How to be a Solo Traveler

Wanted to share my first Buzzfeed Community post.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

You’ve decided to take the most important journey of your life.

1. Pack everything you think you need and then leave half of that at home.

Pack everything you think you need and then leave half of that at home.

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 2. Book your hostel.

Book your hostel.

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Instant Groove! Party Hostel, Budapest

3. Get there the cheapest way, even if it’s the slowest. Picturesque train journeys are always a win.

Get there the cheapest way, even if it’s the slowest. Picturesque train journeys are always a win.

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Flam Railway, Norway

4. Don’t make any plans. You don’t actually know what you want to do.

Don't make any plans. You don't actually know what you want to do.

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… except maybe that one thing you always wanted to do or that one thing your friend told you that you’d love. Plan to do that one (even if it’s super touristy).

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

5. Make friends with a stranger immediately.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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Decide whether said stranger will be a good companion and if so determine to do everything with him or her.

6. Go on a tour with your hostel and make friends with even more strangers. Get to know your way around.

Go on a tour with your hostel and make friends with even more strangers. Get to know your way around.

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“Look mom – I made friends abroad!”

Stockholm, Sweden

7. Figure out what you actually want to do and do it.

Figure out what you actually want to do and do it.

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Széchenyi Baths, Budapest

8. If you can’t figure it out, ask.

If you can't figure it out, ask.

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“Oh Diplo is in town? Do tell me more.”

Mosebacketerrassen, Stockholm

9. If you still can’t figure it out, find art.

If you still can't figure it out, find art.

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East Side Gallery, Berlin

10. Or an abandoned place to explore.

Or an abandoned place to explore.

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Beelitz-Heilstätten, Germany

11. Or nature to wander.

Or nature to wander.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

12. Or really whatever presents itself to you.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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(Make outs not guaranteed).

13. Go for a night out where the locals go.

Go for a night out where the locals go.

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… or wherever the people in your hostel are feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations!

Chez Georges Wine Cellar, Paris

14. Stay out late even though you have a train to catch in the morning.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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You can sleep on the train!

15. Ask everyone you met to add you on Facebook or for their emails, even if it seems awkward at the time.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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You may end up traveling together or visiting each other later on your trip.

16. Let them know when you’re in their countries. You might even have a place to stay.

Let them know when you're in their countries. You might even have a place to stay.

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Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

17. Make that train in the morning, even though you didn’t sleep.

Make that train in the morning, even though you didn't sleep.

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… or if it’s right, just skip it. Maybe there’s more you need to do.

18. Sleep when you can.

Sleep when you can.

Kurisurokku / Via news.com.au

That probably means on your train.

19. Blog about what you want people to know that you did.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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Even though most of your Facebook friends aren’t going to read it, it’s important to keep track of your journey for yourself too!

And your mom will love it.

20. And Skype your friends to tell them what you really did.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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“I don’t even know what language he was speaking in, but he was so hot.”

21. Book your next hostel and get ready to do it all over again!

Book your next hostel and get ready to do it all over again!

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Decaying Berlin: Beelitz-Heilstätten (Nov. 4)

Laundry vents

Vents in the old laundry facility

Arches in the gardens

Arches in the gardens

Beelitz-Heilstätten is an abandoned sanitarium and hospital complex just an hour outside of Berlin. Opened in 1902, it started as a tuberculosis sanitarium until WWI and WWII, when it was used to treat wounded soldiers. Its most famous resident, Adolf Hitler, spent months of his youth during WWI in its dorms and hospital.

Men's Pavilion

Men’s Pavilion

From 1945 until 1995, Soviet forces occupied Beelitz-Heilstätten, even after Germany reunited in 1990, and it saw its total abandonment in 2000. Since then, the vast majority of its buildings have been retaken by nature and remained totally unused.

Exploring the complex, you will find residence halls, recreation buildings, hospitals and surgery centers, laundry and kitchen facilities, an old theater-style classroom and more. The whole place is covered with graffiti, overgrowth, broken glass, peeling wallpaper – all the signs of decay. Many of the buildings’ doors and windows are left wide-open, just asking for visitors.

