boring and uneventful. After 48 hours there, I can confirm that these west coast snobs sit upon a throne of LIES.
I mean, in a mere two days, I saw polar bears, relaxed in a stunning Nordic spa, saw dozens of epic street art murals and visited some truly unique museums (including the world’s only museum dedicated solely to human rights awareness).
I was also given the opportunity to dine like an absolute queen, with a food scene just as diverse as Winnipeg’s multicultural population. 2 days wasn’t enough! Pouty and whiny, I forced myself to move onwards East, AKA…
From Winnipeg, I caught the train through Ontario back to Toronto, where I was given a day to explore and frolic around (with an open heart and even more open mouth).
With only 24 hours to spend, I had a wildly baller time digging into the best of Toronto’s food scene. Among the casualties were a beautiful sushi donut, (more than a few) rooftop cocktails, and a shake-inducing combination of sweet coffees from gorgeous cafes around town.
For a day, I pretty much adopted the life of a socialite, meeting up with friends as I ate my way through social gatherings and overdue catchups. It was pure caloric chaos, but nothing compared to my time in…
I have two words for you about my time in Montreal: poutine pregnant.
Those of you familiar with the glory of Canada’s favourite drunk snack will understand what I mean, and those who aren’t, well…. Imagine a heaping serving of crispy fries, topped with squeaky cheese curds and mounds of savoury gravy. NNNGH. On those days, I thanked the universe a million times for loose clothes.
Montreal for me has always been a city of indulgence.
The last time I visited, it was at frigid winter temperatures during which the air legitimately hurt my face. This time, in the summer sun, Montreal was more alive and buzzing than any city I’ve ever seen.
Every two blocks marked the start of a new festival and with the sunshine on my skin, I couldn’t have been happier just walking for hours, seeing all the sights again in a whole new light.
[Give me a gold star] I also managed to sneak away to get some work done at the coolest concept cafe of all time – the Anticafe, which bills you by the hour rather than by your purchase.
Basically, you pay for the time you spend there (at a maximum of $9 for the day) and then you get to hang out in their cozy living room-esque space, drinking up all the caffeine and inhaling all munchies your little heart desires. Yes, it is as splendid as it sounds. Be sure to go if you’re ever in Montreal!
Atlantic Canada: Halifax and… PEI??
Up until this trip, Quebec was the farthest east I had ever been. This time, hopping on a train, I crossed through New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia… a region known as Atlantic Canada.
My original plan was to spend four days in Halifax, but then spontaneity got the best of me, and within 24 hours, I went from “hi what’s your name” to sharing a car/bed with total strangers.
… wait, that sounds bad, but let me explain!
You see, in travel, things tend to escalate quickly… and you can go from being strangers to family in the matter of days.
Essentially, I met up with some fellow travellers on my train who were keen on the idea of visiting Prince Edward Island, the smallest province Canada has to offer.
Quite simply, this is a place that young travellers don’t often visit, which, for the curious George in me, made it all the more appealing. Some last minute planning later, we found ourselves squished together in a little car, en route to PEI for a night.
It was a gorgeous trip that played out to the background of rolling green fields packed with hay bales and golden canola. It was here in PEI that I had a lobster roll so good, I almost cried, and also where I frolicked across red sand beaches with Grand Canyon-esque rock formations.
I feel so grateful to be from a country with so many unexpected tricks up its sleeve.
After this spontaneous jaunt, I had two days left to #DiscoverHalifax.
… and it was seriously nothing like I expected. In place of a quiet, maritime town, I found myself in a buzzing city crammed with cool museums (the Canadian Museum of Immigration and Maritime Museum were my favourites), awesome sights (like a hill-top citadel overlooking the city) and of course, fresh seafood that could make a grown woman cry. I mean, look at this lobster poutine and tell me it isn’t a true work of art:
And from bright rainbow chairs scattered around town, to comfy orange hammocks dangling by the water, this city showed to me that there’s way more to Halifax than its port. I’m already plotting my return… *ominous music*
And now for the ultimate plot twist: from Canada to… Indonesia! I left Halifax ten pounds heavier and headed back to Montreal, where I caught a ridiculous 24 hour commute over to Jakarta.
