An Ode to My Weight Gain

“You’ll lose so much weight when you’re in Europe” said every single person I told that I was traveling to Europe. 

My response? “Do you know how much I intend on eating?” 

I wasn’t kidding.

Who comes to Europe and doesn’t plan on eating EVERYTHING? Seriously. My budget for food per day was more than my budget for accommodation per night. That isn’t a joke either. I average about $20-$25 per day on accommodation. My budget for food was $30. I know. It’s a little much. But how can you go to Spain and not eat as much ham, olives, manchego, and tapas as you can? How can you go to France and not marvel at the amazing cheeses and breads and pastries? The pasta, meats, cheeses, pastries in Italy? The feta, grape leaves, gyros in Greece? Those little pancakes and stroopwafels in Holland? Pastel de natas in Lisbon? Ugh. I miss it all already. I’m getting sad. 

My plan for my trip was to eat my way through Europe. I succeeded. Without a doubt. If I were graded, I would have gotten an A++. Would have finished with a 5.0GPA. If it had the word “traditional” and was served with Nutella, I bought it. If the waiter recommended it, I bought it. And I finished it. Almost always. At home, I’m spoiled. I know that. I don’t really have to spend that much money on food because I live at home. Dinner and groceries are on my mom’s tab. Spoiled. I know. So when I have to buy my own food, it better be worth it, and you better BELIEVE I’m going to eat every last dollar’s worth. And I did. 

I don’t understand why anyone would come to Europe on a diet. Or would actually follow their whole “gluten free” or paleo shit. I’m sorry, but fuck that noise. You’re in Europe. Eat it all. Get a tummy ache. Shit your brains out. YOU KNOW IT WAS WORTH IT. Do you know how much gelato I ate? Too much for any lactose intolerant person to live through. 

When I’m home, I eat generally pretty healthy (besides the fact that I eat loaded nachos at my job once a week… but they’re really good…) so this vacation was a time for me to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And then it’s back to my American life. Back to my “healthy” eating. Back to boring. 

I’m not kidding when I say I planned my trip in accordance to where had the best food. That’s why I skipped Germany, no offense, but I was already going to Austria, specifically Vienna, so I figured I’d get enough Schnitzel and sausage there to last. I have literally fantasized about eating olives and olive oil in Spain, the pasta and pizza in Italy, the mass amounts of cheese in France, and all of those food porn videos you see on Facebook of specialties from different places around the world. 

I have gained 10lbs. Averages out to only 3.3lbs per month, so when you look at it that way, it’s not that bad. I have probably consumed more wine and beer on this trip than I have in my entire life. I have never had to force myself to finish a cheese plate and then voluntarily order dessert. And it’s all worth it. I regret nothing. Not a single bite. 

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The Simple Moments 

I have always lived a simple life. And the moments I enjoy the most while traveling are the most simple, living the way the locals live. Sipping on a flat white in Dublin, while eating a mile high lemon meringue tart and writing. Walking in the rain in Killarney National Park and finding myself in the greenest of woods. Eating a monstrous fish n chips in Dingle with a girl I had just met on the bus, overwhelmed at the portion of food in front of me. Sitting in a square full of students, cheap sangria in hand, feeling no different than the people I was surrounded by. Scarfing down a warm pastei de bellum after tearing packets of powdered sugar and cinnamon with my teeth in the middle of the street. Sitting in a bar where the students go in Sevilla, eating cheap appetizers of ham, cheese, and calamari, drinking endless supplies of cold, cheap buckets of beer. Sitting in the street at 4am drunk, talking and laughing with fellow hostel mates. Sipping wine and writing while waiting for my truffle risotto in Rome. Being determined to finish every ounce of cheese on my first cheese plate of France, taking my time while sitting next to the port in Marseille. Standing at the top of Notre Dame after a miserable walk up hill in Marseille to witness a magnificent view, wind blowing, of the entire city and sea. Falling asleep on an outdoor sofa on a vineyard in Brignoles, listening to nothing but the chirping of birds and cicadas under the shade of a tree. Sitting next to the dolphins and watching them swim by in the aquarium in Genoa. Sipping wine and watching the sun melt into the mountains in Kos. Wandering the isles of Naschmarkt in Vienna, tasting the foods that the vendors urge me to try, spending 8euro on nuts without a single regret because they were that damn good. Sitting in the streets of Brno with the cheapest craft beer I’ve ever came into contact with, jumping over language barriers with locals. Sipping even cheaper beer in a bar no tourist would have ever found on a random side street. Nothing but a small sign on the door to even let you know there was a bar there. And now, sitting in a local cafe with Barbora, me writing, her painting, sipping coffee and eating bread with different spreads.

