"Blogging isn't journalism, it's graffiti with punctuation."

Eurail 2012

Backpacking across Europe for less than €15 a day: my latest in @VICECanada

Wow, two blog posts in one day? This reminds me of my New York Clusterfuck of 2011 where I was blogging 13 times a day (ooof . . .  sorry about that btw). I never blog this often anymore! But when you’ve got a lot going on, it’s nice to share it with a network that supports your voice and your work.

All you regular munchkins know that I’ve been backpacking around the world since 2005 and have published A LOT of travel writing in various publications. To that end, VICE partnered with Travel Nation to create more travel content on the network, and they asked me to write a whole bunch of pieces from my days on the road. No problem, hope they don’t mind me spilling litres of ink on the subject. I’ve got stories!

The first of my many pieces was published in October (I just realized it now . . . I’ve been busy writing!), and it’s about that time I backpacked across Europe for 30 days with the challenge of living off of €15 a day. Read it here! Also, all the photography included in the piece is mine as well.

Yes, I actually did live off of €15 a day. Since I’m such a penny-pincher with purse-strings tighter than a sphincter, it really wasn’t that difficult for me. And not only did I live like a queen, I actually was saving money. I walked away with a surplus. I kept a ledger in my Notepad app to track how much I was spending, case in point, here’s what I would spend in a typical day:

haha, remember when the Notepad app looked like this?

There’s more where that came from in the piece, so read-on dear grasshopper if you want to learn how to travel the world without breaking the bank.

Expect more from me on this topic soon, I’ve already written many more that are currently being edited by the team for this sponsored project.

Don’t forget to check out Christine Estima dot com for more of my published travel writing!

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Top 5 Scenic Countries for Rail Travel

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Now that my Eurail.com journey is over, here’s my Top 5 scenic countries to take those lovely long regional trains through!

For reference, I journeyed through Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Belgium and The Netherlands.

#1 Czech Republic. This may surprise some of you, but I saw some wonderful things as my train sped toward, and from, tis wonderful country! Horses in pastures running alongside the train! Farmers waving at the train as it passed. Snow capped mountains. Bunnies! Duckies! Cow-sies! Ok, I’m getting carried away, but I loved how the train was the focal point of life in the middle of the open country.

#2 Austria. High on a hill was a lonely goatherd. LAY DEE OH DE LAY DEE OH DE LAY.
HEE.
HOO.

#3 Slovenia. I was really surprised at how many cyan blue streams and deciduous-tree-lined mountains there were to be found outside the train windows of Slovenia.

#4 France. So much beautiful pre-war architecture, little stone cottages, fields of lavender, rustic lodges and a sea of berets …..hahaha kidding on that last bit. (Not kidding).

#5 The Netherlands. Windmills! Old-timey style and those new metal ones! OMG THE WINDMILLS WERE THE BEST PART.

If you want to re-read (or discover for the first time) my month long journey through Europe on a budget with Eurail.com, check out my Eurail 2012 category.

See you on the road, munchkins.

I’ll be the girl sleeping in some forgotten corner of a European railway station.


Top 5 Cheapest Countries for Rail Travel

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Now that my Eurail.com journey is over, here’s my list of countries that I found it easiest to stay under €15 a day!

For reference, I travelled through Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Belgium, and The Netherlands

#1 Croatia! The reason I started my journey in the east is because prices are more affordable, and Croatia is gorgeous without the luxury prices! I’ve been to Croatia four times now, and it’s beauty astounds me, but I had a hard time spending €15 a day! I was struggling to blow money. What a great place!

#2 Czech Republic. Just like Croatia, beauty without the price tag. Even though they’re part of the EU, they use their own currency, and the conversion is rather sweet in your favour.

#3 Slovenia. An EU country without the price tag. A cup of coffee is under €1 and a beer is like €2.50!

#4 The Netherlands. I actually never got around to spending money whilst in Holland! Not a dime! But if I had gone grocery shopping, an entire order would have been less than €15 for one person!

#5 Germany. Depends on where you go in Germany, of course, and I would recommend staying away from the Christkindlmarkt’s if you don’t want to blow money unnecessarily, but I saw movies for €2.50 and rode the S-Bahn for free because of my Eurail pass!

Up next, Top 5 Scenic Countries for Rail Travel!

Check out my Eurail 2012 category for all the posts on my journey.


Eurail day 24: Utrecht, the final day!

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I purposefully selected Utrecht, The Netherlands as my final stop on this journey because the Eurail.com offices are located here and I wanted to say hello to the wonderful peeps who chose me for this amazing journey! Also, whilst there, they had me answer questions sent in from their Facebook fans! Click here to visit their Facebook page and click on the image just like the above to see my answers!
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Swag.
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Utrecht is a beautiful city situated on a series of interlocking canals, just like Amsterdam. And, just like Amsterdam, everyone cycles! Bikes galore! I was in two-wheeled paradise. Who needs cars? Cars run on gas and make you fat. Bikes run on fat and save you money. Seriously easy choice for me.
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The Eurail.com staff were all young and full of energy, and they suddenly broke out the fooseball table to play a friendly game! Right in the middle of the work day! Suck on that, toronto.
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Then they invited me to okay and I made a complete tit of myself.
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Look at my hilarious lack of skill!
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After they treated me to a delicious Dutch pancake lunch, they interviewed me and had me talk to some of their Facebook fans who had questions. Then I went for a little stroll around this amazing place.
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It’s too bad that very few tourists make the journey here. Amsterdam, Antwerp, Rotterdam, everyone goes there. Next time include Utrecht in your plans, munchkins!

So now this Eurail.com journey of mine is over! I actually hit up 12 cities in under 30 days! And I couldn’t have made my way across Europe without the help and generosity of so many wonderful people! Firstly, fanks to Annemiek and Chantal at Eurail.com for choosing me for this epic adventure!

Then, of course, my wonderful Couchsurfing hosts! Fanks and big snuggles to Tamara, Primož, Frida, Gab, Konstantin & Clemens, Adam, Natalija, Emilie, Daniel, Lars, Koen and Esmée! I wouldn’t have enjoyed my time in Europe half as much had it not been for you guys!

So what now?

Soon you guys can expect two posts about my Top 5 countries for scenic rail travel and Top 5 cheapest countries 🙂

But for now, I am officially a waif.

I’m going to Paris tomorrow to treat myself, seeing as how I haven’t been to Paris since 2008 and there is some mega street art and graffiti awaiting me there! I’ll be there for 5 days. After that, I have no clue. I am at liberty. Maybe I will return to London. Or Canada. Or go someplace else in Europe.

It doesn’t matter.

The world is my oyster.

(Btw, do you know how the oyster makes the pearl? THROUGH CONSTANT IRRITATION. Hahaha, kidding! [not kidding].)

I won’t be blogging everyday now, nor will I be sticking to my €15 a day budget, so enjoy my final budgetary round-up below.