Why am I here? Weeelll, for the next two weeks, I’ll be venturing around Indonesia for #TripOfWonders alongside 9 other awesome bloggers from around the world.
I’d love if you followed along on Instagram (and all the better if you turned notifications on because the time difference is killing my reach).
The focus of this trip is on cultural discovery, and I seriously can’t wait to dig deeper and see what Indonesia has to offer across its 18,000 islands…. (though I’ll only be visiting 4!)
I keep pinching myself that this is really happening. I’ve always joked that I’m the only travel blogger in the universe who has never been to Bali, so I am beyond stoked for that to change.
… Just get me one of those big hats and I’ll be a walking cliche 😉
Hello my name is Jetlagged, and I am very Christina.
… wait. I think I mixed that up.
*trembles while sipping 10th coffee*
It goes without saying: August was a ridiculous whirlwind, and I am now one very tired coffee bean. 3 continents, 1 transatlantic move, starting a new business and lots of awkward dancing along the way.
But you know what? Despite the fact that I’ve shoved my inner body clock into a rickety blender, I’m grateful for every second and opportunity. This month was a big game changer for me, so without further ado – here’s what happened in August!
You might remember that last month, I decided to travel across Canada by train. A sensible person would have gone home first to pack up and regroup, but instead, I acted like the overexcited corgi that I am, flying straight from Montreal to Jakarta, Indonesia.
In total, I spent 2 weeks in the country, the first ten of which were exploring the country’s cultural wonders with the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism for their #TripOfWonders campaign.
… and it was SO MUCH FUN.
This was my first time in Indonesia and I loved that we visited so many lesser-visited spots and saved Bali for last. Yes, this deprived travel blogger finally made it to Bali, where all the cool kids apparently hang out. Many smoothie bowls were consumed, I can confirm.
But while I did like Bali, the highlight of my trip was getting to explore the culture and cool sights/history elsewhere in the country.
We started off at Lake Toba, the world’s largest volcanic lake, then moved onto other cultural hotspots like Surakarta (AKA Solo), Semarang, and of course, the epic Tana Toraja (known around the world for their fascinating burial rituals).
After the press trip wrapped, I spent a few extra days in Bali living THE Instagram-perfect life at Alila Villas Uluwatu with Sher from Sher She Goes. It involved a lot of posing, photoshoots and awkward candid laughter.
It was as glam as you’d expect, although I quickly realized just how tough and staged the “IG perfect” life really is. Nothing makes you question your life decisions more than when you call hotel reception asking for rose pedals and extra fizzy bubble bath for the gram.
I am 100% certain the hotel assumed that Sher and I were lovers.
Surprise: I moved to Germany! … again.
After spending less than a week back in Canada, I was on the move again and set my sights on Munich – my new homebase for (at least) the next year while I make the most of my working holiday visa.
I absolutely love it here… the beer gardens, the lakes, the mountains, the beer gardens, the beer….. 😉 Being based in Central Europe is such a dream.
A few hours in any direction and I can be immersed in a whole new culture! Quite legitimately, it’s like unleashing a rabid child into an all you can eat candy shop.
My days have been consumed by 4am Skyscanner/Flixbus binges to see where I should go next. There are too many options, guys! Someone please put a kiddie leash on me.
So, as you’d predict, it didn’t take me long to head somewhere new (48 hours to be exact). My first stop after moving back to Europe was…
Let’s be clear: the first rule of living in Europe is, you ain’t wasting your weekends.
With that in mind, still groggy from 2 major time zone changes, I sped off to my first destination only 48 hours post-landing.
My first adventure? A glamping weekend in Slovenia with BIG BERRY.
An accurate summary of the weekend would be to tell you that I’m well on my way to unlocking Slovenian housewife status. I drank a ridiculous amount of wine (aka a typical Friday), learned to make bread and even had some time to relax with my main girl, Mother Nature.