Literally killer graffiti. Photo credit: Jesse Martin

Literally killer graffiti. Photo credit: Jesse Martin

Blue paint peeling off the walls of an old grand staircase

Blue paint peeling off the walls of an old grand staircase

Old Soviet icon painted in the Men's Pavilion gym

Old Soviet icon painted in the Men’s Pavilion gym

Others, like the men’s pavilion, have been boarded up extensively. We circled the building multiple times, testing out wooden windows and other cracks before finding a loose opening into the basement. Skeptical, we wandered into a short maze of darkness and pipes, crouching all the way.

We made our way through the basement for 15 eerily quiet minutes, thinking it may not be connected to the main building, before finally finding a staircase leading to a communist-era Russian gym, old slogans and icons painted on its walls.

Statue of communist soldier in front of the Men's Pavilion

Statue of communist soldier in front of the Men’s Pavilion

An old operating table with grooves to let bodily fluids (i.e. blood) leak down

An old operating table with grooves to let bodily fluids (i.e. blood) leak down

Jumping out of the window

Jumping out of the window

We spent most of the day without seeing anyone else – it wasn’t until we made our way to the women’s tuberculosis treatment quadrant that we found a few other explorers and photographers making their way through (the place is split into four quadrants with the town’s metro stop at the center).

At one point we walked across a clear sidewalk towards the largest hospital building. On our return, a padlock on one of the buildings had been unlocked and outside the door was a sack of flour. We assumed that it must have been some sort of caretaker going in if he or she could open the lock. It wasn’t long before we realized the use of the flour: giant symbols, including a swastika, had been drawn on the sidewalk with flour. I kicked around the flour forming the swastika, making it unrecognizable before we got out of there.

An old operating room, wall and windows gone

An old operating room, wall and windows gone

The attic walls of an old home in Beelitz crumbling to see an open sky

The attic walls of an old home in Beelitz crumbling to see an open sky

As if Beelitz-Heilstätten wasn’t creepy on its own, it was the site of several murders, the most recent being only six years ago.

An old piano with no strings

An old piano with no strings

After six hours of urban exploration at its finest – crouching through cracks, jumping out of windows, even falling through chair risers in a classroom – the three of us left as darkness fell. We wouldn’t want to be there in the cold, dark night.

A map of Beelitz-Heilstätten. Photo credit: Abandoned Berlin

A map of Beelitz-Heilstätten. Photo credit: Abandoned Berlin

What looks like a forest is really the roof of a five story concrete building, taken over by nature.

What looks like a forest is really the roof of a five story concrete building, taken over by nature.

This graffiti seems to be framed by an old window frame

This graffiti seems to be framed by an old window frame.

Broken Windows

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The wall of an old classroom/theater

The wall of an old classroom/theater

Madrid: The End of a Long Journey (Nov. 10-16)

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

I arrived in Madrid late with an anxious feeling about getting into a city for the last time of my journey. But I guess mostly I just wanted to get to a place where I could dump my stuff – a common feeling of any backpacker between cities. I would be staying at my friend Katelyn’s flat, an American I spent a few days traveling in the South of France with, although she wouldn’t be back from New York until the next morning. Her roommates let me in just before 1 am.

I slept in on Tuesday and decided to take a bit of a rest day. I’ve said it before that when traveling is your life, you can’t just go go go without taking days or time off, and this would be my first time not staying in a hostel in weeks. After hours of resting, next-door pizza, television and writing, I left for dinner with two friends from high school who were teaching English in Madrid.

Sam Claflin at the Hunger Games premiere in Madrid

Sam Claflin at the Hunger Games premiere in Madrid

On the way to the restaurant, El Tigre (which serves free tapas with drink purchases), I noticed a huge crowd around a movie theater off of Madrid’s main street, Gran Via, and a large screen showing a red carpet. Apparently the new Hunger Games movie was having a small premiere there, and the super hot guy playing Finnick was standing outside flashing his sexy smile for the cameras. Not sure if there were any other celebrities there, but I was happy with him.