These are the moments I will remember most. The most simple. The ones that require no thought. My entire life is nothing but an accumulation of simple moments of food, drink, nature, and laughter. And the simple moments will always be what I remember most because they are what I miss the most at home. Drinking shock top and eating nachos and wings where I work. Playing board games at my sister’s with my niece and nephew, making inappropriate jokes and watching them get emotional from winning or losing. Sitting for hours and hours on the beach while the sun sets, reading and smoking, and making my mom mad from all of the sand I drag back into the house. Simplicity is all I need in this life. And the simple moments are what I always remember. 

Experiencing True Luxury While Traveling

Luxury is not 5-star hotels and all inclusive resorts. Luxury is taking your time. Luxury is not rushing, or having to cram an entire city into a day. There’s no way to see it all, or to appreciate what you’re seeing when you’re always in a rush. Instead, all you think about is where you have to go, and what you have to see next, rather than just being in the moment of where you are. I think my small bouts of home sickness are less of a desire to be home and more of a desire to simply stay put. Real luxury and relaxation is being able to unpack my things for a few nights and not be on the move again in just a night or two. When you’re always on the move, hopping from city to city at such a fast pace, you almost miss out on more just because it’s nearly impossible to keep your energy up long enough to see all that there is to see. And without that energy, it becomes harder to appreciate when every move you make is trying to make sure you’re not missing out on anything. 
I have learned to take my time. I am finally at a slower pace, with only 26 days left in my trip, and only 7 cities left. I am on my fourth day here in Vienna, while the first was spent mainly settling in and napping. I have become familiar with the city. I have spent my time browsing Naschmarkt each day, walking back and forth from the city centre, making meals at my hostel, and simply just taking my time.
Luxury is not setting an alarm nor feeling obligated to be a tourist for 12 hours of the day. Luxury is not exhausting yourself to feel fulfilled. Luxury is sitting in a booth of red velvet in the oldest cafe in Vienna, drinking coffee, eating a plum strudel, and writing. As long as you buy at least a drink in any coffee shop in Vienna, you can sit and stay for as long as you want. This cafe, Cafe Frauenhuber, is the oldest in Vienna. Mozart and Beethoven both once performed here. I feel as though I am a guest in someone’s home, as there is no music playing, and very few people for what you would think would be a very touristic location. 
Luxury is not five star hotels. Luxury is not even a resort with luxury in the name. Luxury is taking your time. This is what I have learned. I have no regrets regarding the way that I planned my trip. I have seen and enjoyed 11 countries and 31 cities in the two months that have flown by. I had to do what I did in order to see what I wanted to see in the amount of time I had. Now I know where I will want to come back to. I still have so much to see but I will be moving at a slower pace. I get a few nights in Brno, Czech, before I move onto Prague for 4 nights, and then I am in Denmark for over a week. There is no summer long enough that would ever allow me to explore all that I want to explore, but so much of the beauty of travel is staying in a place long enough to really know where you are. I know I will be back… but not nearly soon enough. 