Because BIG BERRY is located right on the border to Croatia, I actually got to canoe over to a new country one morning, which (trust me) sounds much more impressive than it really was.
I had an awesome time with BIG BERRY. Read more about my experience here:
Plans for September
And now? I’m fresh off the heels of a little family weekend in England (where, no big deal, I kinda won a trophy for trivia despite not technically being part of the family #braggingrights).
I’ll be off to Austria for a weekend of hiking in the underrated Vorarlberg region and soon after that, it’ll be a non-stop flood of guests coming into Munich for Oktoberfest.
It’s going to be a busy, beer-filled month but I’m ready for it. Bring on September!
Talk to you crazies soon,
Sometimes when I think about the past month, my head spins a little.
Part of it might be due to the weeks spent at Oktoberfest, sipping elegantly (lol jk – chugging) on beers the size of my torso. But also, it was a crazy month packed with a lot of life changes.
There were exciting things (like gaining momentum on a new business venture), fun things (like the many days spent at Oktoberfest) and also very sad things (like losing my best friend, my sweet pup Rodeo who I’ve had since I was 10 years old).
And while admittedly, I did spend many days sulking, soaking in my grief thousands of miles from home, it reminded me that travel and life abroad isn’t always rainbows and comically large pretzels. Inevitably, there will be times when it sucks… like when you’re forced to say your last goodbye over Skype.
But that’s life, with all its ups and downs.
And while I admit yes, it has been a tough few weeks, I’m quickly bouncing back to my usual (caffeine-crazed) self.
This isn’t meant to be a sad, pity party type post (after all, Rodeo lived to be almost 100 in dog years – a legitimate shock as he never exercised, much like me) BUT I just wanted to take a second to let you know that life on the road certainly has its lows, and if you ever need to talk about it, I’m here for you 🙂 <3
With that out of the way, the rest of this post will be wayyyyy more lighthearted! Here’s where the month of September brought me.
My month started off with a quick weekend break in England to visit my boyfriend’s extended family.
As in like… cousins, aunts, uncles, random little children… all in one swoop.
It was a bit nerveracking, meeting so many family members at once, but I stifled my ironic (and phony) English accent for the weekend and tried my best to emit some kind of Canadian charm. According to insider sources, I did alright, and even managed to snag a “FAMILY WINNER 2017” trophy out of it, after getting weirdly competitive at trivia.
My ego was quickly knocked down a few pegs when I tried to be cute and teach one of the little kids my name. At the end of the afternoon, when I asked him “Heyyy Leo, who am I?! his answer was a blunt “nobody.”
It was a big win for my self-esteem.
Travel side-note: I learned on this trip just HOW CHEAP it is to get from Bavaria to London if you plan right. The airport at Nuremburg runs budget flights that literally cost 10 euros if you book early enough. That’s cheaper than a day ticket to travel around Munich. You can bet my UK friends will be seeing me a lot more often 😉
A few weekends after (I needed time to nurse my bruised ego), I spent a weekend in Austria’s stunning Vorarlberg province, specifically in the Bregenzerwald.
I love Austria. I’ve been to Salzburg, Vienna, Innsbruck and a few towns along the Danube during my old river cruisin’ days. It’s a stunning country and I always look for excuses to go back.
Here’s the thing though: Vorarlberg is not at all like the rest of Austria. Bordering Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, this province is known for its modern adaptations of longstanding tradition, which means so many different things, like surprisingly contemporary architecture, an exciting food scene and all sorts of events like you’d never expect from a sleepy Alpine region.
I spent the weekend enjoying an array of cool activities, like culinary hiking (where you hike from course to course in the Alps), doing self-guided scavenger hunts through town, eating my face off and even jamming out to a rock concert in the clouds (or well, at the top of a mountain).
Highlights include zapping my butt on an electric fence and eating cake for breakfast (before a 4 hour hike). All in all, a solid weekend. I would definitely recommend checking this region out if you find yourself in Central Europe!
Oktoberfest in Munich… over and over
When Oktoberfest hits Munich, every resident can expect at least one drunken friend to crash on their couch.