I hope my journey has inspired some of you munchkins to get out there and explore!

Get cape.

Wear cape.

Fly.

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Check out my Eurail 2012 category for all my posts along this journey!


Eurail 23: Bruges to Utrecht

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I made it to Utrecht! This is my last stop on my Eurail.com extravaganza, guys! I have done 12 cities in under 30 days and now I’m relaxing after a long day of trains topped off with a lovely vegetarian lasagna with My Couchsurfing host Esmée!
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As I have blogged about before, I am only taking trains that do not require reservations, so it takes me longer to arrive at my destinations, but the scenery is relaxing and I have a lot of time to think and blog and journal. Today I had to take 4 trains to get to Utrecht.

My route was:
Bruges to Antwerp
Antwerp to Roosendaal
Roosendaal to Rotterdam
Rotterdam to Utrecht

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But as with some previous multi-train experiences I have had on this journey, when one train falls behind schedule, the whole plan unravels. My train from Antwerp to Roosendaal fell behind, and thusly I missed all my remaining connections. Luckily, THIS IS EUROPE, BABY. And it’s not like there’s only one train per day. When I arrived in Roosendaal, I just looked up at the board for the next train to Rotterdam, saw that there was one leaving in 3 minutes, and ran like he’ll with my 10kilo backpack to the platform, almost twisting my ankle. I surprised myself with my strength, I wasn’t even out of breath. Buns of steel! When I did finally arrive in Utrecht, I was only 45 minutes late. Yay for frequent trains!

So the reason I wanted Utrecht to be my last stop is because the Eurail.com offices are located here and now I get to finally high five and fist bump the people who chose me for this incredible journey!

Expect photos from our high fiving tomorrow!

Here’s how I spent my €15 today!
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Check out my Eurail 2012 category for more posts on my Eurail.com journey thus far!


Eurail day 22: In Bruges

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My first full day in Bruges and it was breathtaking, ornate, sumptuous, glorious… Each inhalation was like the best 2 or 3 seconds of my life.
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Side note not related to this photo: outside my Couchsurfing hosts window right now is a long line of students who I think we’re just being told in Flemish some ghost story about this building. Because when I appeared in the window, they saw me and got all perturbed. So I waved hello and they screamed in sheer terror. Cool! I am like the ghost haunting your nightmare.

Pretty sure some ex boyfriends would agree with that description.

Okay, back to the photosplosion.
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I cycled around Bruges all day. Koen, my Couchsurfing host, lent me his old-timey bike. It was great! I saw so many small spots and alleys and “alcoves and nooks and crannies” of Bruges that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
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I always say that bike riding is the perfect way to explore a city. Sometimes walking is too slow, and taking the bus is too fast. Plus, cycling connects you to the environment and you burn off all those Belgian chocolates.
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The swans are in freezing cold water but they keep warm by Bruges’ warm, glowing, warming-glow.
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The only suggestion worth spray-painting.
20121210-194327.jpgWhatever this means, I like it.

Okay, enough of this touristy stuff, let’s visit some filming locations from the movie In Bruges!

Warning: strong language in this post in the form of quoting the movie In Bruges. I have tried to write all the swear words phonetically as if an Irish person was saying them, but you will probably be able to figure them out. Apologies for any offence caused.

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The vismarkt is the fish market. You see it very briefly but pivotally in the end of the film when Harry finds Ray and starts chasing him through the streets. Ray runs through the fish market.
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Koen was telling me that the fish market is actually really old, like hundreds. That makes sense, now fish markets are erected on plastic collapsible stands. This is a portico-columned stone market!
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So glad there were no smelly fish guts about when I visited!
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They film a few scenes here in the Koningin Astrid Park, and talk about it quite a lot. Ken almost kills Ray here, then they have a chat, and Yuri talks about all the “alcoves” here when Ken and Harry each try to buy guns here.
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A great day this has turned out to be. I’m suicidal, me mate tries to kill me, me gun gets nicked and we’re still in fookin’ Bruges!”
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Yuri: There are a lot of alcoves in the Astridpark. You use this word, alcoves?
Ken: Alcoves, yes. Sometimes.
Yuri: Are you sure this is the right word, alcoves?
Ken: Alcoves, yes. It’s kind of like nooks and crannies.
Yuri: Nooks and crannies, yes! Perhaps this would be more accurate. Nooks and crannies rather than alcoves. Yeah!

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20121210-202246.jpgThis hotel is the place where Ken and Ray stay for the two weeks in Bruges, along with the owner Marie.

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Harry: Number One, why aren’t you in when I fookin told you to be in? Number Two, why doesn’t this hotel have phones with fookin voicemail and not have to leave messages with the fookin receptionist? Number Three, you better fookin be in tomorrow night when I fookin call again or there’ll be fookin hell to pay. I’m fookin telling you – Harry.
Ray: Jeez, he swears a lot, doesn’t he?
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I’m almost 100% sure this is the door for Raamstraat 17 (an address that doesn’t actually exist) where Yuri lives….almost sure.
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This is the restaurant where Ray and Chloe go on their first date and then Ray punches out the Canadian couple. I asked the bartender which seats they sat in and he graciously showed me, but they rearranged the seats and stuff since then.
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Canadian Guy: I don’t care if this is the smoking section, she directed right into my face! I don’t wanna die just because of your fookin arrogance!
Ray: [thinking the tourist is American] Uh huh, is that what the Vietnamese used to say?

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“What’s Belgium famous for? Chocolates and child abuse. And they only invented the chocolates to get to the kids.”
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The Belfry tower, which was constructed back in 1280! This features prominently in the film. Ray encounters the fat American tourists here, Ken encounters the ornery Tower ticket officer here, Ken is shot and later dies here, and they film a lot of scenes in the main square in front of the tower. I climbed the tower today. FOR THE RECORD, Ray was right, the view is rubbish and the ticket officer in real life is a mean old fart! He was very snippy with me. I almost said to him, “Happy in your work?” But that would have been just too rich.
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Overweight Man: Been to the top of the tower?
Ray: Yeah… yeah, it’s rubbish.
Overweight Man: It is? The guide book says it’s a must see.
Ray: Well you lot ain’t going up there.
Overweight Man: Pardon me? Why?
Ray: I mean, it’s all winding stairs. I’m not being funny.
Overweight Man: What exactly are you trying to say?
Ray: What exactly am I trying to say? You’s a bunch of fookin’ elephants.
[overweight man attempts to chase Ray around but quickly grows tired]
Ray: Come on, leave it fatty!

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Ken: Coming up?
Ray: What’s up there?
Ken: The view.
Ray: The view of what? The view of down here? I can see that down here.
Ken: Ray, you are about the worst tourist in the whole world.
Ray: Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.

