Euro Trip 2017: Best Travel Moments

 

In May 2014, just days after graduating from college, I arrived in Amsterdam and thus commenced my first Euro trip. This July, after two years on the continent, I set off on my second.

These are the best travel moments from my Euro trip!

Image Credit: Annie Spratt (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

A personal tour of Munich

After a night out, which began with a rowdy bar crawl and ended in the packed hostel bar, I woke up for my first full day in Munich a little later than I’d hoped. The late start meant my traveling companions and I missed the start of the free walking tour. Ordinarily that would have been a total bummer, but our new friend, Conner, who we’d met on the bar crawl and had attended the walking tour the previous day, half-jokingly offered to guide us. He was fantastic. Not only did Conner take us to all the important spots, but he recalled an impressive amount of German history! I’ve been on a lot of walking tours, but this one was the best—which is saying a lot considering our hangovers.

Here are the best travel moments from my Euro trip!
Prost! I can barely lift that stein to take a sip!

Not knowing anything about Slovenia

When I was planning this trip, I realized I had a few days to kill between Munich and meeting a friend in Stuttgart. I considered a slew of destinations including Switzerland, Greece and Italy, but in the end, I decided on Slovenia. For less than 20 euros, Taylor and I traveled from Munich to Ljubljana. The five-hour ride included a 20-minute stop at what has to be the most beautiful gas rest area in the world, located in the heart of the Julian Alps. I arrived knowing very little about the country but quickly fell in love. Between the rad feminist history in Ljubljana to the gorgeous nature in Bled, Slovenia turned out to be exactly our scene. Sometimes no travel prep is the best travel prep. Expectations often ruin a destination.

Here are the best travel moments from my Euro trip!
We spent a beautiful day at Vintgar Gorge in Bled, Slovenia.

Shots at Sweet Memories

In June, I had the pleasure of hosting my friend, also named Alex, in Madrid. In July, he returned the favor in Stuttgart, Germany. We’ve been friends since sitting next to each other in eighth grade algebra. So, starting our night out at Sweet Memories seemed right. It was a total dive, complete with creepy old German men, and the bartender charged me 20 euros for three shots of knockoff Jägermeister. But, being with an old friend definitely made for a sweet memory.

These are the best travel moments from my Euro trip!
Alex and Alex in Esslingen! We took the train to this picturesque little town just outside Stuttgart.

Couch surfing in Krakow

After Stuttgart, my ever-faithful travel buddy, Taylor, and I parted ways. I was on my own and decided to couch surf. For me, it wasn’t about a free place to stay. Even my limited budget would have afforded a couple nights in one of Poland’s famously cheap hostels. I wanted the chance to discover the city from a local’s point of view and perhaps even make a new friend. Utilizing Couchsurfing, a social networking website that connects travelers with hosts, I met Maja and Anna. Not only did my hosts provide me with a place to stay and information about the city, but they also went out of their ways to include me in their plans. I left Krakow having made two new friends.

These are the best travel moments from my Euro trip!
Krakow is an almost perfectly preserved medieval city. Unlike most of Poland, it wasn’t bombed during WWII. Image Credit: Dennis Jarvis

Berlin living up to its hype

The 11-hour bus ride from Krakow was an absolute nightmare (potholes, potholes, potholes), but I was willing to do whatever it took to get to Berlin. I’ve wanted to visit Berlin ever since I planned my first Euro trip, and although high expectations for a destination sometimes lead to disappointment, Berlin lived up to the hype. Famous for its music, dance and art scene, Berlin is known around the world for having a genuinely cool vibe. On my second day, I joined the Alternative Berlin walking tour. After three hours of learning about the city’s street art and graffiti culture, the tour ended at Yaam. It was there I got chatting with the guide and ended up having one of the best nights of my Euro trip. The sun was rising as I got back to my hostel.

Here are the best travel moments from my Euro trip!
I’m not usually one for churches, but I liked the Berlin Cathedral, which is located on the city’s Museum Island. Image Credit: Jörg Schubert

 

Have you ever done a Euro trip? What were the best travel moments?

Weekend Escape: What to Do in Cuenca

Incredible views, delicious food and, of course, hanging houses: Cuenca proved an ideal weekend getaway from Madrid. It’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit for quite some time now, and I’m so glad I finally got around to it! If you need a break from the city, here are my recommendations for what to do in Cuenca.

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!