Damaged, Broken, Hurt

I don’t generally share my poetry, let alone a first draft of a poem I will probably end up tearing apart and rewriting in a few days and especially because I have not gotten into my poetry groove yet on this trip, but I was just thinking about this today and while it doesn’t reference anything as of recent in my life, I think it’s relevant nonetheless

Why are we attracted to damaged people?Broken people are not cracked

They are shattered

Missing pieces gone forever

Never quite whole again

What makes us want to fix the unfixable?

You can’t fill what is lost with love

There is no missing piece to fill in someone else

You just might end up hurt

Caught on the sharp edges 

Left with only your good intentions

There isn’t enough in the world to fix all that is broken

But you can try to shine bright enough

That your light shines through the cracks

Of what has been attempted to being put back together again

Feelings while crossing borders

It’s easy to be in awe of the drastic change when crossing an invisible boarder into a different country. The language, the music, the landscapes all change. I definitely felt that entering Slovenia from Italy. 
A few days have passed since then and I wish I could remember what it actually looked like upon arrival without looking at pictures – but I remember one thing for sure. I fell in love with Ljubljana. I know I have said that about a few places since I’ve been traveling, but this place was so different. Walkable but not crawling with tourists. After coming from some of the biggest and most popular cities in Europe, I was accustomed to people begging in the streets, vendors aggressively approaching you while dining, trying to sell you selfie sticks and scarves. But not here. I didn’t feel like a tourist here, obligated to purchase things. Education in Slovenia is free, for everyone, so everyone was highly educated and spoke very good English and it was surprising and comforting. I knew nothing about this country or this city upon my arrival, all the information I discovered was by my tour manager, Aryan, who educates us on most of our locations over the two week tour. 
I just crossed the border to Albania from a lunch in Montenegro. As we are traveling with 50 people on a coach bus, border patrol can take a very long time when crossing borders. Our tour manager got off of the bus to talk to the border patrol and attempted to bribe them with 10euro, to which the Albanian border patrol responded by asking if they were receiving the same payment as well. The bus driver ran off with a 6 pack of beers and we were through almost immediately. Hilarious what a few beers and 20euro will do.
Now that I am in Albania, I feel… different. I feel something for this place that I didn’t really know anything about. Aryan explained to us that it wasn’t that long ago that this country was horribly controlled by communism. Rations were a real thing. And that wasn’t that long ago. I live such a privileged life and I almost don’t even know it. I always knew the realities that people in other countries faced but I wasn’t ever actually in it. I never saw the results. I never understood. I feel connected to this place. More than I ever could have imagined that I would. And I want to come back. I want to find an opportunity to do so. 
I’m writing this as we are driving to Tirana. I am surrounded by farm land and mountains and a lot of half finished, if not abandoned buildings, along with seemingly a lot of corruption. But I think that’s what adds to my interest in this place. How different it is. And how I don’t even understand the differences. As I travel I realize how little I know and how much I want to know. How much I want to learn about so many places. And I keep making mental notes of how many places I want to come back to, or sped through too quickly. I know I’ll be back to some of these places… I know that for sure. 
Traveling and seeing so much only makes me more excited for my future. I want to do so much and I have so much time to play with once I finish my degree. This trip might be more about eating and enjoying myself but I’m just setting myself up to come back and do something serious for myself. I know I’m going to be restless. 

One Month Countdown

The one-month countdown has finally begun. I still can’t believe I’m doing this – and it doesn’t seem like all that many other people can believe it either. I can sense the doubts of others as I tell them my plan, I see their reactions when I say the word “hostel,” and I can feel their concerns when I say I’m doing this alone.

I have had my doubts, though very few. As time keeps passing and the day of my departure comes closer, my excitement churns to nervousness and sometimes even I wonder if I’ll really be comfortable being completely alone all of the time.

But then I remember who I am. I remember what I’ve been through. The hardest moments of my life I have lived through alone. There have been so many times in my life where I thought, “How am I going to be able to move on from this?” or, “How am I ever going to be okay again?” and I remember what is most important: the idea that everything in life is temporary. Fear, pain, confusion, yearning, joy, illness – everything is temporary. Feelings, both good and bad, rise and fall, and that is what life is all about.