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Entry is €5.
Come on man, it’s only 10 cents.
Entry is €5.
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Ken: [Harry shoots Ken in the leg] Fookin coont!
Harry: Like I’m not going to do nothing to you just because you’re standing about like Robert fookin Powell.
Ken: Like who?
Harry: Like Robert fookin Powell out of Jesus of fookin Nazareth.
Share this quote
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I think I’m gonna die now.
20121210-203149.jpgAnd that was my day In Bruges and in Bruges.

Here’s how I spent my money today! Having a surplus in Western Europe is really saving my bum! Good thing I had enough good sense to start this journey in Eastern Europe! Check out my Eurail 2012 category for more posts about my Eurail.com journey thus far!20121210-204812.jpg


Word up, hombres!

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Well hello traffic spike! Yesterday was a very busy day for The Spadina Monologues, and I’m sure most of that is due to the lovely folks over at Eurail.com linking me up on their Facebook page. They have been my awesome European-extravaganza-benefactors and have been very encouraging and supportive for the kind of rail journey that I wanted to take.

So fanks for the linkage guys! And welcome new readers! Check out my Eurail 2012 category for all the posts on my journey thus far!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Dropbox like its hot.


Eurail day 21: Cologne to Bruges!

Warning: strong language in this post in the form of quoting the movie In Bruges. I have tried to write all the swear words phonetically as if an Irish person was saying them, but you will probably be able to figure them out. Apologies for any offence caused.

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Today was a bit of a blur — visually as the scenery German countryside slowly dissolved into Flemish, but also emotionally. I had a great time in Cologne, but then again, I’ve had a great time in every city. This trip has meant that I have to essentially love em and leave em for both the places I visit and the people I encounter. The life of a nomadic wanderer. Papa was a rolling stone, and all that jazz.
20121209-210345.jpgI had to take three trains to get from Cologne to Bruges, and this stopover had an amazing train station! It was like something out of the Jetsons!

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AND NOW IM IN BRUGES! Just like Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes! Remember this blog post I wrote some time ago about the movie In Bruges? Yeah, I’ve been saying the lines from the movie all day in my head.
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“Ken, I’m from Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn’t. So it doesn’t. “
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“well you lot aren’t going up there…you’re a bunch of fookin’ elephants! Leave it fatty!”
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“YOU’RE AN INANIMATE FOOKIN OBJECT!”
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“I was on a lot of horse tranquilizers, I wasn’t waving to anybody … Except maybe to a horse.”
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“There’s gonna be a war man. I can see it. Between the black midgets and the white midgets.”
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“He pauses even though he should just hit the coont, and he repeats YES I AM TALKING TO YOU.”
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“YOU RETRACT THAT BIT ABOUT MY COONT FOOKIN KIDS!”
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“One gay beer for my gay friend, one normal beer for me because I am normal. This is the life.”
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“it’s the Gruuthuusmuseum.”
“God they all have funny names, don’t they?”
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“They’re filming midgets!”
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“You don’t know the kind of shyte I’ve had to take offa black midgets man.”
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“Back off shorty!”
“You don’t know karat—-OW!!!”
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“Do you use this word, alcoves?”
“Yes alcoves. Also nooks and crannies.”
“Nooks and crannies! Yeah!”
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“What’s Belgium famous for? Chocolates and child abuse. And they only invented the chocolates to get to the kids.”
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“Don’t be stupid. This is the shoot out.”
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“Of course you can’t fookin see, I just shot a blank in your fookin eye.”
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“That’s for John Lennon ya Yankee fookin coont.”
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“You heeet the Canadian?”
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“The little boy….”
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“What’s a lollipop man doing knowing fookin karate?!”

Aaaaaaaand, I’m spent! Another full day In Bruges, I can’t wait!
Here’s how I spent my money today! I cannot believe how I have been able to save over €140 during this budget trip across Europe! This just goes to show that if you plan ahead and stick to your daily €15/day restrictions, you can still relish the joys of travel without breaking the bank! I am going to do this from now on, whenever I travel!
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Check out my Eurail 2012 category for more posts on my a Eurail.com adventure!


Eurail day 20: Cologne

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Cologne was full of laughter, as you can see here. My Couchsurfing host Lars was so much fun! He took me all around Cologne to find the best graffiti and street art this side if Berlin, while also treating me to everything from German history (he found Nazi postcards and stamps that said Heil Hitler on them) to amazing acoustic performances from Australian crooners.
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Plus he was pretty snap happy when it came to me as a subject.
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Even in window reflections.
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That’s him in the reflection of my glasses.
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Just like in almost every other city I’ve been to on this journey, Cologne has a lovers lock bridge. This one, as you can see was particularly full.
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Still, it was particularly beautiful.
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Aw. Bless.

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This was carved into the cobble stones in friont of the huge gothic cathedral. It feels like street art to me. Almost like Mobstr. I wonder if it is a Mobstr?
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Do you see it next to this church?
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Looks like reservoir dogs.
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Lars pointed out these gold bricks to me embedded in the sidewalk. He said these are all over Cologne, and mark the spot where innocent people were deported from their homes by Nazi decree.
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It’s a terrifying reminder of all too recent history.
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This beautiful piece is by an artist named L.E.T. Also Lars’ initials. DUDE IS A SECRET GRAFF ARTIST. Knew it.
20121209-190748.jpgThis was a wheat paste we found in a shipping district. The blindfolded businessman is tying a noose around his neck.

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Ha ha ha.
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I love stencils of CCTV camera. I dunno why, I think they’re ironic.
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Clever! Someone turned the mailbox into an MP3 player with headphones!

Here’s how I spent my money today! Check out my Eurail 2012 category for more posts about my adventure thus far!
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Eurail day 19: Frankfurt to Cologne

Do I smell nice? That’s cuz I’m in Cologne!

(See what I did there?)

20121208-005739.jpgAs I was waiting for my train to Cologne, it was so fricken cold that I decided to treat myself and sit in first class. Throughout this whole trip, I have always sat in second class, even though my Eurail pass is a first class pass, because I was worried that first class might be subject to an extra reservation or something. Which is silly, because you always know ahead of time which train require reservations and which do not. So here I am, first classing it up. Imma keep this up for the remainder of my trip!

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So much leg room and space!

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I arrive in Cologne and the first thing I see is the massive cathedral and snow. So much snow. A Canadian snow that threatens to huff and puff and blow your house down.
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I’m in there somewhere.
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But my Couchsurfing host Lars graciously treated me to dinner at a place called Habibi for the food of MAH PEEPS (sometimes it rules being an Arab). And then he took me on a cool walking tour of the city. I think I am going to really like Cologne!