It was great catching up with Michelle and Kate after so many years (I had eaten lunch with Michelle in December but hadn’t really seen her or Kate otherwise since graduation), and El Tigre was a really fun (albeit very fried and greasy) place to have dinner. For about €8, I had two sangria-like drinks and a beer and all the potatoes, bread, meat and croquetas I could eat.

Wednesday was probably my most productive day, waking up at noon and heading to a popular sandwich chain called 100 Montaditos for lunch. I caught a 2pm walking tour, which was one of the better ones I’d been on. The guide was really awesome and made it easy to pay attention to 2.5 hours of history. Usually I find myself tuning out a little bit (being tired, on my feet and distracted in a new place don’t generally help me focus), but he’d talk for 20 minutes and I’d realize that I actually was keeping up with the whole story.

Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace

Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace

After the tour, I met up with my friend Adi, a Spanish girl whom I met in Marseille. She would be the fourth friend from my time there for me to meet up with. Adi and I walked around a few cool neighborhoods in Madrid, stopping for coffee and a drink at a cool café/bar and for a nice dinner at a restaurant called Lateral. I then headed to grab drinks with my friend Roope from Finland and ended up out until 3 drinking lots of red wine, which is not normally my style but is a must in Spain.

Kate, me and Michelle in the Plaza del Sol

Kate, me and Michelle in the Plaza del Sol

I took Thursday mostly off again due to the late night, getting lunch with Katelyn and again catching up on some writing and television. Thursdays in Europe had been American Horror Story days since its airtime in America is equivalent to 5am in most of Europe. That night, I met up with Katelyn and her friends for my first ever poker night, where I won €20. I felt pretty good about that.

Friday was much more productive – I left early afternoon to check out the Sabatini Gardens and the gay district of Madrid, Chueca. There wasn’t really much going on there, it being the middle of the afternoon and all (“siesta” time is 2-5 or so and a lot of places are closed then), but it was nice to see the area.

Us with the symbol of Madrid, a bear and a tree. The guy we asked to take a photo cut off the top of the statue, obviously unaware why we wanted the photo.

Us with the symbol of Madrid, a bear and a tree. The guy we asked to take a photo cut off the top of the statue, obviously unaware why we wanted the photo.

I met up with Michelle and Kate for a fantastic dinner at a hip spot called La Musa, which had a weird combination of Spanish tapas and Japanese fusion dishes, all of which were delicious. We got the guacamole (you mash it yourself and it was perfect), empanaditas (Asian dumplings affectionately translated as “little empanadas”), California roll, a plate with a well-seasoned selection of meat and shrimp, croquetas and red wine. In true Spanish/European fashion, we took our time with our meal and ended up ordering another bottle of wine after we had finished our food. We sat and talked post-entrees, sipping away at our bottle of wine before ordering dessert. I had carrot cake, which is one of my favorites and didn’t disappoint, while the girls split a chocolate brownie and cheesecake. Delicious all the way round.

Roope and Me

Roope and Me

After dinner, we taxied over to one of Kate and Michelle’s friend’s apartments for pre-drinks, my friend Roope and some of his friends from Croatia coming there to meet us. I randomly met this girl who I went to camp with ten years ago who was also teaching in Madrid and knew Michelle and Kate – always interesting the people you run into in the world! After some drinking games and conversation, we all left for a club called La Nuit. One of the girls knew someone at the bar and was able to get us table service for about €12 each. I figured it was probably my last night out in Europe, so I dropped €60 on taxis, dinner and drinks, which really isn’t that bad (especially considering I’d won €20 the night before!). I ended up getting home probably at 5:30 in the morning, but we didn’t leave for the club until probably 2 – the schedule in Madrid is pretty wild. There’s a reason they have “siesta” time!

Predrinking before going out

Predrinking before going out

I got up late on Saturday and went to get my first Mexican food in months with Michelle and Kate. We walked around for a while after, Michelle getting some well-needed shopping in and buying a cape. I made fun of her by pretending to toss my hair back a bit as she had done to get it out of the way, and the store attendant laughed out loud. I felt pretty accomplished with that one. I got another pizza from the place next door to Katelyn’s flat for dinner and then went to watch The Fault in Our Stars with Roope. I didn’t cry, although I cried a lot reading the books – maybe the movie was a bit more boring and the characters less charming. Nevertheless, it was nice to have a relaxing last night abroad.