This is what I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember and I have always imagined myself being completely alone during the journey. Maybe not completely, but at least without the company of someone I actually know. If everything I have ever experienced has led me to anything – it is this summer.

I’ve got it all figured out. I have my support systems. I have my friends, my family, my penpals in multiple countries of the world to reach out to if I’m in a bind, or just need someone to talk to that’s somewhat close by. And to be honest, I’ve planned this trip rather strategically, though of course, I know that nothing ever goes as planned, and I’m ok with that. I know that the stress will only be temporary, too. The scary moments will dissipate. Every moment of my journey will be fleeting – and that’s why I have to appreciate every single moment. Every landscape. Even though I’m traveling often, I have to allow myself to soak it all in, no matter where I am.

I start my trip with family in Ireland. I’ll be in Ireland for two weeks before heading to Portugal, and then Spain, each for about a week. I have no doubt I will be able to get through my trip. I have so much to look forward to, every day, every night. Once my first month has passed, I get a two-week break with my Contiki tour, so I’ll have some time to breathe and not have to worry about getting from place to place.

Time is ticking… and I’m ready.

Narrowing it all down

With only 74 days (!!!!!!!!!!) before I leave, I have a LOT of work to do. Working on the last six weeks of my trip is a lot more difficult than the first six.

Booking Ireland, Portugal, and Spain was fairly easy. Though Spain has a lot to offer, I knew more or less what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go (Sevilla, Madrid, Barcelona). The last six weeks of my trip have a lot more countries to book, the countries themselves are a lot bigger and offer a lot more, and I generally know very little about them all.

My Contiki tour ends in Rome, and from there is where I pick up my final 6 weeks. In my last six weeks I will be roaming around France, Italy, Austria, Czech, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

France is posing a lot more difficulty than I originally intended. I am beyond excited for Paris, but it is so far up North and generally isolates me from the rest of France that I want to explore. I’ve made the decision to let Paris be my final destination before I head to the U.K. in the beginning of August, while touring the south of France after my Contiki tour.

From Rome, I’m thinking I’ll fly into Marseille, travel to Aix-En-Provence, then head over to Nice for a bit before I head back to Italy for some solo-exploration. I have been using Rome2Rio.com to sort out the vast majority of where I’m going and how I’m getting there and it’s proven itself to be highly beneficial, as it displays every possible way of getting there and its cost.

Here is where I’m having trouble. Contiki already takes me through a great bit of Italy, including: Florence, Venice, Rome, Bari (barely), Salerno, and Pompeii. From Nice, I’m thinking about traveling to Genoa, then Milan, then Verona, before I head up to Innsbruck, Austria. It’s difficult to say I want to go to all of these places prior to looking into accommodation, because a lot of where I decide to go depends on the safety of where I am able to stay during my time. Peak-season will be apparently over in Austria and Czech in the summertime, though I’m sure there will still be plenty of traffic all over. In Austria, after Innsbruck, I will probably go to Salzburg, Vienna, and then head up to Czech where I will go to Brno, Prague, and other places that I still have to figure out.

Now, it’s just a matter of taking the plunge and getting things booked. I take a lot of time looking into each city. I compare every hostel and I always have to take into consideration the times at which I can fly/bus into certain areas. I avoid, at all costs, arriving anywhere at night. Booking does provide a lot of anxious excitement. I know that I can cancel without penalty, but saying “this is where I’m going for sure” gives a very strange feeling. I wanted to go into this trip with a lot of my decisions ‘up in the air’ but it just isn’t realistic for someone my age, doing what I’m doing. If I had been to Europe before, I think I could have more confidence in “winging it.” Everything I do, I do for a reason, and I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

Thanks for reading! And please, if you have ANY recommendations or tips for France, Italy, Austria, Czech, throw them my way – I love and appreciate any and all input.