Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Solo Travels: Athens and Aegina

This is Greece!
Now I have momentum on my blog writing, so I figure I should keep it going and jump straight into relating the last leg of my trip in Greece.  Again, getting into our hostel for the most part went smoothly.  There was a wrong turn here or there and Alana and I were both tired and cranky but we made it.  This hostel, however, was my least favorite.  The accommodations were fine, clean sheets and all that but, I mean, 3 plugs for a six man room, are you serious?!
Regardless, our first day in Athens we were up bright and early and our hostel (despite the plug situation) was actually located in an amazing area.  We were only a short walk away to the ruins of the Temple of Zeus and from there it barely took us five minutes to reach the Acropolis.  We knocked both out before even eating lunch.  The weather in Athens, unlike the gloomy and cold Hungary, was beautiful (a little too beautiful, Alana and I, in our paleness, are both suffering the consequences of some serious sunburns).
Alana and I in front of some pretty cool rocks
The stones left standing were incredible and sometimes looking at them you had to remind yourself how incredibly old they all are, but my favorite part about the Acropolis was the view of Athens.  It was really, truly incredible.  It was so weird walking around the Acropolis and hearing all the American voices around me, it had been so long since I had heard that out in public.  Obviously my house and classes are filled with Americans, but the streets of Copenhagen are rarely filled with anything but Danish.  It almost felt uncomfortable not being surrounded by a cacophony of foreign languages, I felt weird and out of place.  And dear God, have American accents always sounded that obnoxious? Funnily enough, I think Greece gave me my first real taste of what it's going to be like going back to the US.
Pensive look on the Acropolis
Barring that disturbing thought for the time being, we had this really amazing lunch from this restaurant we'd found on trip advisor (our constant companion and life saver).  The waiter was so sweet the food was freshly made and the produce was locally grown and there were so many vegetarian options, a welcomed change from Hungary.  Seriously, if you're ever in Athens I highly recommend Makalo.
After lunch, we took a walk around the park and found the Olympic Stadium that hosted the "first" Olympic Games.  I thought it was a little dishonest to call them the first in Greece, since the stadium was from the 1896 games and not the ones dating back to the BC years (776 BC exactly, according to Wikipedia).  After that, we made our way back to our hostel and had dinner at yet another wine bar.  Also fantastic, also highly recommended called Kiki de Grece.  Again, our waiter was super nice and helped explain everything on the outdated English food menu and explained all the Greek wines (interestingly, he gave us two of the more expensive options for us to choose from...)  After this dinner and trip in general, I think our bank accounts were and are sufficiently wiped and we decided that there should probably be minimal wine bar-ing in the near future.
On top of the Acropolis
The next day, after the suggestion of my dad, we took a day trip to Aegina, an island not far from Athens.  Honestly, Athens has a lot of really incredible history as a city, but it does kind of lack in the European charm that we'd grown so used to.  The roads are jam packed with cars, bumper to bumper and the smell of gasoline was something that I did not miss and don't look forward to going back to.  Aegina was really beautiful, and I would say that Greece is one of the view countries I've been to where the best trips would be had away from the cities.  After a minor panic of my alarm not going off, I woke up at 8:45 and we were meant to leave by 9 if we wanted to make the 10am ferry (and we still made it out the door on time, dammit!).  The trip to Aegina took a little under two hours, we had to take a train and a ferry and the trip only cost 23 euros round trip,  There wasn't too much to do on the island, but it was so incredibly picturesque that taking a walk on the coastal road was good enough (though it would have been better had we been doused in sunscreen).  We had the tiniest lunch and a very large dessert of baclava (me) and gelato (Alana) before getting back on the ferry.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the hostel, until we were forced out by our awkwardness (these two really cool girls checked in to the beds next to us and asked us what we were doing in on a Friday night.) We grabbed the cheapest possible dinner of a veggie pita (1.40eur!) and then went back to our hostel, praying that the two girls had left so we could be bums in peace.
View of Aegina from the Ferry
The last day we flew out at night, so the morning was spent using our remaining euros at the central market to buy fruits and dates as well as another veggie pita for lunch (I had less than 10 euros to get me through the entire day.)  We went to the Acropolis museum and hung around the neighborhood until we felt it was acceptable to leave for the airport.
And we were finally, finally back in Copenhagen.  The more I leave, the more coming back to it feels like home.

And now for some overall reflections of the trip:
Planning is so stressful.  And not just planning, oh no, when you're done with fretting over planning then you have to move on to the execution of said planning.  How are you going to get to the airport? How about to the hostel? How much money should I take out? How much am I going to spend?  How much should I spend? etc, etc, etc. It almost takes away from some of the magic of the trip since you always have to worry about the next thing.  However, it's so much more fulfilling when you complete them successfully.  Yeah, all the mistakes are your fault but all of the successes of the trip are also yours!
The Central Market
Travelling as a young, (mostly) solo adult is so much different! I mean, other than the fact I got to buy drinks and stay out until 2 or 3 in the morning, I also got to do the things I wanted, and only the things I wanted.  Sorry, Mom and Dad, travelling with you guys is always amazing and I know and appreciate that you're always very considerate of what I want to do. Not only do I make the trip my own, but I also have so much more confidence in myself and my abilities to be independent and survive. I also gained an appreciation for all the planning that my parents have to do when we travel.
Getting to travel with Alana was so helpful and eye-opening for me.  Having someone there with similar interests was always so nice, but it was wonderful to travel with her specifically since she hasn't traveled much at all.  I've realized that, despite my love of travelling, sometimes I don't get as excited or enthusiastic about some things.  Having Alana there looking at all these things with new eyes, so to speak, allowed me to take a step back from my cynical self and really appreciate what it was like to be at this place, at this very moment, at this point in my life and take it in.  Her enthusiasm rubbed off onto me and made me appreciate the smaller things, as cliched as that sounds.

