Sofia (Bulgaria Part 2)

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Written September 15.

Back in Sofia, Boyan and I went to dinner with his dad at a wonderful restaurant called Mediterraneo. Sitting in the ambient lighted courtyard, I ordered a mashed potato soup with quail egg, veal scaloppini and tiramisu. The veal was unbelievably tender and flavorful and the soup unlike anything I’d had before. We left the late dinner to meet up with some of Boyan’s friends for drinks in the park and then headed to a house party, where I’m pretty sure a beautiful Bulgarian girl was hitting on me. Sorry ladies.

The Ivan Vazov National Theatre

The Ivan Vazov National Theatre

We woke up late on Saturday morning to a fresh brunch at home with Boyan’s dad – smoked salmon, cream cheese, bread, tomatoes, onion, capers and yogurt with honey and fresh berries. We walked into the city center, grabbing some gelato and walking into one of Sofia’s famous churches and catching a two-hour walking tour in the evening. In Sofia, there is a large open square that is cornered by four houses of worship – The Banya Bashi Mosque, a synagogue that is the biggest Sephardic temple in Europe (Bulgaria managed to save all of its Jews during the Holocaust, most of whom fled when communism came after World War II), the Sveta Nedelya Eastern Orthodox church and the Sveti Yosif Catholic Cathedral. The tour guide called it the Square of Tolerance:

“We’re just a stones throw away from each other, but we don’t throw stones.”

Boyan and I met up with his dad and grandparents at a typical Bulgarian restaurant for dinner after the tour. We all shared some unusual fried bean clusters with soy sauce and garlic (Boyan said you can only really get them at this restaurant and they aren’t typical in Bulgaria) and a tomato/cucumber/cheese salad (very typical), and I ordered a traditional tripe soup and stuffed pork breast. Boyan’s grandparents, who are both scientists (one a professor, one a researcher), spend a month in Georgia each year, his grandfather a frequent guest professor at UGA, and visit their daughter in New York frequently. They made me feel right at home, making sure to keep me going back for food until I was stuffed. It’s always comforting to be around grandparents!

Not sure what I was looking at...

Not sure what I was looking at…

Later that night, Boyan and I met up with some of his friends to go to a club underneath Sofia’s library called “Once Upon a Time Biblioteka.” It was a really fun night – maybe a little too fun – and I ended up going home a few hours before Boyan did. Sometimes you just have to throw in the towel.

We slept in again on Sunday, and Boyan’s dad once again welcomed us to the day with a tasty brunch, this time some Bulgarian flaky pastries with cheese or fruit or nuts in them and some of the juiciest, reddest watermelon I’ve ever eaten. Ironically, Bulgaria’s best and most well known produce originated in America (tomatoes and watermelon) but beats most of the stuff you get at home (okay except Arkansas tomatoes and watermelon are kind of incredible but you know what I mean).

After getting some logistical things taken care of (printing tickets, blogging, uploading photos), Boyan and I left to go shopping at one of his favorite stores. Boyan had lent me a shirt the night before (I only have two button-downs), and I ended up buying the same one. It’s a blue floral shirt, and I do love floral (my other button-downs are floral too…). We grabbed gelato once again and then met up with Boyan’s friend Kosta for homemade sangria (made with homemade wine) and an oversized harvest cookie at a cool bar/coffee shop called The Apartment, which is literally in an old apartment. I actually thought we were going back to Boyan’s place until we got there and I realized that The Apartment was not actually his apartment.

Stumbled across a wedding in one of Sofia's churches!

Stumbled across a wedding in one of Sofia’s churches!

Boyan and I left The Apartment to head to his godmother’s apartment (see what I did there?) for dinner. Her husband is Colombian, so the dishes fell within some unknown exotic but delicious category – grilled peppers (both spicy and juicy red), meatballs, a cold eggplant sauce, homemade bread and fresh raspberries and Bulgarian plums (almost like oversized grapes) for dessert.

After dinner, we met back up with Kosta and another one of Boyan’s friends, Petar, at a chill and cheap bar. We ordered cocktails and some tasty spicy tomato vodka shots with olives (10 for 20 lev, which is about $12). I’ve gained a bit of a fondness for green olives during my trip, and the shots seemed more like hors d’ourves than anything. We left the bar and drove (Petar didn’t drink because he was driving – don’t worry) around Sofia looking for an open kebab shop. It made me feel like I was home, riding around in a car in the middle of the night looking for a late night snack. We stopped at Petar’s apartment for tea, music and conversation and got home at 6:30 in the morning. Just nine hours after and here I am, writing on a plane to Athens, Greece. I can see the coast below me from the window as I type.