Here’s how I spent my money today! Check out my Eurail 2012 category for more posts about this trip across Europe with Eurail.com!
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Eurail day 18: Frankfurt

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I slept under Dan Ackroyd last night. Two Canadians in Frankfurt. See this is why I love Couchsurfing! I have stayed in some amazing houses and apartments and flats all around Europe and it never gets dull!
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Speaking of dull, when you’re travelling for a long time, there is going to be at least one day in your awesome adventures where you are just not feeling it. I would never say that Frankfurt is dull, quite the opposite, but my mood was not the best. I was cranky and grumpy from the bitter cold, from getting myself lost as I wandered around several times, and for being shoved out of the way by some locals who almost broke my headphones. So what improves your mood when you’re a moody cow like me? FOOD! Being vegetarian, Germany is a bit difficult for dining because everything is Bratwurst and Snausages and wiener-schnitzel and lotsa other disgusting things. Google to the rescue! I found this resto called Culux which serves VEGAN bratwurst in a curry sauce with chips and salad! SCORE!
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I thought the place was closed when I walked in, I had the whole posh joint to myself!
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All the food is made before your eyes in the tiny kitchen.
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Specials! Luckily everyone in Germany speaks rather good English, otherwise I might’ve been knee deep in schnitzel.
20121206-180151.jpgLOOK AT THE NOM NOM NOMS! Look at that!

And guess who’s not a moody cow anymore? DIS GAL.

There really is nothing better than eating to improve a mood. Plus, now I am so fat, I feel like the blueberry girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I need to be rolled out of here. Sprechen Zie AMAZEBALLS?

Ok ok, let’s see SOME of Frankfurt, shall we? But these pics don’t compare to the bratwurst.

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There. Ya saw it.

Who wants bratwurst?

Off to see a movie with my Couchsurfing host Daniel! Guten tag!

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Eurail Day 17: Strasbourg to Frankfurt, & How to Pack for Long Term Travel

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Today is another travel day! Leaving the comfort and beauty of Strasbourg and heading back into Germany! So while I’m enjoying the scenery blurring past my window, there is plenty of time to pass on some packing tips for long term travel.

I have been on the road for over 2 months now, and I have been living off of whatever I can carry on my back. This kind of life forces you to pack only what you need, with nothing superfluous, because all those extra items that you probably won’t use will just take up space in your pack and add extra weight to your load.

I have blogged before about how to pack in my Long Term Travel for the Solo Woman post, but here are more tips and advice on how to fill your backpack with the essentials without weighing down your load. And also, how to keep what you have packed safe!

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What to pack

-Any promotional samples you get in the mail, hang on to them! Shampoo samples, moisturizer samples, laundry detergent samples, toothpastes, perfumes, band-aids, mouthwash, leg wax ….. We are always getting these samples in little plastic packages in the mail in North America, but we never really think to hang on to them. I have been saving all of these samples for about a year, and they are perfect for travel! They fit nicely into your bag, and after you use them, you throw them away, no large shampoo or detergent bottles to carry around! So over time, your bag actually gets lighter! The mail not withstanding, sometimes we get free samples with hair dye, at department stores, during promotional events, in shops, in the pharmacies … Pay attention to who is giving away little tiny packets of something, take them, and save them!

-Pack some plastic bags, the ordinary kind you get at grocery stores and supermarkets, the sturdier the better. After a while of travelling, these bags come in super handy when you want to keep your dirty laundry separate from your clean clothes, or your wet towel separate from your dry clothes. You can wrap up any flimsy bottles with them to contain spills, and then when you go food shopping, you don’t have to pay for a bag!

-Swiss army knife: this isn’t necessary and it is super important NOT to put this in your carry-on luggage! But they do come in handy when you need to open jars, tins, and cans of food that you bought in the supermarket. They can also do everything from slicing your bread to filing your nails. So this item might be worth it for you, especially if you’re camping.

-A first aid kit. You don’t need a huge one, just some band-aids, some iodine swaths, a little round of gauze, tape, and include your medication with their original labels in here too. A few of those free samples you received in the mail of Ibuprofen or Tylenol would come in handy here.

-Extra padlocks: apart from locking up your luggage, you are going to want extra padlocks to use on any lockers at train stations or in hostels, or if you use the PAC Safe as I suggested here. Also, extra padlocks are a precaution when one of your locks break. When I was still in Thailand two months ago, one of my combination locks dropped on the floor and the combination was thus reset without my knowledge. I can now no longer open that lock, and I was using it to lock up my bags! Good thin I had extra locks.

-Always carry loo roll. Aka toilet paper. Omg you have NO idea how important this is! SO MANY restrooms in developing countries do not use western toilets, instead they use squat toilets (which is basically a hole in the ground and you need excellent aim!) So toilet paper will be scarce, if present at all, in these places. Carry it with you in your day pack, you will always have a happy tush. Also, great for blowing your nose, wiping up spills, cleaning your hands, removing makeup ….

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How to keep your stuff safe

After you have packed everything, it is important to keep all that stuff safe. Padlocks and PAC safes are great, but there are also some other precautions you should take.

-Never ever put important stuff in your large checked luggage! Ever! The only things that belong in there are clothes, toiletries, and things that you can do without! No money! No cameras! No chargers for your laptop! NO LAPTOP! No passports! Nothing that is worth a sizeable amount of money.

-Once on the train, don’t let anyone on the train touch it! Sure, there are lots of nice people out there who just want to help you lift your luggage onto the luggage rack, and that is awfully kind of them. But there are also a lot of thieves. Seven years ago, I was taking a train from Venice to Nice, when an Asian couple who didn’t speak English, Italian, or French got on the train with their huge suitcases. A man offered to help them put them up top in the rack, so the Asian man handed him his suitcase, turned to get his wife’s suitcase, and the friendly stranger took off with his bag. He ran off the train, down the platform, and disappeared into the crowds. The couple stood there stunned for a bit, and really none of us knew what to do. And the man had stupidly put his money and his passport in his suitcase. That theft wasn’t his fault, of course, but I never let anyone touch my bags. I hoist my own bags up onto the racks and politely refuse help. Plus, I got muscles so I don’t need help. You should feel my muscles. FEEL.

-Prey app. This is a great new app that I only found out about a few months ago and immediately downloaded onto my iPad. If your laptop or phone is stolen, usually there is very little you can do. Sure, if you have an Apple product, you can activate the “find my phone” security app, but it’s not precise. The Prey App, on the other hand is WICKED PRECISE. Once your stuff has been stolen, you log into your account from another computer to activate the app. It runs invisible in the background so the thief doesn’t even know its there. It uses the device’s camera to take photographs of the thief and send them to you. It records every key stroke too and sends it to you, so as soon as they log into their email, their Facebook, or whatever, you have their names, their usernames, their passwords….and if you are patient, you may even find their addresses and date of birth somewhere in their accounts. Armed with all this information, you can take this to the police (make sure you filed a police report when the device was stolen), and get your stuff back, plus have the thieves put behind bars. Read this mans account of having his MacBook returned to him after using the Prey App!

-Finally, a word about your Eurail pass. You paid good money for that pass and if you lose it, it could really interrupt your travel plans, not to mention your mood! Treat your Eurail pass like money! Keep it safe and don’t let anyone near it! Don’t flash it around, and keep it in a hidden compartment in your carry-on bag. Or do like I do, keep it in your money belt under your clothes.