I woke up on the last day of my journey with the bittersweet feeling that comes with the end. I knew I’d want to take advantage of my last day, but I would feel the empty feeling of parting ways with something I loved throughout.

Me and my favorite (and now lost) hat in El Rastro market

Me and my favorite (and now lost) hat in El Rastro market

I met up with Kate and Michelle at the El Rastro Sunday Market in La Latina. The market was really busy but had some great finds, including a green wool brimmed hat that I fell in love with, bought and promptly lost in my taxi getting back to Chicago. I was obviously extremely upset about losing my favorite souvenir and European style statement from abroad. I did make it home with all the things I bought my friends and family, though, including a tapestry for my friend’s birthday, some pottery and some baby shoes for my niece.

Later I would walk around Retiro Park alone, getting some time to reflect on my travels while looking at another stunning European park. After about an hour, it was time for my to go home and gather my things before making my way to the airport and the following 26-hour lonely journey home.

Madrid was a great choice to end my travels on and remains a place I would love to spend more time in. Oh Europe, how I miss you.

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

Poland: Warsaw (Nov. 8-10)

Stare Miasto in Warsaw. Photo credit: Bitcoin Examiner

Stare Miasto in Warsaw. Photo credit: Bitcoin Examiner

We arrived in Warsaw late at night and basically made our way to the boondocks for this hostel in the middle of nowhere called Hostel Krokodyl. We had made our reservations at the last minute and were unable to get any of the better-located hostels. After dropping off our stuff at the hostel, we went to the hostel we would be staying in the following night, Hostel Oki Doki, where we thought we might run into some friends from our hostel in Krakow. We didn’t, but after a beer each, Josh and I headed to another Pijalnia Wódki (the shot bar we went to in Krakow) for a couple of drinks before heading back to the hostel.

The next morning, we moved our stuff over to Oki Doki and went for lunch at a really nice restaurant called Aioli. Poland is pretty cheap, and even though it was a pretty hip place, I was able to get a shrimp salad, a soda, a mojito and dessert for about $18.

Inside Aioli. Photo credit: Taste Affair

Inside Aioli. Photo credit: Taste Affair

Josh and I explored Old Town and New Town for a bit, stopping to grab a waffle and meeting a middle-aged American couple who were living in Italy. I was a little embarrassed because they started talking to us after eavesdropping on my criticism of the GOP, and I think they were quite moderate voters… Probably should just shut my mouth after that but midterm results were fresh on my mind.

Josh was feeling sick, so after a short while walking around, we went back to the hostel to relax for a bit.

When I had first gotten into Warsaw, my Facebook reminded me that a friend I had met in Marseille lived in Warsaw, so I sent him a message and arranged for him to meet up with me and Josh for dinner. Karol knew a lot about Polish history and the city and gave us some insight into the political climate of the country.

After dinner, Josh and I went to the hostel for an early night, although I was kept up for hours by a couple of loud snorers in the room. I would periodically cough really loud to get them to stop momentarily, but it was never enough. Snoring dormmates are one of the major backpacker struggles.

Josh left early the next morning to head back to London, saying goodbye after 20 days meeting up in five countries throughout the summer. I slept in a little bit and grabbed the cheapest breakfast at Aioli – $3 for a fancy salmon on brioche with rocket, yogurt and a cappuccino (gotta love Polish prices).

Inside the Uprising Museum. Photo credit: In Your Pocket

Inside the Uprising Museum. Photo credit: In Your Pocket

I decided to spend the hours before my evening flight at the Uprising Museum, which ended up being a huge mistake. The museum itself is really nice, and in the time I had there had some interesting stuff, but I waited two hours in line to get in and an additional hour for a six-minute movie I had paid for. I don’t know if it was because Polish Independence Day was the next day or if its always so busy, but I only had about 30 minutes to peruse the museum and most of that time was spent being frustrated at how long I had to wait to see any of it. I left and ran back to my hostel to get my things before I would catch a bus to the airport, which was 45 minutes away and not the main Warsaw airport (because Ryan Air is the worst).