It’s always weird getting to a new place, not knowing anything about what it will be like, who I will meet, what I will do. I’m planning on island hopping here, but many of Greece’s islands don’t have a large hostel culture. Ideally I will meet someone who can rent a room with me at my hostel in Athens or Ios, which happens to have a *hopefully* pretty nice hostel. Will get back to you on that one.

View of Athens from my plane window

View of Athens from my plane window

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The Rila Mountains – Bulgaria

Six of the Seven Rila Lakes

Six of the Seven Rila Lakes

Landing at the Sofia airport in the evening, I was greeted by my old flatmate Boyan, whom I had not seen in nearly two years. As with the rest of my old flat (which we generally refer to as C6, our block letter and flat number), it felt like old times immediately. Although I have seen almost all of my old flatmates already this summer, I am anxious to spend time with the whole group together again when I head back to England in October.

Boyan and I took one of Bulgaria’s extremely cheap taxis from the airport to his apartment, and hungry after a long day of travel, we ate the dinner his grandmother had sent for us – stuffed peppers, ripe and juicy tomatoes (Bulgaria has some of the best), beans, olives, feta cheese (another Bulgarian staple) and fresh peaches for dessert. We left his apartment to grab drinks and smoke hookah at a couple of outdoor bars before heading in for the night.

On the Rocks

On Thursday morning, a taxi picked us up from the apartment and drove us an hour and a half to a ski lift headed up to the Seven Rila Lakes. As would become a pattern on any transportation in Bulgaria, I slept the entire ride there (regardless of my long legs being consistently cramped). The ski lift went so far up that it took probably 20 minutes to reach the lodge at the top.

Bulgaria’s Seven Rila Lakes are – you guessed it – seven lakes nestled high in the Rila Mountains. Named after their shapes, including “The Eyeglass,” “The Kidney” and “The Eye,” the lakes sit progressively higher in the mountains, connected by creeks and waterfalls. Craggy peaks rise around the lakes and a few flat plains, one of which is surrounded by a semi-circle of inclines on one side and the open sky and clouds on the other. This round field is known for its energies, and a ritualistic religious group called the Great White Brotherhood (not the KKK) holds a ceremony there once a year. The energy field had a pile of white rocks in the middle with more rocks symmetrically circled around it like a dartboard. Boyan and I stood in the middle for a while, arms wide open.

Waterfall

The five-hour hike up and back to the Seven Rila Lakes was exhausting, hiking up past each lake to a peak where we could look over our path and the lakes below, but it was one of the high points of my trip. While traveling, I find myself consistently attracted to natural beauty over anything else – my favorite places are always the most beautiful. Though we were tired, at each stage of the mostly uphill trek I found myself wanting to see more and from a higher viewpoint until we were all the way at the top. Worth it.

Boyan and me on a peak overlooking the lakes

Boyan and me on a peak overlooking the lakes

We got a little bit lost on our way down, opting to take the more confusing lower path instead of the original path that was considerably steeper at some parts but flat for much of the journey. It turned into a little adventure, with us mistaking a house for the lodge with the ski lifts. Just when we thought we were almost at the end (we were hoping to spend part of the evening at one of Bulgaria’s natural hot spring baths), we saw the real lodge off in the distance. It’s hard to get good vantage points with mountain peaks jutting out all around you.

After a long, well-deserved sit, my rubbery-tired legs stumbled off the lift and onto the ground at the base of the mountain. It was all I could do not to fall off the lift after the intense leg workout and sudden rest, and of course I slept the entire (and probably stunning) taxi ride to a small town where we would spend the night. We sat down for dinner at a nearby restaurant and went to bed early.

The Rila Monastery

The Rila Monastery

We had to get up relatively early on Friday to catch a series of three busses and vans to the Rila Monastery. Most of the busses were extremely old (think communist era), but in a way that gave them and the journey some major character. I slept pretty much the entire way there. Three hours later, we arrived at the beautiful Eastern Orthodox monastery, where mountains rose up beyond the walls surrounding the monks’ housing, the church and an ancient tower. Although the Rila Monastery has been around since the 10th century, it was destroyed in the 19th century and mostly rebuilt aside from its stone tower.