Image Credit: Jocey Kinghorn (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

How to get to Cuenca

My first trip of 2017 almost got off to a bad start. I nearly missed the bus! My morning was a little too tranquila, and I left the house 15 minutes later than I had planned. Fortunately, I made it just in time. In fact, I wasn’t even the last passenger to board the bus. That’s Spain for you!

Details: The bus leaves from Madrid’s Estación Sur and takes approximately two and a half hours. The price of a roundtrip ticket is 27,60 euros. For a faster but more costly option, you can take the high-speed AVE train from Madrid’s Atocha station. The journey takes 55 minutes and costs between 25 and 28 euros each way. 

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
The view from the Puente de San Pablo is incredible!

Where to stay in Cuenca

I left Madrid at noon and arrived in Cuenca around 2:30 p.m. From the bus station, it took me a little less than 15 minutes to walk to Hostal Canovas (Calle Fray Luis de León, 38). The woman working reception was very helpful and provided me with a map of the city.

Hostal Canovas is located very close to the old city center, and since Cuenca is small, you can walk everywhere. The double room with a private bathroom cost 50 euros for one night. The room was very clean and quiet. Overall, I thought Hostal Canovas was a great value. My only complaint is how hot the room was at night. If you’re visiting in winter, bring lightweight pajamas!

Cuenca as a day trip: You can definitely do Cuenca as a day trip from Madrid, especially if you take the high-speed AVE train. However, if you have some extra time, you should consider spending the night. This medieval city only gets more beautiful after the sun goes down. 

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
I loved Cuenca’s colorful Plaza Mayor!

Where to eat in Cuenca

Saturday afternoon, I took advantage of the menú del día at Posada San Julián (Calle Torres, 11) and ate garbanzos with callos (tripe) and pork ribs for 11 euros. The ribs were super fatty, but I was starving and didn’t really care.

Saturday night, I made reservations for dinner at El Secreto (Calle Alfonso VIII, 81). I chose El Secreto from Trip Advisor’s list of top ten restaurants in Cuenca. The food was delicious (yum yum chuletillas de cordero), but as much as it pains me to say this, the service was terrible. Probably the worst I’ve had in Spain to date, which is saying a lot.

Sunday morning, I had breakfast at a cute cafe called La Blondie. I couldn’t find an address for it online, but it’s just around the corner for Hostal Canovas. My glass of fresh squeezed orange juice was garnished with a slice of orange. Way to go the extra mile, random cafe!

If you don’t want to wait: On Saturday and Sunday, restaurants are packed with families enjoying long leisurely meals. If at all possible, I suggest calling ahead and making a reservation. Some restaurants even allow you to do so online.     

Where to drink in Cuenca

After watching the sunset, I checked out a few bars around Plaza Mayor, including Las Huellas de los Elefantes (Calle Severo Cataline, 11). If you’re looking for a reasonably priced cocktail in Cuenca, check this place out!

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
I preferred Cuenca’s street art over its Museum of Abstract Art.

What to do in Cuenca

When you visit Cuenca, you should pack some good walking shoes because exploring this city means climbing lots of hills. My favorite climb was up to the Puente de San Pablo. The view was incredible!

If you’re researching what to do in Cuenca, I’m sure you already know about Las Casas Colgantes (the Hanging Houses). The best place to see the houses, which are built right into the cliff, is the Puente de San Pablo. If you want to see inside one of the houses, visit the Museum of Abstract Art. Admission is free!

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
It was chilly, but I still enjoyed walking around Cuenca all weekend!

 

Have you ever visited Cuenca, Spain? What do you look for in a weekend getaway? Let me know in the comments below! 

From Michigan to Mongolia: Joining the Peace Corps

So, I know I’ve already talked a bit about my for travel resolutions for 2017, but another thing I hope to do more of in the new year is connecting with other travelers. I want to bring more voices to the Backpacking Brunette through guest posts!

It’s my absolute pleasure to introduce this blog’s first ever guest poster: Lindsey. Three years ago (holy shit has it really been that long?!), I met Lindsey when we were both working at our university’s student newspaper.

Recently, Lindsey accepted a position as a Peace Corps volunteer. How inspiring is that?! After studying abroad in the Netherlands, she decided to pursue a life of travel and adventure. I’m so excited to have her as today’s guest writer. For more from Lindsey, check out her blog.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.

Image Credit: Lindsey Rose (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

A year ago today, I was packing two huge suitcases for a five-month study abroad trip to the Netherlands, which eventually turned into a seven-month trip around Europe.