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Here’s how I spent my money today:

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Eurail day 16: Strasbourg

What can one say about a French city that hasn’t already been said? I have wandered today, in awe of this ancient city that shares a German history (the blend is called Alsace). How can people live amongst such ancient buildings and barely notice? They tell me in French that for them it is normal to live in a fairy tale city that looks like the village from Beauty and the Beast. It is great to be in a place where they recognize the functionality of old buildings. Just because something is ancient doesn’t mean you throw it away, bulldoze over it, burn it, and, and Joni Mitchell might say, put up a parking lot.

I will let the photos speak for my lack of descriptive powers this evening.

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Eurail day 15: Nuremberg to Strasbourg

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Je me suis arrivée à Strasbourg, chiennes! I arrived here in the early afternoon from Nuremberg to find it snowing a lovely fat snow like the kind I experienced growing up in rural Quebec. I have settled in with my Couchsurfing host Emilie and have already done a bit of a walking tour of the city!

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Finally an excuse to practice my French! Emilie speaks no English, so this is great, forces me to switch tongues. Marchons! MARCHONS! Qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillions!

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Today started off with a brainfart. As I left my Nuremberg host’s flat, I descended the stairs, and promptly fell flat on my face. How embarrassing.

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Then the afternoon continued the trend: in the first time since my amazing Eurail.com journey began, I missed a train! Christine, the Queen of organization, MISSED A TRAIN.

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Naturally it wasn’t my fault. I had to take three trains from Nuremberg to get to Strasbourg. (Nuremberg to Frankfurt. Frankfurt to Offenburg. Offenburg to Strasbourg). And my second train was late in arriving to Frankfurt, late to depart Frankfurt, and late to arrive in Offenburg. Thusly, I missed my final connection to Strasbourg.

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Luckily, a train to Strasbourg leaves every 30 minutes from Offenburg. PHEWF. Crisis averted. It could have been so different. Had it been any other station, I might have had to stay overnight for another connection!

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Upon my arrival, Emilie texted me (in French! ICI ON PARLE FRANÇAIS!) to tell me to take the tram to her place. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT! So I walked about 25 minutes in the big fat snowfall to her place. I quite enjoyed it, even though I was freezing and getting soaked. Reminded me of walking to school all bundled up as a little girl.

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When I arrived at Emilie’s, guess what she made me?

Crepes!

No, MORE FRENCH, please.

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Then she drove me into the city centre and I checked out the Christmas market and practiced my French. I also learned a few words to add to my vocab. Like épais means thick, écharpe means scarf, and Le moindre des choses means It’s the least I can do!

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Look at me, I’m learning while travelling. ME! LEARN!

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En tout cas, today I purposely spent more money than I usually do. Normally, even when I have a surplus, I still strive to stay under €15 a day because I’m fussy like that. But today, I absolutely needed to buy a sweater, or un pull in French. When I started my backpacking adventure over 2 months ago, I was in Asia. So my backpack was half summer clothes and half winter clothes. But winter clothes naturally take up more space, so I couldn’t fit much in there. I didn’t even have space for a winter jacket (nor did I want to lug a winter jacket around Thailand and Cambodia for 6 weeks). So in Europe I have been wearing one sweater, one hoodie, one windbreaker, a hat, scarf and mitts, with leg warmers. And it hasn’t really been doing the trick. I needed a proper sweater, as thick as a Bible.

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So today I splurged and used some of my (albeit massive) surplus to get myself a sweater. €17.99 is actually not a bad price for this adorable sweater, considering all the other sweaters on the rack were €59.99.

I am comfortable in my splurging! No regrets!

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Look at this cool piece of street art I found today in Strasbourg! It’s by Dan 23.

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Of course no one notices!

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20121203-210326.jpgA shop called Canada! Of course, they sell animal skins and furs. This is one of the things I hate about my country. C’est un cicatrice sur le visage du Canada.

Anyway, I’m so excited to be back in France after 4 years and to finally use my French! And to be in a country for once where I actually speak the language!

Here’s how I spent my money today:

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Eurail day 14: Nuremberg

The main reason to come to Nuremberg, other than the rammed and jammed Christmas Market, is to learn about the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, the first trial of its kind where leaders were held accountable by the international community for their crimes against humanity.

I don’t know what I can say about the holocaust that hasn’t already been said better by millions of other people around the world, most notably those who survived the camps, but perhaps my photos here can add something.

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It is very upsetting going to a place like this, so you always have to prepare yourself. I have been to the Jewish Memorial in Berlin, to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, to Dachau just outside of Munich, to the Jewish ghetto and Oscar Schindler’s factory in Krakow…. And when I was doing my Masters degree, I took a course in Life Writing where I had to read the first hand accounts of camp survivors and what they were subjected to daily. Also, I devoured Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” while I was on the train from Warsaw to Krakow…

We are always told to live our lives every day as if it were our last…. Especially since so much of what determines our last is out of our hands. Our lives are at the mercy of politics, of war, and those who hate us not for who we are but what we are. To actually acknowledge how much of our lives is out of our hands is too much for us to handle without curling up into the fetal position and crying. That’s why I’m glad I am doing this Eurail.com challenge. If tomorrow were my last, I can say I would have no regrets.

Get out there an explore, my little munchkins.

Here’s how I spent my €15 today:

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Eurail day 13: Cesky Krumlov to Nuremberg, and How to Travel with Electronics

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Today is a travel day! Taking 3 trains to get from the Czech Republic to Germany, so a long travel day but also a scenic one! I am zooming through snow-capped mountains and little villas! There are rabbits and farmers waving at the trains and ponies running alongside, and a doe! A deer! (A female deer).

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So since I have all this free time, time for some of my tips on travelling with iPhones or tablets. Here’s how you can always stay connected whilst on the road without paying high prices.

Avoid Roaming Charges

If you’re from Canada or the USA, your network carrier will try to persuade you to purchase one of their roaming packages for your trip abroad. But if you look at the fine print, you’ll notice that their plans are actually quite outrageous! $5 per gigabyte downloaded. $0.75 per text message sent AND received! And sometimes you can’t even send out messages or calls depending on which country you are in! It is really not worth it. Here’s what you do:

1) If you’re going to be gone for longer than a month, but don’t want to completely deactivate your phone account and lose your phone number, switch your plan into a holding plan. All carriers have an option that lets you hold on to your phone number for about 6 months for a minimal fee, but your phone is essentially deactivated. That way you can’t be charged on your network for roaming or for long distance calls.

2)Turn on airplane mode. iPhones and Androids, and some newer Blackberries, have the airplane mode option. If you turn this on while travelling, you won’t connect to your network carrier but you will still be able to search and connect to wifi sources.