… it’s practically part of the rental agreement.
And this year, I think I maxed out my limit when I fit 9 people at once in the tiny shoebox apartment I call home.
Yes, nine. I was basically running an unlicensed hostel.
Here’s the thing: I’m absolutely rotten at goodbyes. I will literally say anything and everything to avoid the awkwardness of saying a forever-bye to someone.
This applies to friends met while travelling… and last May, when I spent 2 weeks in Bulgaria, I met some ridiculously awesome travellers I soon came to recognize as family. During our sad goodbyes, I inevitably blurted out “COME VISIT ME DURING OKTOBERFEST!”
The crazy thing is: they did. Friends from 3 different continents managed to align their schedules again to come visit… and it was absolutely wild.
Besides my Bulgaria fam, I also had two friends from home visit for a weekend. I think I terrified them a little bit with my enthusiasm for the city. I honestly love living in Munich so much, it borders on weird. I swear the city only gets prettier every time I walk through it, and my “tour guide spiels” pour out more like creepy fan letters. It’s okay though, when your city looks this nice, I reckon you’re allowed.
I had a total of one night without houseguests before I set off for my last stop of the month – beautiful Romania!
Back in May, I spent some time in Bucharest and ended up really falling in love with the country. Every day since then, I’ve been plotting my return, so when I was invited to explore an underrated gem in Transylvania known as Covasna County, I signed up quicker than the Energizer Bunny on steroids.
Covasna is a quiet, undiscovered county in Romania with a lot of different nicknames – Land of Mansions being one.
That’s because there’s almost 200 different castles, manors and mansions in the region, many of which have been restored and repurposed for tourism. We got to stay in one and it was awesome – I felt like I was in some old timey murder mystery!
Over the span of a few short days, we explored the best of what Covasna had to offer, visiting local artisans, soaking in the unspoiled nature and going full Pacman on the wide range of food and drink. Naturally, I enjoyed a cotton candy 4x the size of my head and attended a festival dedicated to cake. We also watched bears and painted gingerbread cookies. What can I say – it was a packed itinerary!
It was also during this trip that I (low key) became a local celebrity. In the span of a few days, I was interviewed for two national TV channels (speaking about cake, of course), once for a local newspaper and I even attended a press conference where I did not realize until we arrived that I WAS SPEAKING AT the conference, and not just attending. Why is my life so strange?
Anyways, take the hint Romania, if you’re looking for a hype gurl, hit me up.
Onwards to October…?
I’ve been more inclined to take it easy these days with travel. Constantly being on the road burns me out, and now that I have a new business to worry about, my main goal is on productivity (shameless plug: check out Slaying Social here!). I do have two trips planned for the end of the month (guess where?!) but that’s still a few weeks away. So, my next (mega-exotic) destination is a James Blunt concert. #wanderlust
I’ll also be partnering with Eurail to discover some of Europe’s most scenic train rides. I have my pass for the next two months, but I haven’t made solid plans yet. Let me know if you have any recommendations for me!
Now, allow me a few seconds to be super basic, but ahhhh, I’m so excited for Autumn! I’ve been watching the leaves change colour from my window while I happily sip tea and bundle on increasingly fuzzy scarves. My life might be a chaotic mess right now, but at least it’ll be a sweet pumpkin spice mess in the coming months 😉
Sorry for that longwinded update. I hope you enjoyed it! Talk soon.
We all have that one ridiculous friend that is fifty shades of pumpkin by the time Autumn arrives.
*awkward wave* Hi, Christina here, and I’m that friend.
Honestly though, October is always a sure recipe for joy in my books, between the chance to throw my boots into crunchy leaves and burrito myself into layers of blankets… Yes, this month I’ve been a happy, happy girl.
Of course, watching the leaves change in Munich (with a stalker-esque intensity I must add) has brought on a whole new set of feels. I feel so lucky to call Germany home, and it’s really hitting me now (2 months in!!) that this is home for the next little while. That doesn’t mean I stayed put too much though. Here’s where the wonderful month of October brought me:
Life in Munich
Let’s be real: this blog mostly shows you the adventurous traveller side of me.