Inside the church at the Rila Monastery (photos not technically allowed...)

Inside the church at the Rila Monastery (photos not technically allowed…)

We spent two hours exploring the monastery – the scenic paintings on the inside of the church; the all-stone, narrow-staired tower; the courtyard – and the area outside, where we bought mini-donuts with powdered sugar and jam and sat on a drooping creek. Our one-stop trip home would be easier than getting there, and surprise, I slept the whole ride, even thinking that my iPhone was replaying a song when I’d really just slept through the entire album.

Eggshell painted by hand by Rila monks.

Eggshell painted by hand by Rila monks.

Munich (Aug. 31-Sept. 2)

St. Michael's Church

St. Michael’s Church

After sleeping my way through the seven-hour bus ride from Vienna to Munich, I arrived at my hostel and promptly grabbed dinner at a local bierhall called Augustiner Bräustuben. It was pouring down rain, and the walk was miserable, but I was welcomed into a loud, bustling environment filled with both local Bavarians and tourists. I walked to the far side of the hall and sat near a group of men and women dressed in lederhosen and other traditional Bavarian clothes, playing accordion and singing and slapping the walls. I grabbed a pretzel from a basket in the middle of the table and hung up my jacket and umbrella to dry. My shorts and shoes were soaked, but luckily I would wait out the storm through dinner and walk home in just a light drizzle. I ordered a delicious, massive schnitzel with potatoes and berries, passing up their famed pork shoulder (which I never got to try) because I thought it might be too rich for the night, and a maß (a whole liter) of beer, which I was unable to finish (needed an early, chill night and didn’t realize ordering a “big one” was that big). People say the portions are too big in America, but one look at a Bavarian dinner and I think they might reconsider!

Dragon statue in Marienplatz symbolizing the Black Death.

Dragon statue in Marienplatz – a symbol of the Black Death.

I headed to bed early so that I could be rested for my one full day in Munich and make my morning walking tour, which ended up being one of the best ones I’ve taken. I think walking tours, especially the free ones (always tip of course!), are the best way to get a feel for a city, its architecture and its history. Our tour took us to the Rathaus-Glockenspiel right at noon, when it puts on its show, and inside a few of Munich’s notable cathedrals. We stopped for a break at the Viktualienmarkt, where I snacked on a tasty (but messy) bratwurst and some warm honey wine. It was a cloudy, sweater weather day, and the cozy cup of honey wine really hit the spot. I bought two small bottles for my mom and brother’s girlfriend (you better open them while I’m home).

St. Peter's Church

St. Peter’s Church

The Glockenspiel

The Glockenspiel

I met a few Aussies on the tour (pretty much everyone in my hostel was from Australia), and we headed to the English Gardens and Munich’s surfing wave, which is literally an artificial wave in a river that people surf across. I ended up going to a café by myself shortly afterwards, eating a tart berry cake and a latte – I could really get used to the pastries and coffee in this area of the country.

Surfing Wave in the English Gardens

Surfing Wave in the English Gardens

I grabbed a cheap falafel for dinner and then drank beer in the hostel with some of the people I’d met before heading to another bierhall. The next morning, I ate breakfast in the hostel and packed a sandwich for my flight to London, which required a layover in Copenhagen and two hours of busses and trains from the airport to my home in London – traveling cheap usually means traveling long.

Vienna (Aug 28-31)

The Austrian National Library.

The Austrian National Library.

I got into Vienna after 10pm and was scheduled to leave on a 50-euro train the next morning (Friday) at noon, meaning I would have to spend the night touring the city if I wanted to see anything (à la Before Sunrise). After a little thought and discussion with my friend Paul who lives in Vienna, I decided to skip my Friday morning train and book a cheap bus for Sunday, staying with Paul for a night to make up for the cost. Vienna turned out to be absolutely worth it, so I don’t regret the extra expense to experience the city.

I spent my Friday morning in Vienna alone (for once) and grabbed a seated breakfast and latte at the Nachtmarkt. It was an egg cooked over pan seared halloumi cheese, soft bread, avocado spread, jam, salad and a shot of freshly squeezed carrot and orange juice – simple but delicious.

Schönbrunn Palace through the fountain.

Schönbrunn Palace through the fountain.

From the Nachtmarkt, I headed to Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens. I walked through the gardens and up to a fountain that you could walk into and look back over the palace and grounds. After, I tiredly trekked up a high hill for an even nicer view, stopping to sit on the grass and take in the view of the palace and Vienna beyond.