Except when I had asked about the bus the day before, the hostel staff just told me where to catch it and didn’t tell me that I had to book online before. Upon hearing this news, I tried to get a spot but it was all sold out, forcing me to spend $45 on a taxi to the airport. I was obviously pretty frustrated with the hostel for leaving out such an important detail, but I had to make it to the airport and had no other choice.

Poland: Krakow (Nov. 5-8)

Entrance to Auschwitz, translated as "Work makes you free"

Entrance to Auschwitz, translated as “Work makes you free”

Josh and I took an eight-hour Deutsche Bahn bus from Berlin to Krakow, which was probably the nicest bus I had been on with far-reclining seats and great wifi. Arriving at Let’s Rock Hostel, we put down our things and went to a fantastic burger restaurant called Moaburger (although we did spend about 30 minutes trying to find another would-be-favorite called Koko, which serves Polish food for cheap). I got a bacon avocado burger, which was probably the first burger I’d eaten in months. We sat in the lobby of our hostel for a bit afterwards, me drinking ONE beer, until two drunk girls kept accusing me of being drunk and stroking my leg. If there’s one thing I cannot handle it’s a girl flirting with me. That was my cue to go to bed – we would be getting up at 6:45 the next day anyway.

Victim Monument at Auschwitz

Victim Monument at Auschwitz

Somehow actually getting out of bed on time, Josh and I woke up Thursday morning and caught an 8am bus to the biggest Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Auschwitz and Aushwitz-Berkinou. The five-hour tour was pretty tough to get through, seeing rooms full of human hair or suitcases or other things that didn’t even come close to representing the number of those killed there. I think it’s important to remind oneself of man’s capacity for evil and hate – and that in some ways we are still far from past the kind of brutal violence of the Holocaust.

Auschwitz took a heavy toll out on the two of us, and the early morning didn’t help much with that, so Josh and I went back to the hostel for some R&R. I caught the previous night’s episode of “American Horror Story,” which had some disturbing enough scenes for my dormmates to ask me if there was something wrong as they listened to my squealing and gasping. Josh and I left to eat at Koko, which we successfully found and serves soup and a hearty meal for about €4. I got cauliflower soup and a fried pork chop and tried pierogies for the first time – cheese and onion – which were pretty delicious. We then headed back to the hostel to watch more TV, myself finishing the last episode of “Mad Men” and all of the sudden not knowing what to do with myself after watching maybe 72 episodes during my travels.

Prisoner bunks

Prisoner bunks

We slept in the next day (sometimes you really have to even if you only have a limited time in each city – traveling was my life for four months after all) and ate lunch at Moaburger again. This time I tried a fried goat cheese burger that was also pretty amazing. I’d also recommend their fries (they have about a half-dozen homemade sauces, my favorite being their sweet chili) and milkshakes. Ironically I had dreamt of going back to America for a milkshake on my way to Poland and found an abundance there.

After lunch, we left for a late tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the oldest salt mines in operation until it closed in 2007 and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mines are massive, and I think you only see like 1% of them on the tour. Most of the rooms we explored were filled with salt carvings and statues, and there’s even a big cathedral inside. After the tour, we went on an optional free tour through the mine’s museum and ended up having our guide all to ourselves for a private tour.

Josh and me at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Josh and me at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

We decided to eat at Koko again since it had such a wide-ranging menu and it was so cheap, this time bringing a Swiss girl whose friends had left early that morning. I had a presumably more traditional duck with berry sauce alongside a tasty broccoli soup.

We left for the hostel after dinner, picking up some cheap drinks along the way. We had heard great things about Krakow’s nightlife and planned on experiencing it firsthand that night. After drinking with some new friends in the hostel, we went to a communist-era-themed shot bar called Pijalnia Wódki, which is actually a chain found in Krakow and Warsaw. The place was very charming, the bartender’s uniforms looking straight out of the 50s and newspapers lining the wall. The shots were €1, and they had a particularly good one called a Monte with milk and hazelnut vodka. Eventually, some drunk man decided he wanted to try to get in a fight with our friend, so we left to find another bar nearby.