The other side that goes woefully undocumented is the Domestic Human Blanket Burrito side, the one that needs Netflix as much as oxygen itself. This was the side of me that I happily indulged for the first half of October, as I soaked in the cozy colours of Fall and became one with my sofa.
Here’s what I’ve learned: settling in a place for a while allows you to recapture the joy of simple “little thing” type pleasures.
Hence why one of the highlights of my month was a meatball + showroom pilgrimage to IKEA, which in some ways, made me just as happy as hopping on a plane to Stockholm. Hi, broken travel blogger here – reporting for duty.
That’s not to say I didn’t go insane exploring my own “backyard”.
I mean, when your backyard is a bucket list destination in itself, there’s no time to waste.
One of the highlights was doing a (ridiculously gruelling) hike from Heimgarten to Herzogstand, one of the most scenic routes in Bavaria. For me, it meant 8 hours of almost passing out. Still, it was worth it… for extraordinary views like this:
The World’s Largest Pumpkin Festival
Another highlight was reaching ‘peak basic’ when I found out Germany was home to the world’s largest pumpkin festival. Guys, I am not making this up. This incredible event takes place every year in Ludwigsburg, Germany, only a few hours from Munich by train. Naturally, I sped there like a sugar-crazed child.
You can’t blame me. This festival is hosted on the grounds of a spectacular palace, and pays homage to all things pumpkin – from spectacular sculptures and foods, to delicious products and every shape of gourd you can imagine.
This year’s theme was Rome, which meant tons of Rome-inspired pumpkin sculptures. I couldn’t believe it. Definitely a worthwhile trip if you find yourself in Germany next year! 😉
After literally rolling around in pumpkins, I took the train up to Utrecht to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Everyone always describes Utrecht as a mini-Amsterdam, happily without the bucketloads of confused tourists.
I can confirm that Utrecht is, indeed, a selfie-stick free zone, bursting with beautiful architecture and charming Dutch streets at every turn. I was sold, and look forward to visiting again sometime soon to explore properly.
I even caught a few rainbows along the way 😉
From ‘dam to ham, I found myself on a short press trip to the Sierra de Aracena region of Andalucia, Spain. This lesser known part of Andalucia (only 1 hour away from Seville by car) is packed with the cutest villages and enough ham to turn one’s blood into pure lard.
… That was not a complaint, by the way.
I had so much fun visiting this underrated slice of Spain, the highlight of which was the spectacular food and natural magic. I can’t wait to share more about this region with you soon!
Last but not least, I am crushing hard on Mother Nature right now after a ridiculously spontaneous trip to Northern Italy to hike the Dolomites.
Here’s the thing: Bavarians get a ludicrously wonderful number of holidays. This year, two holidays came stacked back to back, with only a Monday between them and the weekend. This meant my boyfriend was able to only take one day off work, allowing us to skip off into the Italian sunset for a magical long weekend.
Hiking through the Dolomites has been my dream since forever, and it was every bit as wonderful as I always dreamed. We hit the road in our tiny Volkswagen, pulling over at every opportunity, hiking for hours until the sun came down… I’ll be writing up more details soon – but for now, enjoy these photos!
Plans for November
And now you might be wondering: what’s next?! Well, I’m typing this from the Nuremberg Airport just before midnight, with my sights set for London tomorrow to attend World Travel Market, one of the biggest travel industry events of the year. Will I fall flat trying to network my face off? Only time will tell. Until then, I hope you enjoyed that update, and I’ll chat with you all soon!
February to April 2018
Sooo, monthly updates still count when they’re 6 months apart right?
Hi guys! *awkward wave* It’s Christina, here to claim the title of “actual worst”. Around this time last year, I vowed to write a monthly travel update for you all, and dutifully, no matter how painful, I kept it up.
But then (as they usually do with me), things got a little wacky, and my plans went off the rails.
