Before I left for my trip, when people learned I was going to travel solo through Europe for 3.5 months their response was often along the lines of “Wow, you’re so brave!”.
I didn’t really understand what they meant by that, but responded with a side smile and head nod. I had been dreaming of this trip since I graduated from college in 2011. Brave? Brave for following my dreams? Brave for working my ass off for 4.5 years to afford this debt free? Ok, sure…
I am beginning the 9th week of my trip and I finally understand what everyone meant: they meant I was brave to spend so much time away, so much time being alone, so much time in my own head, so much time trying new things, so much time being uncomfortable.
SO. MUCH. TIME.
When we are in a routine time flies. We are lucky to steal a few hours a day or even a week for ourselves. Now, I literally have all day to do whatever the hell I want. To be honest, sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself. Hopping from place to place every few days, trying to take in a new city, a new country, new food, new accents, new metro system, new…everything can be really exhausting. I’m constantly giving myself pep-talks: “Ok, Amber, just go over there and make some friends. Say hello. Say something funny. Ask them to hang out with you.”; “Ok, Amber, you’re starving, just go to the first restaurant you find with an English menu and get something.”; “Ok, Amber, you went the wrong way on the bus for an hour. It’s ok. Don’t cry. Your missed your tour, you’ll just have to do something else today. I SAID DON’T CRY BITCH!”.
Sometimes I just want to lay in bed and watch Netflix or read or just sit outside on a bench and people watch all day. Sometimes I’m just tired of being brave and I want a hug.
Don’t get me wrong, I am altogether, utterly grateful that I am having these experiences. As my best friend said “As much as it is a struggle to not have a lot of belongings and clothes with you and living out of a bag and jumping from house to house to hostel, these memories are shaping you in profound ways. You may see some of it now, you may not notice other parts, but you will be a better person from this trip. It’s an incredible adventure to see so many countries and experience various cultures, that so many people will never have the chance to do. Take it all in.”
I am, taking it all in. Even the loneliness.
Budapest was absolutely amazing. I stayed at a party hostel, but actually didn’t party at all. My time in Budapest was action-packed with other activities that had me exhausted by the end of the day, with no energy to shake my groove thing.
Of course, I started out with the free-walking tour, which was amazing! Our guide was so funny and even gave us little cards with a list of local dishes we should try. I’m not so good at remembering to take pictures of my food, but I did remember a few: Langos, Toltoo Kapaszta and, of course, rose gelato.
I really tried to embrace my loneliness in Budapest and move slowly, consciously and to listen to and treat myself. I decided that since Budapest is known for its spas that I should check one out. I spent a day getting a much-needed massage since my body is getting used to running again and my back has been suffering in hostel beds. I spent hours in the spa’s tea-room drinking lavender tea and eating chocolate in a gigantic bed full of pillows, reading a book called the Living the Golden Path. It was a bit religious for my taste, like I don’t need a “God bless you” at the end of a chapter. But it was actually quite nice. I read about dealing with loss, jealousy, loneliness and more. It was a refreshing experience.
I also spent half a day at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, one of the largest bath houses in Europe. It was great! I relaxed my sore legs and read in the shade. There are 18 different baths, indoor and outdoor. I think the day I was there was National Bachelor Party day; so many bros.
I also went caving! I was a bit hesitant to sign up at first. I mean, this is the girl who had to be escorted off the submarine ride at Disneyland after having a panic-attack. For those unfamiliar with the ride – it is for children. And it doesn’t actually go underwater, the windows are animated to make it look like you’re underwater. Oh ya, I was 22 when that happened. But I’ve learned to breathe and pep-talk myself out of freaking out when I start feeling that way in small spaces. I’m usually ok as long as I can keep track of where the exit is. So, I signed up. And I am SO glad I did!! I explored the Pál-völgyi Cave for about three hours. We crawled through some tight spaces, saw fossils and crystals and some creepy rock formations.
I got in some incredible runs in Budapest along the Danube and accomplished so many little things that made me really proud of myself. Budapest’s Little Princess would have been proud, too.
I didn’t have much time in Prague, especially since most of the time the rain was too insane to go outside. No, seriously. I thought I was going brave the storm. I mean, I HAD to take advantage of time there. I ended up on the Charles Bridge in sandals, shorts, a tank top and an umbrella that was flipped upside down, with water up to my ankles, looking up at the sky, laughing like a mad woman while I got completely drenched. Meanwhile everyone else was running for cover and some were sneaking pics of how crazy I looked. I’m not sure why exactly, but that downpour made me so happy. After my onslaught of crazy, I bought a poncho to replace my broken umbrella and walked 30 minutes back to my hostel. I was completely drenched. And completely happy.
I stayed at the best hostel ever: The Madhouse Prague! Despite the fact that I slept in a suite with 11 men and that my male bunk mate walked in on me in the shower (UGGHHHH), I had a great time there. They had family dinners, where the staff cooked dinner and everyone who wanted could eat together. There was a giant movie room full of blankets and couches and pillows, which we all took advantage of while staying dry.
I did manage to do some sightseeing in between downpours. I visited the Pinkas Synagogue, which was a very emotional and moving place. It is the second oldest surviving synagogue in Prague. Inside, the walls are covered with about 80,000 handwritten names of Czech and Moravian Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Also inside is a collection of drawings by children who were held in concentration camp in Theresienstadt. There, their teacher would encourage them to draw, draw what they missed, draw what they hoped for, draw what scared them, draw what the remember about home. Some drawings were titled “Mommy”, others depicted murders, evacuations, and pure darkness. I can’t even explain how horrifying and heartbreaking it was so see these pieces of art. Most of these children died in Auschwitz. The preservation of their art was secret and discovered later. Their memories, their dreams and their fears live on. I didn’t take any pictures of the art because I was trying not to cry, but here are some pictures from inside the synagogue.
I also saw other sites in Prague that were not so sad. Like the astronomical clock, which was WAY ahead of its time. Its mechanics are so complicated that it is actually still studied today!
I saw Prague Castle, the Estates Theatre – where two of Mozart’s operas were premiered. I saw the John Lennon Graffiti wall and the famous Jewish cemetery.
I really loved Prague and wish that I had more time to spend there. But next is Germany (again? Yes, again) where I will see some old friends and spend some time out of hostels.