The other bar had similar prices and shots but none of the atmosphere, so we ended up spending most of our time chatting outside. I made a new Polish friend who took me to see Krakow’s castle while I thought everyone was going home. It ended up that they too made some Polish friends and ended up going to an actual club, but I didn’t regret leaving – I was tired anyway.

Salt sculpture in Wieliczka

Salt sculpture in Wieliczka

On our final day in Krakow, we went in search of a pierogi restaurant recommended by our hostel. Similarly to Koko, the hostel staff’s directions were not correct and we spent about 45 minutes wandering aimlessly trying to find it. We ended up eating at another one that was still pretty amazing – I tried a salmon filled pierogies and realized the necessity of the soy-like sauce that comes on the side and Josh accidentally ordered dessert pierogies (it was sweet cheese flavored).

Josh and I had both wanted to see Interstellar and decided that we had seen most of the city (although we never made it on a city tour – the mines and Auschwitz I think were enough). We found a movie theater that played it with Polish subtitles and I was mildly underwhelmed by the movie as a Christopher Nolan fan. It wasn’t terrible, but I thought it was a little cheesy and somewhat unexciting.

Before catching our train to Warsaw, we ate at (surprise) Moaburger one last time. I attempted to order their vegetarian fava bean burger, which was sold out, and ended up with a chicken avocado burger that was as tasty and reliable as all our meals had been. Running low on time, we rushed to the train station and boarded with only a few minutes to spare. We would be in Warsaw in just a couple of hours.

My Favorite City: Berlin (Oct. 30-Nov. 5)

Graffiti on the East Side Gallery

Graffiti on the East Side Gallery

Berlin just might be my favorite city in Europe.

Its great nightlife (which I still have only had tastes of), hip markets and stylish food joints make it a very livable city, and its minimal fashion and modern urbanity give it a contemporary charm unlike most older European cities. The people pride themselves on a liberal, easygoing attitude that clashes with a tumultuous history, making you wonder how one city can come so far in such a short amount of time. Berlin is a Western city at its finest.

#glamourcat

#glamourcat

After a long train ride from Brussels and a night in, I woke up on Halloween day in Berlin and met up with one of my travel companions from my time in Greece, Mirjam, who is from Berlin. She and a friend met me at pretty much the only costume store in Berlin, where we waited in line for maybe 30 minutes during the Halloween rush. I had a limited budget and limited clothes (I’ve been living out of a 13 kilo bag for four months), but I happened to have a pair of leopard print pajama pants (affectionately known as my hot pants) and a leopard print blanket (only because my mom gave it to me before I left). Obviously I would be a leopard, so I bought a €2 face mask and was ready for the night. Later I would mention the availability of leopard print in my bag to a German girl, whose response was: “and you’re not even gay! … are you?”

I eventually headed back to the hostel for a short break, meeting my Australian friend Josh who was going to be traveling with me for the following 11 days. He also knew Mirjam and her boyfriend Felix from our time together in Ios. Felix and Mirjam invited us for dinner at their house, so we went over an hour before the party for a home cooked meal. When the party started, I somehow ended up being the designated makeup artist and turning Josh and Mirjam into zombies… you can decide for yourself whether I was any good (the answer is no, not really).

Would you hire me as your makeup artist? (Note: Mirjam added her own line details)

Would you hire me as your makeup artist? (Note: Mirjam added her own line details)

At one point in the party, which was pretty much all Germans except for a few people from Felix’s roommate’s lacrosse and running teams, I started talking to a guy who I assumed was German. When I asked him where he was from, though, he said, “Arkansas.”

I assumed he was messing with me at first until he mentioned that he was from Fayetteville, which there’s no way he would have known about if he was from anywhere else. After talking for a few minutes, I learned that he had moved to Berlin to teach English through a company called Berlitz that didn’t require him to know any German. He seriously may have changed my life because I’ve thought about living in Berlin for a long time.