The truth is, I iced the updates because I thought nobody was reading them. Sometimes it felt like I was typing up all these muddled thoughts, sending them up to cyberspace only to receive virtual crickets and the occasional pity comment from my mom.
But when (from time to time), I started getting questions about my next update, where the personal posts had been, I realized maybe there’s like 1-2 of you that actually read them.
So here I am… for you! If you do happen to enjoy these more personal posts, please let me know 🙂 A quick emoji in the comments… a virtual high five. Something to rescue me from crying myself to sleep, maybe? Thank you!
Desperation aside, if you want jokey, play by play updates of my travels, your best bet is to follow me on Instagram and watch my Stories.
Now, onwards to the update…
An Exciting New Partnership with Omio
First thing’s first, I announced on Instagram a few weeks ago that I have officially joined Omio as their Munich local expert! For any of you travelling in Europe, Omio is an awesome, free site that allows you to compare prices, times, etc. on transport routes all around the continent, which means you can quickly and easily see the best ways to get from Point A to Point B. You can check them out here.
I’ve been using Omio for years (since my first backpacking trip, if I remember correctly), so this partnership is a total dream come true. I can’t wait to produce monthly content with them all about my beautiful city, things like this insanely detailed guide to public transport.
My New Travel Partner
Next, I need to introduce you to my new travel partner: Alphred! He’s dark, handsome, takes amazing photos, and….
Okay, fine, he’s a camera. Alphred is a camera.
But not just ANY camera… My Alphie is a shiny new Sony A7iii, a full-frame mirrorless beauty that takes THE dreamiest photos. It has been a full four years since I’ve bought a new camera, and while my Nikon D3200 (my first ever DSLR) served me well for a long time, an upgrade was long overdue. Friends, say hello to Alphie! 🙂
My 2018 Travels so Far
Okay, now onto this long overdue travel recap. Honestly, sometimes I scroll through all my photos from the past three months and wonder how I survived without becoming an actual coffee bean.
In the past three months, I’ve hopped through three continents. Here’s a quick recap.
February brought me to India for a very exciting collaboration with Incredible India. As one of 60 bloggers invited to take part in the Great India Blog Train, I got a chance to experience one of India’s top luxury trains: the swishy Golden Chariot, which took me through the South Indian provinces of Karnataka and Goa. You can read a full review in this post.
Immediately after that, I did a surf camp in Fuerteventura with Planet Surf Camps. Trading in a sumptuous luxury train for a surfer hostel was interesting to say the least. I think the princess in me withered up and died a little. Overall it was good fun, and you can read my full review here. I survived, but my dignity remains in tatters.
Trading in a wetsuit for a business suit, I flew directly from Fuerteventura to Berlin to attend ITB, the world’s largest travel trade fair. Of course, I arrived ten shades tanner thanks to the Spanish sun, and so my first stop was to buy myself some new foundation that didn’t make me look like a surprised ghost.
To my shock/horror, I was officially the darkest shade offered in Germany: so-called “chestnut”.
For the next few days, I scooted my chestnut butt around ITB, catching up with great blogger friends, getting barraged with “YOU’RE SO TAN?” and making some great business connections along the way. If you’re a fellow blogger, I can’t stress the importance of attending in-person events. It’s so important!
Arriving back in Munich, I had all of two days’ to myself before my best friend from Vancouver flew in for a visit. Basically she decided to like, parachute in while my whole world was in flames.
Sleeplessness aside, it was great to have a familiar face in my new hood, and after showing her all my favourite spots in Munich. Together we then jetted off to Porto (one of my favourites) and Lisbon (a new favourite, despite an unlucky brush with pickpockets).
We managed to visit during a freakish rainstorm as well, which locals found comically unusual. Oh, and a seagull stole an entire omelette off my friend’s plate. Against all odds, I still had an amazing time.
On the way back from Portugal, I stopped for a quick city break in the beautiful fairytale city of Bruges, where I drank from mugs larger than my face, gawked at a vial of Jesus’ blood and stood over top the world’s first beer-filled pipeline.
I only had a few days after that trip to repair my trust issues, when another friend decided to drop in on a parachute: Penelope from the The Flyaway Girl!