There are so many other things I could say, but I'll leave it at that for now.  I'll try to write soon (maybe a post on some travelling horror stories or my upcoming weekend in Samso, Denmark, we'll see!)

Solo Trip Part II: Budapest, Hungary

Well, now that it's been a few days for me to recover and reflect, at least a tiny bit, I suppose you guys want to hear about the rest of my awesomely planned and incredibly luck-filled trip.
Ok, so it wasn't so much luck as it was that everything that could go wrong, didn't go wrong.  I suppose I'd heard, and continue hearing, all these horror stories from friends and classmates about their travels and Alana and I never ran into the kind of things that could have happened.
View from the Danube
Seriously, the majority of our trip was spent exclaiming "OH MY GOD, we're so--nope. Never mind. Not gonna say it." and then we would share a look that said we both knew what was about to be said and we were in silent agreement to never utter it for fear of jinxing the rest of our trip  (whether or not I believe in jinxing and karma is up for debate, but no reason to start experimenting with luck at that point).
Anyway, on to the things you actually want to hear.  And I promise, I will write more about those horror stories later because if they weren't true they would be almost comical.
Hero's Square
So, when I last wrote here, I had typed up a blog on my phone in the Bergamo airport and reflected on the past two days in Italy.  Landing in Hungary went very smoothly, despite some violent turbulence in the beginning.  I don't know what it is about budget airlines, but I think I get more scared on their flights than I would on any other airline even though they have to go through the same inspection and vetting process for their air crafts and pilots (I hope?).
On the bus ride to our hostel in Budapest, or more specifically Pest since we were staying in that side of the city, I could already see a marked difference from Italy.  I don't want to say it was greyer, but...definitely a bit more rundown? Not in a bad way, but more of a "I could see this country used to be in the Soviet Union" kind of way.  The city itself definitely didn't reflect that though, and it was absolutely not what I expected it to be.
Inside Matthias Church
I had either expected it to be a grey, ugly-ish sort of place with no real individual personality or a tiny, quaint sort of city like Copenhagen.  To be honest, Budapest kind of falls in the middle.  It is most definitely not a tiny place with cobblestone streets and bright houses.  There are large roads and tall, grey buildings. The city definitely didn't lack personality either. I mean, with one look down the Danube or view on the top of one of Buda's many hills you could still see the beautiful and impressive landmarks that make Budapest different.
Our hostel itself was nice, the building it was located in was...not.  It was located on the 3rd floor of an apartment building whose lobby was run down and graffitied and they had the tiniest elevator I've ever seen.  The rooms were nice, though, and the hostel had free breakfast so we couldn't complain.
We got in around 6pm or so and were so tired all we did was eat a dinner at this tiny cafe down the block and took a night walk around town before passing out.  Our walk was actually incredibly beautiful, we made our way to the Danube after stumbling on to Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica) and saw a lot of the important landmarks prettily lit up at night.
Ceiling View of Szimpla Bar
 The next morning, our first full day, we took a walking tour which was great.   Our tour guide was funny in the stereotypically corny sort of way you'd expect from a tour guide and after all his jokes would say "sorry, that was bad."  We saw many of the landmarks of Buda and Pest and he told us a lot of history while also plugging for the other tours the company offered.  After, we ran back to our hostel and grabbed a lunch around the corner.  The place was super nice and the chef came over and told us all the vegetarian options they had, since it's a bit hard in eastern Europe to find such a thing as a non-meat meal.  We walked up Andrassy ut, a main boulevard that leads to the Hero's Square and into city park.  For dinner, we were still so full from whatever it was we had eaten that day that we ended up going to a wine bar and split a bottle and had some Hungarian scones, basically tiny bread balls with a little melted cheese on top.  We then walked to the most famous ruin bar, Szimpla, and stayed only for a little while to check it out before going home.
Dat view tho
Our last full day in Hungary was my personal favorite.  In the morning we went to the Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church to get incredible views of Pest and go inside the former mosque-turned-church.  After, we walked to the Rudas baths and, despite it taking longer to get there than anticipated, we spent THREE AND A HALF hours there.  It was absolutely incredible, and necessary for anyone travelling to Budapest to go to the Turkish baths.  Any Turkish bath.  Seriously guys, do it.  After spending the majority of our day in glorified hot tubs (I'm absolutely not complaining, though) we went back to the hostel with wobbly limbs.  Honestly, the only reason we left was because I nearly fainted from hunger and I was still willing to stay.  I was willing to give up food. For those that know me, they will agree that this happens very rarely.  We met Alana's friends at the hostel since they had randomly decided to book the same hostel as us (and ended up in the same room! Crazy right?) and had dinner, showed them around (since we were basically Budapest aficionados by now) and headed yet again to Szimpla bar.
St. Stephen's Hand
The last day, we had some time before our flight so we went into Szent Istvan's and took a look at what apparently was his preserved hand and then to the House of Terror, a museum dedicated to the communist and fascist regimes of Hungary and also acts as a memorial for the victims of the regimes. Then, we packed up our things and left for the airport where we caught our plane to Greece.

More on that next post.

P.S. If anyone is planning on going to Budapest, it's a wonderful trip and I highly recommend it.  But please be warned, their escalators move super fast and will either traumatize you or ruin you for all other escalators (I mean, really, who decided that the standard speed of escalators should be so slow??)
P.P.S Hungarian is impossible, do not attempt.