The next day, Josh and I got out of the hostel pretty late and headed to Winterfeldt Markt, a neighborhood food market in Winterfeldtplatz. We got a lot of small dishes, which means we ended up eating a ton – brats from the Bauer Lindner stall, a smoked fish sandwich, zucchini fritters, spring rolls, fresh squeezed juice, tiramisu and cappuccinos.

I had almost forgotten that I should show Josh the touristy things since I had already seen them when I visited in 2012, so after the market, we walked to the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate and the Neue Wache. After a longer-than-expected walk back to the hostel, we met up with Felix and Mirjam for dinner at a modern Asian restaurant called Toca Rouge, which had a really cool vibe but somewhat underwhelming food. We were all pretty tired, so we said goodbye and Josh and I walked back to the hostel.

We were debating whether to go out since it was Saturday and Berlin but we were also tired, so we thought we’d go grab some drinks at the Wombat’s Bar in the rooftop of our hostel and decide after. We ended up meeting some cool people (along with some very, very loud American guys) and taking some Jäger bombs and eventually we realized that we were keen on going out.

Jesse and me at Roses

Jesse and me at Roses

One of my friends living in Berlin suggested a club called Ritter Butzke, so Josh and I, along with our new friend Jesse, made our way to the area of town it was in, running away from the American guys knowing that they would potentially cause us not to get in the club (they were yelling and running around in the metro and Berlin clubs are known for stringent door policies). Not ironically, they wouldn’t let Josh in because he said he was 19 and didn’t have ID. Jesse and I went in anyway – Josh understood.

After about 45 minutes in the club, Jesse and I decided to go to a gay bar called Roses, which must be where the expression “stroke the furry wall” came from because the entire place was lined with pink fur. There was a really interesting and diverse clientele and the two of us hung out there until probably 5:30 in the morning. Berlin clubs don’t get going until late, so we hadn’t left the hostel until maybe 1:30 anyway.

Homemade robot at Mauerpark - it could spit out water!

Homemade robot at Mauerpark – it could spit out water!

Josh and I slept in again on Sunday morning and went to a really good Korean restaurant by our hostel called YamYam. I think it was Josh’s first experience with Korean food – I got the bibimbap and he got the bulgogi, which I preferred. After lunch, we left for the Mauerpark Flea Market, which was basically recommended by everyone and did not disappoint. I bought a photography print and a screen-printed canvas bag for myself and some cartoon prints for my friends and me, although I could have bought way more. There was a ton of really cool stuff for sale there, along with talented street performers and artists keeping us entertained in and around the market.

Josh and I left Mauerpark to meet up with an English girl, Chloe, who I had met briefly in Berlin in 2012. If you read my post about Copenhagen, I had met up with our friend Sissel there whom I met at the same time. We met her at a nice bar/café in Mitte called Zur Rose and caught up for a couple of hours over coffee. Chloe recommended a nice German restaurant called Schwarzwaldstuben for Josh and me. We sat at the bar and both ordered schnitzel and cold potato and cucumber salad – yummmmmm.

Chloe and me after two years!

Chloe and me after two years!

Belgium (Oct. 26-30)

Brussels Grand Place at night.

Brussels Grand Place at night

I took an early MegaBus from Paris to Brussels, getting to Hostel Grand Place around midday and relaxing for a bit after lugging my stuff up the stairs (the elevator was under maintenance, of course). It was the first time I’d stayed in a hostel since Croatia and my first time staying without someone I knew around since Belgrade (Sept. 25). It’s always exciting to go somewhere by yourself, but I had really enjoyed traveling with fellow backpackers and new friends.

Taking a tip from the hostel receptionist, I headed to a restaurant called Chez Leon for moules frites (mussels and fries), a traditional Belgian specialty that I often enjoy in the states. The tip was actually not great, and the mussels weren’t anything to write home about. Unfortunately I would not get the chance to have more during my time in Belgium. I went to bed early on my first night, but not without watching a few episodes of “Mad Men” in my bed.