I stuffed my brand new, matching suitcases to the very top with a bunch of crap I would eventually leave behind, and I spent my last week in the United States buying a bunch of “travel necessities” T.J. Maxx and Pinterest convinced me I needed. To say I overpacked would be an understatement.

But, I was a naive American who, at the time, did not realize that traveling was not about the brand new sweaters and luggage tags I had purchased. It was about the people I was about to meet and the new experiences I was about to embark on.

I still remember arriving at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport on January 13. I was terrified and excited. I  regretted not buying a Dutch dictionary.

As I said before, I left for the Netherlands for a “study abroad” trip, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t study much at all. Instead, I spent my time doing a workaway, traveling to nearby countries and enjoying my time in my new city with all of my new friends.

It was the best five months of my life.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.
Lindsey embracing the local fashions! Image Credit: Lindsey Rose

What would you do if you could not fail?

Sometime in April, about halfway through my seven-month trip, I attended a TED Talk type of event in Amsterdam called “How to travel the world without any money”. I didn’t think much of the even leading up to it, but after the presenter, Tomislav Perko, began sharing his story of how he travels the world—with you guessed it: almost no money!—I began to realize I was meant to be there.

One of the questions Tomislav asked the audience during his presentation was: “What would you do if you could not fail?”

I realized I had never been asked that before. Or perhaps I had and just never taken in seriously. Regardless, even days after the event, the question still stuck with me. I began to think about what I could do if I knew I could not fail and the options seemed endless.

I could drop out of school and do odd jobs to afford traveling for the rest of my life. I could go to school to become a pilot so I could see the world from above. I could sell all of my belongings and travel until I go completely broke.

And then I realized this: all of my hypothetical options involved traveling.

Instead of doing any of those things, I skipped my plane ride home at te end of my semester abroad. I purchased a one-way ticket to Malta for $25.

It was the most liberating thing I had ever done, and I spent the following seven weeks living on my friend’s couch on the most beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. I spent my summer days sipping Cisk on a rocky beach and my summer nights eating traditional Italian pizza with my friends.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.
Lindsey (far right) with friends in Malta. Image Credit: Lindsey Rose

Joining the Peace Corps

Of course, paradise had to come to an end. I needed to return to Michigan to finish out my degree. At the beginning of August, I flew home and began planning my future.

Even while I was catching up with family and friends, Tomislav’s question kept popping up in my mind.

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

I asked myself this question a million time and, eventually, had my answer: the Peace Corps.

I knew the Peace Corps is very competitive and not just an excuse to travel the world. It’s the real deal.

You commit to serving 27 months in a country you’ve possibly never heard of, and along the way, you are faced with situations that will challenge you. You will meet people who will change you. You will fully immerse yourself in a completely different culture from your own.

The more research I did the more I knew it was the perfect option for me.

I have about one year’s worth of experience tutoring international students at my university in the English language, so I looked into every single English teaching position available on the Peace Corps website. I read all of the position descriptions in great detail, and I found an open Secondary Education English teaching position in Mongolia.

After the first paragraph, I knew I was going there. I felt like it was meant to be.  It was the same feeling I had when I was sitting in the audience in Amsterdam listening to Tomislav Perko share his story.

I knew very little about Mongolia: the country, the culture or the people. The only real information I had ever learned about Mongolia was what I read on the Peace Corps website.

After finding the opening, I began researching information on Mongolia. In early September, I applied for the position.

After the most awkward Skype interview of my life and several weeks of waiting, I found out I got the job! Reading the congratulatory email from the Peace Corps brought tears of joys to my eyes. For the rest of my life, I’ll look back on that day and smile.

Fast forward to now, I am currently wondering how I will fit 27 months of stuff into two suitcases.

Feeling both terrified and excited, I recently purchased a Mongolian dictionary on Amazon.

Lindsey is a recent graduate from Ferris State University and a future Peace Corps Volunteer. Lindsey is the blogger behind lettersfromlindseyrose.com, where she writes about her experiences traveling on a tight budget, working in a hostel, and all of the high’s and low’s that go along with solo travel. When Lindsey isn’t writing for her blog, she is binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix or trying new recipes off of Pinterest.

If you have a story to share and would like to contribute a guest post to Backpacking Brunette, leave a comment below or contact me via email at ealexiswittman (at) gmail.com.