View from the Hill

I headed back to my hostel after strolling around the gardens a bit more, meeting an English girl who I would spend my evening with. We sat down for coffee at Café Sperl, where I had a memorable plum cake that was one of the highlight foods of my trip. The cake was moist and the fresh fruit topping tartly sweet. Vienna is known for its Café-Kultur, and I was happy to indulge.

The Austrian Parliament Building.

The Austrian Parliament Building.

We left the café to walk through Vienna’s “ring,” the road going around the central area that contains most of Vienna’s most famous buildings (sans the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, also called Stephansdom). Because it was not a guided tour, I had no idea what I was looking at while I was looking at it, but the architecture and buildings in Vienna are the prettiest I’ve seen in Europe.

My companion and I stumbled across a film festival with a large selection of international food stands. We both opted for schnitzel and a stronger-than-expected sangria-like raspberry drink. We took a long walk through the city centre to see Stephansdom and then headed back to the film festival to catch a bit of an opera being projected in front of the Rathaus, which is basically Vienna’s town hall (it looked more like a cathedral).

Film Festival at the Rathaus - Puccini's La Fanciulla del West was playing (obviously I had to look that up).

Film Festival at the Rathaus – Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West was playing (obviously I had to look that up).

At the film, I noticed a guy who I was sure went to Northwestern but didn’t know his name. I figured he must be some Austrian lookalike and didn’t end up approaching him. Later in the hostel, I would confirm that he was an NU classmate when I ran into him on the hostel. He had actually met my freshman roommate in a hostel in Barcelona – small world! I went to bed early for the second night in a row (Marseille/Prague/Budapest really took a toll out of me with late nights).

A piece from the "I See a Face. Do You See a Face." exhibition at Mumok.

A piece from the “I See a Face. Do You See a Face.” exhibition at Mumok.

The next morning, my companion and I grabbed another breakfast at the Nachtmarkt (truly some of the best food in Vienna), a spicy Indian omelet that was as good as my breakfast before. After a quick gelato stop, we split up and I left to visit Vienna’s modern art museum, Mumok, and grab coffee and a mini-obstkuchen (a type of cakey fruit pastry) from Café Halle in the MuseumsQuarter, a stop suggested by The New York Times’s 32 Hour Guide to Vienna.

The only photo I managed to take with Paul, an awkward selfie originally sent to a friend from Marseille.

The only photo I managed to take with Paul, an awkward selfie originally sent to a friend from Marseille.

After my second café visit, I left to grab my luggage and meet up with Paul, my friend from Marseille who lives in Vienna. Shortly after I reached his apartment, which he and his roommates had just moved into earlier in the day, we all sat down for a nice homemade pasta lunch. Paul and I left to explore the city a bit and ended up spending most of our afternoon at Vienna’s Street Parade, which involved numerous 18-wheelers with bars and DJs on them parading through the city’s ring. People were drinking and dancing on the trucks and in the streets; Paul and I both grabbed beers at a food stand nearby. Gotta love European street drinking!

Vienna Street Parade truck

Vienna Street Parade truck.

Later that evening, Paul took me to a friend’s birthday party, where I met a lot of really friendly Austrians (and a few Germans and a Belgian). We conversed on our countries and life experiences before heading out to some clubs on Vienna’s “belt,” or the outer ring that goes through the more residential areas of the city. We stayed out late, and I only had a few hours to sleep the next morning before getting on my bus to Munich, where I managed to actually get some sleep.

We Like to Party (Prague and Budapest, Aug. 19-28)

From the Instant Groove Hostel

From the wall of my hostel in Budapest, Instant Groove.

It’s hard to adequately sum up my time in Prague and Budapest in journal fashion, because these two stops were much more about having a good time (AKA partying) than relaxing or sightseeing. I can tell you it will be a relief to not be drinking or staying out until 6am for the next couple of days in Vienna.

Prague Castle

We randomly found these birds of prey you could take photos with at the Prague Castle.

First things first – the two best hostels I’ve lodged in were on this leg of my journey. Hostel One Home in Prague and Instant Groove Hostel in Budapest. Each of these hostels totally made my time in each city and introduced me to some great fellow travelers.

My New Friend

Going to Hogwarts now see ya on the flipside.