After a whirlwind visit in Munich, we flew off together with AirBaltic to visit Vilnius, Lithuania. There, we partnered up with the awesome team at Travel Addicts Club and they showed us a side to Lithuania I never knew existed. Guys, Vilnius is amazing.
Now, I can’t lie to you – my main reason for visiting Vilnius though was that I had booked a very very cheap flight deal from there to visit home in Vancouver for two weeks (like, 300 euros cheap), two weeks filled with a non-stop parade of sushi and international eats I can’t get my grubby hands on in Munich.
I also happened to be home just in time for peak cherry blossom season, a happy coincidence that resulted in one of my most popular posts this year – where to find cherry blossoms in Vancouver.
My days were filled with blossom chasing with my parents as co-pilots, and it was pretty darn awesome and after a brief Insta-training, my dad is getting weirdly good at photography.
The blossom trend continued as I returned to Europe.
My flight home stopped in Amsterdam, which made a brief foray into the famous Dutch tulip fields a must. With my spontaneity being costly (what, on a holiday weekend in APRIL in the Netherlands), I looked for alternative accommodation outside of Amsterdam, which is how I found myself in the magical little village of Giethoorn.
It was crowded, but lovely, and staying the night there made all the difference (especially for super vain pics like these):
I then got to meet up with a friend off Instagram, Kristy from Tassie Devil Abroad, who gave me the okay to third wheel a romantic tulip adventure with her and her partner.
We skipped the oh-so-popular Keukenhof in favour of lesser-known tulip fields around the province of Flevoland. It was bliss!
Then came Paris. Spring time in Paris has always been a dream of mine, and so I couldn’t resist a quick break here. Side note: I know it sounds like I’ve been making it rain euro bills all over the place, but travelling around Europe can be SO affordable (here’s my guide to cheap transportation options), and I actually hopped on a bus from Amsterdam to Paris for less than 50 euros. Amazing.
In Paris, I was blessed with brilliant weather, spring blooms, and the most perfect few days in one of my favourite cities. For those of you who hate Paris or think it’s overrated, fight me. Yes it’s cliched, yes it’s touristy, but if you know how to do it right, it’s also pure magic. It helps of course that I got to work with Hotel Le Pavillon while there, a brilliant boutique hotel with the most absurdly stunning view. I didn’t want to go home!
My last stop before going back to Munich was a press trip to the amazing butterfly-shaped province of Trentino, a beautiful area in Northern Italy between the Dolomites and Lake Garda. Genuinely, I think it’s one of the most underrated spots in Italy I’ve been to – all the beauty and sights, without the crowds 😉 I can’t wait to share more of my trip with you soon!
So… What’s Next?
I really want to slow things down for the summer. Dial it down to a slow mo, light some candles, yenno, the good stuff. I genuinely believe that travel is best appreciated when there’s balance and ample time to reflect.
I have a few short weekend press trips lined up, but apart from that, I want to make the most of my time in Munich and the European summer… maybe try to get back in shape, because although round is a shape, I’m getting noticeably doughy, a not-so-ideal consistency for bikini season.
This time last year, I had just finished a half marathon, and now this year, the only half I’m finishing is half a cake. Then the second half.
I also need some time to focus on work. I’m a workaholic by nature, so the inability to sit down and get things done is really weighing down on me. I guess you can expect a loooot of content coming your way.
To be honest with you, I’m still struggling to find the balance between travel and work, an especially troubling issue given that I’m a full-time travel blogger.
The issue is this: when I’m in a new place, I always try to do it all, experience it all, often to the demise of my productivity and sleep patterns. The amount of times I’ve fallen asleep, mouth-open in bed while editing photos or writing is far too many… but it’s a 1st world problem I’ll happily take if it means I get to do what I love.
So anyways, another “short” updated that has turned into a novel. I guess I really am back 😉 Talk to you all again soon!
I hope you enjoyed my list of Travel Stories!
I don’t write a ton of narrative type posts anymore, but let me know in the comments if you’d like me to add more.