3) Does your phone have SIM card capability? Then buy a SIM card when you arrive at your destination. They are almost always free with whatever finite plan to purchase with it. Get a pay-as-you-go plan of course, that lasts for as long as you’re in the area, for a flat fee, and ideally with unlimited text messages. In the States, AT&T has a $25 plan that lasts for 2 weeks with unlimited texts. In the UK, O2 has a month-long plan for £15.50 with unlimited texts and you can use the plan all over Europe. If you’re in Asia or Africa or South America, ask if the plan you buy is also good in neighbouring countries. Usually when small clusters of countries can share plans and rates. When you need to top up, you can almost always do that online.

4) Don’t have a SIM card-capable smartphone? (aka the Blackberry Curve?) Whip out your old Motorola flip phone that’s collecting dust in your drawer, and buy a local SIM card when you arrive so you are still reachable by your family and can use it in an emergency without paying roaming charges.

5) Another option is to buy a “Global Sim” from an online source. Starting at £29 and increasing from there, they mail you a sim compatible with your phone, or they can include a phone, they assign you a phone number, and your phone is good all over the world. You are charged based on where you are in the world, and who/where you are calling. If you’re doing an RTW, this is the best option rather than buy local SIMs at every stop.

6) Stuck with a stupid flip phone and no wifi capability? Remember that you can send and receive tweets from Twitter via text message! Log into your account and link your phone number to your account. That way you can still converse with the world even when you’re travelling through no-mans-land.

Using North American electronics abroad

Most people are exquisitely annoyed upon their arrival on the other side of the planet and find that the local electrical outlets require different plugs, or that the voltage will blow their hardware right out.

1) Google that shizzle ahead of time! Always always always research ahead of time what kind of plugs are used and what the voltage is in a given country. The Internet has all that information available.

2) Buy plug adapters and/or voltage adapters. All travel shops at home, or even at your destination (best places are airports) will sell these devices which transform your North American plug to a European, UK, Asian, or Australian plug. In North America, all devices are geared for 140 volts, but abroad, they all take 220-240 volts. If you try plugging in your 140volt hair dryer into an outlet in the UK without a voltage adapter, it will blow up in your hands. The good news is that all electronics, like your smartphone, your laptop, your iPad, your camera, etc, are DUAL VOLTAGE, meaning that they automatically can switch the voltage on their own, so all you will need is a plug adapter.

Buying electronics abroad

Did you forget your camera on your desk? Did your laptop break in your luggage? Don’t blow a gasket, you can always buy the exact same products abroad, and sometimes for cheaper without skimping on quality. In 2006, I was in Berlin when my camera just konked out and died. I went and bought another camera for €200, and guess what, I’m still using it today! All the pics you have seen on my blog the past 6 years are from this camera, and long time readers know I take a truckload of pics every day! I’ve dropped that camera countless times, it is scratched and faded, but it still works beautifully. €200 well spent. Bargain, really! But there are even greater bargains to be had if you’re in the right country:

1) Many countries impose taxes on all goods and services bought. Those taxes are then used for a variety of things, from public housing, to the military, to health care. But most governments also recognize that tourists shouldn’t have to pay those taxes since they can’t benefit from them. So they offer refund schemes to tourists. If you buy an iPad in Thailand, for example, from a licensed merchant who also participates in the refund scheme, he will give you the proper documentation you need to claim the tax back. Then when you are leaving the country via the airport, you hand in those documents to the “VAT refund desk” and you get back all the tax you paid on that item. Usually, you are required to have spent a minimum amount on your goods to claim the tax back, and you have to keep all your receipts and the appropriate forms, but it should be rather straightforward. Make sure your merchant participates in the scheme, and if he doesn’t, go elsewhere. Canada also has a refund scheme for tourists. If you’re going to many countries, it is worth googling which one of them also has a scheme. You could end up with some sizeable money in your pocket. But the best part is, you are probably paying less for the exact same device abroad than you would at home.

Don’t double up on electronics

For every expensive piece of hardware you carry, that becomes just one more thing some thief could steal. Carry as few devices as needed. Don’t carry both an iPhone and an iPod! Transfer your mp3s to your phone! Don’t carry your iPhone and your camera! iPhones have excellent cameras on them. Don’t carry both a laptop and an iPad! Are you mad, woman?!

For those of you wondering how I have been able to blog and tweet and Facebook and foursquare and Instagram and email and text and call and google this entire time I have been travelling …. Well…. This is how! Ps follow me on Twitter!

Here is how I spent my money today.

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Nuremberg is famous for its Christmas Market and I am arriving right when it’s starting! So excited! I have my mitts, my leg warmers, and my toque! TIME TO PARTY!

On a side note, Czech Republic was my halfway point in this Eurail trip! I can’t believe how far I have come! But still so much more awaits!

Huzzah!


Eurail day 12: Cesky Krumlov

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Ah, Cesky Krumlov. I have been hearing about your wondrous beauty for 6 years, and somehow never made it to your cobbled streets and medieval time warp. So glad that this Eurail.com challenge made it into my life, because now I can make up for six years of lost time.
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Holy Krumlov.
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Oh this is kind of a lame shot at the city gate, but taking photos of yourself is stupid anyway.
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Wait! I wasn’t ready!
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I feel like I should be paying extra for these views! Soon people will embed a credit card swipe in my eyeballs, because they have consumed way too much beauty on this trip.
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The great thing about travelling outside of the summer months is you get all the wonderful views and vistas to yourself. You don’t have to shove tour groups out of your way, or try to crop all the Hawaiian shirts and fanny packs out of your photos. And Cesky Krumlov is one of those towns that is such a well preserved Medieval village, with buildings dating back 1000 years, that you really don’t want the experience ruined by tripods and guides holding up umbrellas.
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Love the concave style ceiling. That design must have a name, no?
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THIS LOOKS LIKE A SCREENSAVER. Points to team Estima for taking the time to get this shot right. You should see the out takes!
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Aw. Barf.
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Here I’m eating a traditional Czech and Slovak pastry called Trdelník. It’s this sweet cinnamon pastry that they make by swirling it around hot rotating spits. It tasted pretty suh-weet.
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Planking at historical monuments time!
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Wait! I wasn’t ready!
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I am so jealous of people who get to live here! They get to live amongst the foundations of those from many centuries past. Remove all the modern conveniences and you could even hear the clip clip of horses and the sashaying of petticoats. In the town square, they were playing choir music and classical hymns, and it really enhanced the historical experience of being there.
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THIS IS THE BEST PHOTOGRAPH EVER TAKEN OF ME. And my scarf looks like blood. Hahaha! I’m dead in Cesky Krumlov. And so can you. (Makes sense in my head.)
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Me and my Couchsurfing host Adam. I wouldn’t have seen half of the things I did here had it not been for him.
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We are killing you with awesome.
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And then we disappeared into the fading darkness of the winding cobbled streets, and were never heard from again….

Here’s how I spent my money today! I have noticed a trend: even when I have huge surpluses to use, like today, I STILL try to keep my expenditures under €15. It’s good practice to not blow your cash just because you have it. Parsimoniousness is a virtue.