Giant Faceless Baby Statue

These giant faceless baby statues in Prague are supposed to represent the media. Not going to say I work in press…

Hostel One Home’s appeal is firmly planted in its “family dinners,” daily planned activities and awesome staff. As you probably inferred, the hostel hosted included dinners every night so that I pretty much always knew most of the people roaming around the hostel. Usually after dinner, we’d play drinking games and then all go out to a bar or a club (or both), where we could indulge in fine cocktails (seriously some top-tier drinks and spirits for $1-2 each – gotta love Central Europe) and beer before maybe hitting up the dance floor.

Jami and Me

Hostel One Home was also the first place with a staff that actually hung out with its travelers. I actually loved it so much that I tried to get a job there, although it’s basically impossible to stay over my tourist visa without getting in trouble. Don’t get me started on arbitrary borders and the lack of freedom people have throughout the world to live where they want #immigrationreform.

Bone Chapel

Sedlec Ossuary, or the Bone Church.

Tagging the Lennon Wall

(Legal) tagging at the John Lennon Wall – obviously I made a panda.

The touristy parts of Prague were definitely nice – it’s a gorgeous city, cheap and easy to walk around in. It is absolutely overflowing with tourists, though, and the old town is always packed full of people. I managed to see bits of the castle there, the main parts of Old Town (Charles Bridge the Astronomical Clock, etc.), the John Lennon Wall (where I did some of my own graffiti), this random bird sanctuary and the Bone Church (literally decorated with the bones of 40,000 people) in Kutná Hora, a town an hour away. I probably missed some good stuff, but sometimes getting a real cultural and fun experience in a city involves ditching the sights and having fun with the people you meet. A major part of Prague’s culture is its nightlife, so of course I had to take advantage!

St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.

Budapest was similar: it was not until my third day that I even saw any sights in the city (i.e. before I went to the downtown area or the Danube River that separates Buda and Pest, the two cities that joined to create – you guessed it – Budapest). I think I may have partied a little bit harder in Budapest, though, staying up until 6am literally every single night. My hostel was actually part of one of the biggest bars/clubs in Budapest, Instant, so I basically wouldn’t have been able to go to sleep even if I tried.

Instant Groove

Instant Groove Hostel – always a party!

Instant Groove attracted some seriously awesome travelers, although not very many Americans (always cool to be the only one or one of two!). Everyone was there to have a good time and to make friends, which is exactly what I wanted to do. Pretty much everyone hung out together at night, from solo travelers to a group of six, which I think is cool because large groups can sometimes get a little bit antisocial. The hostel was so homey that we would basically have a big house party every night (I think someone said, “it’s not a hostel – it’s a week long house party”) until midnight and then head out to a ruin bar (highly atmospheric bars put in the ruins of old buildings rather than knocking them down – Budapest is known for them) and maybe dance a bit at Instant afterwards. It was nice to be able to go upstairs to sleep after the club rather than having to make our way home through the streets at night.

Hostel Friends

Our hostel was tight-knit enough for us to throw a big surprise party for our friend Dominic’s 22nd birthday. A few of us went out to buy balloons, decorations, donuts that we formed into a cake, candy, candles and ice cream, and everyone pitched in some money. It was, as always, a good time, and we went out in a humongous group afterward. There were 32 people in our hostel, and our group had 24. We must have looked like a school group roaming around the streets with that many people.

The Guys

Donut Cake

Dominic’s donut cake.

Another major appeal of Budapest (the perfect complement to the parties) is its thermal baths. Budapest is built on hot springs and has a number of bathhouses, ranging from quiet and intimate to massive and touristy. I hit up two of them, Széchenyi and Veli Bej, preferring the second because of its chilled out atmosphere and lack of a thousand people (Széchenyi is the biggest bath in Budapest). The baths were a perfect way to sweat out the toxins of the night before and get some good old-fashioned relaxation.

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Széchenyi Thermal Bath – the best way to get over a night at the ruin bars in Budapest!

I was not ready to leave Prague or Budapest, going as far as to skip my train out of Budapest to head to the baths one last time with my friends. The new ticket cost $35 (the first was $15), but whatever it was worth it.

“Welcome to the Family” (Marseille Part 2)

"The Family"

After Katelyn left, I decided I would just take it easy for the rest of my time in Marseille. I slept until 3:30 in the afternoon after staying up all night and watched some “Mad Men” when I woke up. Of course travel plans never go the way you think they will, and I ended up befriending a girl from Frankfort when she moved into the room. I *shamelessly* made her wait for me to finish my episode before heading to grab cheap burgers with her.