I woke up semi-early on my first full day in Brussels to catch a walking tour, which I think was my tenth of the trip. It was relatively interesting, although the guide suggested a place for “the best frites in Brussels” in a “really cool square” that happened to be a 20 minute walk out of downtown. First off, the place was closed between 2 and 6, and second off, the square was dead and likely is only happening at night. A large group of people from the tour left the square annoyed, myself with a girl I met on the street who knew a guy I interned with last summer. I’ve been meaning to contact the tour guide (who had only started a week before) to tell him to stop suggesting that place post-tour since I’m sure the same thing happens to dozens of his tourists. Maybe someone has already done it – I’ll just go with that.

The girl I met and I headed to a restaurant the guide suggested, which was also closed, and finally back to a frites place near my hostel by the Grand Place. We went to the grocery store afterward to find chocolate, since “Belgians actually buy most of their chocolate at grocery stores,” but we couldn’t find anything we wouldn’t see at any European grocery store. We decided to cave in and go to a nice chocolate shop, Neuhaus, and pick up some truffles. Her card wouldn’t work, so she went back to her hostel to contact her bank and we parted ways for good.

I headed back to the hostel to try and meet some new friends – I was keen on going to some bars that night, namely the famous Delirium with its world record number of beers. Three American girls walked in who I’d seen at reception earlier in the day, so I struck up a conversation and told them I was alone and was seeking company. They wanted to rest a bit but were planning on going to the bars later. I told them I would be hanging out in the lobby until then so I would catch them on their way out.

One of the girls came down maybe an hour or so later to me conversing with another American who had been teaching in Madrid. The three of us headed out for some cheap, mediocre Chinese food before picking up one of the other girls from the hostel. We headed to The Big Game for €1 beers before heading to another called Celtica for even more happy hour drinks. We met the third of the girls there – she wanted to nap a bit longer than the others.

We were really enjoying our beers – I mean Belgium is known for that – and were getting more and more friendly with each other. Eventually I befriended a British couple at the bar and invited them to head to Delirium with the group. We tasted our way through some more Belgian beers and finally it was time for me to go home. I got all of their contact information, but I would only see the British couple the next day.

New friends at Delirium

New friends at Delirium

I woke up the next day earlier than my body would have liked to head for the European Parliament. My flatmate Connie’s mom is an MP from Portugal and had her assistant take me on a tour around the offices. Unfortunately, the MPs were all on a week where they go back to their home countries to do work, so there wasn’t a lot going on. Nevertheless it was cool seeing the modern office buildings and chatting about the European economy and Russian aggression (and the potential effects on each other, especially with winter coming).

I walked back from Parliament to my hostel to take a long, well-needed nap. I briefly left the hostel to eat some frites and these boiled snails from an established streetfood stand called Jef & Fils, and then promptly went back to the hostel and probably watched some “Mad Men” before realizing I should do some more tourist things and headed to the Atomium. The Atomium basically Brussels’s Eiffel Tour and is a giant model of a unit cell of an iron crystal made when the 1958 World Fair was held in Brussels. It was pretty impressive, maybe even more so than Eiffel, and I made the long journey back to my hostel after admiring its towering atoms.

The Atomium

The Atomium

Back in the hostel, I met a DC-native named Gaby, who I invited to go to Bruges with me the next day. We talked a bit – I found out she worked at a popular student bar that I was familiar with – and then I headed to meet up with my British friends for more drinks at Celtica. We had a long chat with a Swedish guy living in Brussels and then called it a night probably around 1 am.

Canal in Bruges

Canal in Bruges

The next day, Gaby and I headed to Bruges, eating a traditional beef stew and frites (I literally ate frites at every meal, many times the only thing I ate for my meal) for lunch and then wandering around the town. We bought chocolates at a famous storefront called The Chocolate Line (you have to go there if you are ever in Bruges), though I made the mistake of letting the salesman, a teenager younger than me (the rest looked like old pros but were busy helping others), choose my chocolates. The fruity ones were not up my alley (very tart), but the marzipan-filled chocolates were some of the best chocolates I’ve had.

Gaby and I grabbed a drink at a backpackers bar in the town before getting the train back to Brussels, where we ate a dinner of *surprise* frites and went down early since we both had trains to catch in the morning.