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Eurail day 11: Salzburg to Cesky Krumlov

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Another travel day! I have to say, I do rather enjoy the long hours on the train. I like looking out the window and contemplating my life. It’s kind of relaxing.
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Today my route to the Czech Republic means that I have to take several trains, so I get excellent views of the Austria and Czech countryside! I haven’t been to the CR since 2006 when I went to Prague, so I’m excited to be back!

I need to Czech myself … And wreck myself.

Har har har! Czech me out!

(Oh don’t give me that look.)

Anyway, I have a long day ahead, so here are some of my favourite travel quotes which always inspire me to hit the road (Jack), and hopefully will do the same for you. Enjoy!

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” -Helen Keller

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” -Mae West

Not all those who wander are lost.” -JRR Tolkien

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” -St Augustine

Buy the ticket, take the ride.” -Hunter S Thompson

Fear is temporary, regret is forever.” – Some guy’s Tshirt on a bus

Travellers who expect every country they visit to resemble their own had better stay home.”-Unknown

“If I had followed all the rules, I never would have gotten anywhere.” -Marilyn Monroe

Here’s how I spent my money today:

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So I’m doing really well on the budget so far, but I know this surplus will be MUCH NEEDED when I make my way across Germany, France, Belgium and The Netherlands. So lets not get too excited yet because I betcha I will deplete this surplus in no time!

We shall see…


Eurail day 10: Salzburg

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SALZBURG! Birthplace of Mozart and ZOMG THE SOUND OF MUSIC!

The hills are alive with the sound of Chrissy.
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I have been dreaming of coming to this town ever since I was a little girl and my mum first showed me The Sound Of Music. I didn’t think mountains and streets could co-exist like this. It looks like a fairy tale!

And the entire time I’ve been walking around the city, I keep repeating to myself the lines from a specific scene in The Sound Of Music:

“Do you mean to tell me that my children have been roaming about Salzburg dressed up in nothing but some old drapes!?”

“Mm-hmm, and having a marvellous time.”

“They have uniforms.”

“Straight-jackets, if you’ll forgive me.”

“I WILL NOT FORGIVE YOU FOR THAT.”

Yes, I kind of know the movie off by heart. And so do you. But you know who doesn’t? Austrians! For some reason, the story of Maria von Trapp never made an impact here, and even though the movie has been seen by billions, it remains virtually unknown here. My Couchsurfing hosts Konstantin and Clemens can attest to that. I gave them a synopsis of Maria von Trapp’s story and they shrugged.

I mean, Scheiße.

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Aw. Horse-drawn carriages are quaint and fun for tourists and stuff, but they can’t be much fun for the horses. I see this in a lot of European cities, and in Montreal, but the horses end up weeing all over themselves and they look pretty cold.
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Geburthaus means birthplace! Mozart, DA MAN, the original gang of wolves (see what I did there?), was born here! So exciting!
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I was amazed this building was still standing unscathed after hundreds of years, so I asked Clemens, who was showing me around, how much damage Salzburg sustained during WWII, and he said virtually none. Somehow, Salzburg wasn’t a battle ground, even though it was annexed by Hitler’s Germany. And what about the First World War? I looked around and saw that almost all the buildings surrounding us were hundreds of years old. 1329. 1642. 1403. Etc. they were all dated. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE!
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I told Clemens that I’m a big Mozart fan. I used to play his music all the time in high school when I performed in the Symphony Orchestra with my viola. And even my iPod has his “Piano concerto no23 in A major, k.488” on it which I like to listen to when I’m writing. Clemens seemed a bit shocked. Him and konstantin like Eminem.

Pfft. Boys.

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I didn’t go inside the Geburthaus because you had to pay, and this sistah is on a strit budget, yo.
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Then I visited the place where Mozart lived for most of his life.
20121128-105321.jpgAgain, I wasn’t about to pay a €15 entry fee. For that price, I better find Mozart alive and talking inside!

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Ok, Sound of Music time!
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Remember that scene where Maria sings to the children, “when you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything?” In that park? THIS IS THE PARK!
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I may need confirmation on this, but I’m pretty sure these are the stairs that the children and Maria run up and down at the finale of that number, and Maria’s grabbing her head because she may not be able to hold the note much longer and the kids sing, “SO DOE!” Yeah, I think this is it.
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The stairs from behind. For some reason, the park was blocked off, and Clemens said it wasn’t usually. I betcha they knew I was coming.
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There’s an overhead shot of this fountain, and the children are singing and marching along the rim while singing.
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PLANKING TIME.

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LAY DEE OH DE LAY DEE OH DE LAY HEE HOO.

20121128-111950.jpgOk this is a poor shot (was trying to crop out all the bloody tourists …. Because I’m no tourist … Ahem), but this is in the movie as well. In the beginning, when Maria is on her way to the von trapp mansion, she sings I Have Confidence and passes under these arches. If you pay close attention to that quick scene, you can see the real Maria von Trapp walking in the background.

I also visited the Stifte Nonnberg where all the convent exteriors were shot, but I couldn’t find any exact places that I saw in the film. A lot of those scenes, like the scene at the end where the family hides behind gravestones, were actually shot on a soundstage in Los Angeles. I also visited the festival halls where they filmed the scene at the end where the family sings in the festival before fleeing the Nazis, but it wasn’t open inside to the public. I mean, come on! I came all this way!

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But look look look! LOOK WHAT I FOUND OUTSIDE HELLBRUN CASTLE!
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I am sixteen going on seventeen, I know that I’m naive! Fellows I meet may tell me I’m sweet and WILLINGLY I BELIEVE.

Zomg this is like the best scene in the movie too!
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I love it when Rolf kisses Liesl and then runs out into the rain, and she slowly heaves outside this pavilion and squeals in delight! It’s like the greatest thing ever!
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And that whole dance number in here where she stomps around on the benches, and when she comes to the gap between the benches, he kneels down and gives her his knee! ROMANCE. I need a man to do that for me. Like ASAP.
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And remember that scene where they plank outside the pavilion? Wait ….. What?

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I didn’t take this photo, but this is Schloss Frohnburg where they shot the Von Trapp house exteriors. I found this castle tonight, but when I arrived, it looked like this ….
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dark! Too dark! And no lamps or floodlights!
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but remember that scene where she’s singing “I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that spring will come again! Besides which you see I have confidence in me!” So me and Clemens drove along that road, and I knew immediately from the movie where we were! I love it when she opens the gate, runs through this entry, slams the suitcase into her leg and almost goes flying, rings the buzzer, and gasps for air!
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and Liesl says she can climb up there when its raining. Brigitta can do it with a whole Jar of spiders in her hands!
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The only reason I was able to get these shots is because Clemens aimed his car’s headlights at the castle so I could photograph it. I didn’t at all get the shots I wanted, it was still too dark, but WHATEVER I WAS THERE! I MADE IT AFTER 30 YEARS OF WATCHING THIS MOVIE!
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It’s beautiful and I want to move here.
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ok, back to the beauty of Salzburg’s streets.
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edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greeeeeet meeeeeee.
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small and white, clean and bright, you look happy to me, to me
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blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow foreeeevvvvvvvvv-errrrrrrr.
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I wanted photos of this place because you can totally tell by the signage and font used on this sign just how old this shop is. That signage automatically dates it to approximately the 1930s or 1940s. But the building itself has been around since the 1500s!
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Look at the font, people! Font gasm!
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“Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.”-Heinrich Heine

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To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over stones on its way.
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To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.