When we got back to the hostel, we ended up making a group of extremely international friends who would join me on one of my best days of the trip.

Afternoon in Cassis

I’ve said before how easy it is to make friends in hostels – sit down somewhere there is English being spoken, ask where they’re from. Our table expanded into eight people in the span of half an hour, with chimes of “do you mind if I join you?” coming periodically. 

“Of course! We’re a group of people who all met by asking the same thing!”

A few drinks later, we all ended up taking an early night and decided that we would meet at breakfast and that I would take them to Cassis in the morning. I didn’t feel like I had enough time there the day before and wanted to get some hiking and ocean time in.

Looking over the Calanque

In the morning, six of us from the night before met up for the day, managing to snag two more to join our party in the five minutes before we left. America, Germany, Spain, Austria, Poland, England and Japan all intersecting in Marseille for reasons ranging from quick holidays to grandiose Europe trips and all coming here alone – well, alone in the never-really-alone way industrious, wanderlusting solo travelers go.

We grabbed groceries before fighting our way onto the bus (we had to ask the driver to let our friend from Poland at the end of the line on the bus with us) so that we could enjoy a nice picnic and get straight to the calanque. Of course I had to play tour guide since I’d been there before, so I took them straight to the isolated rock face on the side of the calanque I had spent with Katelyn only two days before. We found a nice shady spot, fixed sandwiches and almost all jumped into the water, though not without hesitation from some who saw our shocked faces and loss of breath as we jumped in.

Hiking

The sky started to get a little cloudy, so we decided it was cool enough to take a hike around the calanques and walk out to where we could look off into the sea unobstructed. We goofed around and joked like we’d known each other for ages. We talked about our homes, our travels and mostly how much of a good time we were having together. Paul, from Austria, found a big hole in the side of a cliff and jumped in, scaring the shit out of us before we realized it was filled up to only a couple feet deep. We lost it laughing. Paul would later play tour guide and host to me during my time in Vienna.

Team Effort for Dinner

After hiking, we all decided we’d cook a big family dinner when we got back to the hostel to save money and enjoy a nice evening together. We headed to the supermarket and bought the makings for lettuce-less salad (they had one package of lettuce a week expired), nice cheese and toast, pasta with vegetables and homemade tomato sauce and four bottles of wine. Referring to our group all day as “the family,” we joked later about how we even innocently bickered about the type of pasta like family would. All in all it cost less than 7 euro each.

My Homemade Pasta Sauce

When we got back to the hostel, a couple of the group took showers while I started making pasta for eight people (it ended up feeding more than 10). Some of the guys cut vegetables while I made the sauce – it was a really cute team effort. Others would walk into the kitchen and tell us how good it smelled, how much fun we looked like we were having. Other solo travelers saw our ease with each other as strangers and asked to join, making our group explode into nearly 20.

Setting the Table

“Join the family!” became the motto of the evening, and we added friends from Italy, Sweden, Australia and more to our international posse.

Eventually, we were having too much fun for the hostel to manage and we started to get yelled at by a hostel worker. While hanging out in the courtyard, an angry neighbor started throwing eggs at us from his window (no warning, of course), and the hostel worker walked out yelling “f-ing Americans” even though there were only two of us. I guess he heard English and just assumed, but the reputation of Americans in other countries is a whole other post entirely. I was mostly mad he was screaming at us for getting eggs thrown at us when the hostel had no available accommodations for us to spend what was most of our last night together.

Cheers!

We ended up heading out to a bar and sitting outside and talking there, and a few of us snuck into one of the closed common rooms and chatted into the late hours of the night afterward. Saying goodbye to my big international family was one of the hardest goodbyes of my trip.

There’s a tough to encapsulate feeling that comes every one of these amazing nights – nights like the pubs in Dublin and the family dinner in Marseille – a feeling of pure joy and happiness in the moment mixed with a sad dread that this moment is so isolated, so against the odds of having happened in the first place that it will never be repeated after it ends. A long goodbye after a short hello, you enjoy every second but have to accept its inevitable end. It’s these moments that make traveling hard and easy at the same time, and more than anything make me realize how lucky I am to be on this journey. Traveling is more than just about seeing the world and partying, although that’s a great side effect. It’s about being 22 and young and afraid of the future and forgetting that for a moment to see what and who else more is out there than what I’m used to. People around the world are different in so many ways, but we are all the same in how we connect to each other.