Here’s how I spent my money today. You know, it’s amazing how little you actually have to spend while travelling if you just plan ahead! People always say they don’t travel because it’s too expensive! Look at me, I’m only spending €15 a day and I’m living it up! Get inspired, munchkins! Buy the ticket, take the ride.

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Eurail Day 9: Innsbruck to Salzburg, and Free/cheap activities to do on the road

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Today is a travel day for me, heading from Innsbruck to Salzburg! THE LAND OF THE SOUND OF MUSIC, PEOPLE! The hills will soon be alive with the sound of Chrissy.

So on the train, I have lots of extra time to give you some tips on how to have fun on a budget!
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When you’re travelling on a budget, or living off of €15 a day like me, you immediately seek out all the activities you can do that don’t cost a thing, or at least cost very little! We all want to do the guided tours or this hop-on-hop-off buses, but they also cost a pretty penny. Here’s how to keep yourself amused in every city you hit without skimping on culture, history, and fun.

Graffiti hunt

Of course you knew I was going to say that! As most of you have guessed by now, I am a huge fan and proponent of street art. Why pay the entry fee to the Museum of Modern Art when the best museum can be found on your street, and for free! Street art, because it isn’t subject to curation (and therefore a degree of censorship), asks questions, provokes thought, and takes the viewer on an emotional journey. And also, it’s pretty! You have an ephemeral experience and you connect with other members of the community without ever having met them! I like street art because Its feels half like a scavenger hunt, and half like I’m in on a joke that only a few people know about! If you spend the day hunting for graffiti, I guarantee you will never be bored, and will probably finish off elated!

Bike ride

Sometimes walking is too slow, and taking the subway or a taxi is too fast (or too expensive). That’s where the bike comes in. For a few euros a day, you can rent a bike from either a shop or the more popular city-sponsored bike sharing programs aka Bixi that have popped up in cities all over the world. You get to see and explore the city with the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and you will even burn off they chocolate bar you bought at the train station. Yay exercise! Afraid of getting lost on the bike? Don’t buy a map, just print off a google map at the nearest Internet cafe… Want to know what it is you’re looking at as you cycle by? Don’t buy a Lonely Planet, just print off the Wiki Travel article for the corresponding town!

Bus ride

City buses are cheaper than the hop-on-hop-off buses and you get the exact same views. Most cities will sell you a day pass so you could basically hop on and hop off as you please. And follow my above advice about information and maps to keep your mind out the window instead of on guessing.

Outdoor markets and festivals and art crawls

Most cities I’ve ever been love their markets and festivals and art crawls which are free and open to the public. I didn’t have to pay to visit the Christkindlmarkt in Innsbruck, nor the Zurich street parade, nor the Notting Hill Carnival in London, nor La Tomatina in Bunol, Spain! Try to visit cities when they are celebrating something specific to that town. Like Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, or Diwali in India, or the vegetarian festival in Thailand. The streets become free parties for merriment and dancing!

Do things that begin with each letter of the alphabet

Here’s a great idea that another traveller told me about when I met her in Cambodia. Every day, she would try to do at least one thing that corresponded with each letter the alphabet! Try it and see if you can get through the alphabet in one day!

Window shop

Shopping is always a huge tourist draw but there’s no obligation to spend money! You can window shop, try on clothes, and even some shops like department stores offer free makeovers at their cosmetics counter. Get your retail therapy without the retail price.

Sample foods

At the chocolate market in Padua, they were giving away free samples! Of chocolate! Many gelato shops will let you taste for free, the same goes for fruit and vegetable stands. Can’t find a market, try the local Starbucks. They always have someone standing outside with a tray full of free samples.

Planking

You’ve seen my pictures by now of me planking all over ancient ruins in Thailand and Cambodia, so you know how fun it is. All you need is your camera and a good sense of humour. Walk around and try to plank on as many monuments as you can! It beats posing like everyone else, and it makes for a better Facebook album!

Make travel videos

If your camera has a video option (and I’m sure it does), take a cue from your favourite film directors and make your own movie! Put on your best National-Geogeaphic-Discovery-channel narator voice, and film everything you see and do in a city. When you get home, whip out iMovie or windows movie maker, edit it all together with a fun song, and voila, you are giving Spielberg a run for his money. I love making travel videos, and you can see from my Youtube. And Youtube travel videos are my favourite pastime, remember “Where the Hell Is Matt?” There’s no reason why you can’t dance your way across Europe. Make sure you film it and post it to youtube!

Sandeman’s new Europe walking tour

In several locations across Europe, there are Free walking tours. Yes, FREE. I’ve seen them in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, and I’m sure they are in more cities. You get a great historical and cultural tour of the city, and you your blood flowing through your legs. Full disclosure -I was once offered a job with them years ago when I lived in London. I didn’t end up taking it because I got another job, but I can confirm that, yes, the tour guides are not paid a salary, they do all the research themselves, and they function off of the tips you may or may not give them after the tour. You are not obligated to tip, but PLEASE TIP THEM. Whatever you can afford.

Rush tickets for theatres and operas

I am a huge theatre nut, and if I don’t see a play at least every two weeks, I start to get the shakes. However, a lot of people don’t go to the theatre or opera anymore because they find the tickets too expensive and the movies are cheaper. WRONG. Almost every single theatre or opera has a discounted ticket option. Call them ahead of time and see if you can either get:

A) Rush tickets. When a play hasn’t been sold out, or some people couldn’t use the tickets they bought, the theatre will want to sell the extra tickets at a discounted price to ensure capacity. They usually release these tickets about 15 minutes before show time on a first come first serve basis. So if you can remain flexible and wait in a rush line for a few minutes, you can get primo seats for a fraction of what the other patrons paid. Suckers!

B) PWYC tickets. PWYC stands for Pay What You Can, and many theatres will make at least one performance during the week at PWYC performance (in my experience, usually the Sunday matinees). So you can drop in whatever loose change you have in your pocket and see some great shows! Of course, I suggest paying at least €5 for PWYC (actors need to eat!) but really whatever you can ford is great!

See if your Couchsurfing host can cook for you one night

If they offer and are so generous, dont turn it down! Free homecooked meal! Make sure you do the dishes afterwards, and offer to buy them a beer at the pub later.

Now that your day is packed full of free and cheap activities to do, you have no excuse but to make yourself rather merry. Go, grasshopper. Prosper.

Here’s how I spent my money today!

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