Brussels: a solo adventure

As mentioned in my previous post, I’d recently booked a cheap flight to Brussels. Well seeing as it’s now February, I guess it’s no longer that recent. Let’s get updated then, shall we?

Back in mid-November, I embarked on a weekend solo trip to Brussels, Belgium. Although my main motivation for visiting Brussels was the $50 flight that I’d scored, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the city. I had been to Bruges in 2011 while studying abroad; but other than that, Belgium was quite a mystery to me. After braving my very first Ryanair flight (hello tiny seats!), I successfully navigated the shuttle into the city and managed to find my hotel without taking an Uber or taxi. That first night, I asked the hotel staff where I could find a nice restaurant in the area. When I finally found the place that they had suggested, I was the only one there (it was about 9:30PM). One of the owners saw that I was by myself and came and sat down with me. We had a nice chat as I enjoyed my (delicious) calzone with the promise of visiting again before the weekend was over.

I spent the majority of Saturday morning exploring sights that I’d previously researched. I used the app CityMaps2Go to find my way around (bonus: it works without data!). There was a lot to see and I spent most of the morning walking the city. I also let myself wander a bit to see what I could discover. The thrill of getting lost in a new city is one of the best feelings. My favorite part of Brussels by far was the Grand Place-Grote Markt, or the main city square. The beautiful square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses the City Hall. I found it so magical that I Facetimed my mom so I could share the moment with someone!15078596_10153839251821230_6420008361767794489_n

14947769_10153836348821230_1886791775143288657_n
awkward selfie in the square

After an eventful morning of sightseeing, I took a rest at my hotel and anxiously awaited the Beer and Chocolate Tour that I had booked. Although this particular tour was a bit over my budget, it had positive reviews on TripAdvisor and I figured that it’d be a nice way to familiarize myself with the city (okay, and with Belgian beer). This tour ended up being the best part of my trip! It consisted of a small group of about 8. The first part of the tour was all about chocolate. Our guide Marie took us to her favorite local chocolate shops and let us try a variety of flavors. I even got to try basil-infused chocolate (very good, by the way) and pure cocoa (not so good). She was also really great at providing us with her own personal insight and history of Brussels as we walked from place to place. The second part of the tour was all about the beer. We got the chance to try 6 different types of beer at local pubs and learn about how they’re made. The tour concluded in a traditional Belgian bar with a glass of beer and a toast. Most of our group decided that since we were having such a good time, why not stay for another drink (or two)? I ended up drinking more Belgian beer and walking around the city with new friends. We were an eclectic group of Canadian, British, Australian, and American travelers of varying ages. We even managed to stumble into a random bar where “Wonderwall” was playing live. It goes without saying that we belted out our best rendition (which turned out to be not very good, after). The night ended with some famous Belgian frites to soak up the alcohol and the promise of new Facebook friends.

14980848_10153839251181230_9021870465134763024_n
Goodnight, Brussels!

The next day was Sunday, my final day in Brussels. I had the morning to explore before catching a flight back to Prague. Although I wasn’t feeling my best (too much beer?), I managed to get myself out of bed to see the magical square one last time. I also picked up some Belgian chocolates at Chocopolis, one of the shops that Marie had shown us the day before. As a hangover cure, I indulged in one last batch of delicious homemade Belgian frites. Lastly, I stopped by the restaurant that I’d visited my first night and had a coffee and a chat with the owner, my new Brussels acquaintance.

15056497_10153838717286230_4074807263219720554_n
Belgian frites with spicy mayo

Although I came to Brussels not knowing exactly what to expect, it ended up being one of my best trips yet. Exploring the city with new friends and meeting a local were definitely a few of the highlights. Although I’ve said it before, I do truly adore solo travel. That sense of pride you feel after successfully navigating a new city on your own is unprecedented. You’re forced out of your comfort zone and into the unfamiliar. You end up meeting amazing, likeminded people along the way and begin to realize that no matter where we come from, we are all the same. So, go on, fellow travelers. Don’t be afraid to (safely) put yourself out there. You might be surprised what you can find.

Boyfriends and Brews

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months since I’ve written a new post. So let’s bring you up to speed, shall we? Since June, I went on a solo trip, turned 26, found a boyfriend, moved in with said boyfriend, and booked a flight home for Christmas. Exciting right? Let’s start with the boyfriend. Jakub (Kuba for short) and I started talking at the end of June and things got serious pretty fast. My lease was reaching an end in October and I simply couldn’t afford to live on my own anymore. The thought of having roommates wasn’t super thrilling either. So Kuba and I dove right in with the third option and decided that living together made the most sense for both of us financially. Live life to the fullest and all that, right?

The apartment hunt was tedious, annoying, and caused a lot of tears (on my end). But we finally found a cute one-bedroom flat in Prague 2, Vinohrady. In our rush to lock down a place, we quickly took our current apartment before anyone else could. Although it is old and charming, it has also come with a lot of unexpected problems. Non-flushing toilets, no warm water, non-working freezer, you name it we’ve dealt with it. But perhaps my favorite event was the night the washer decided to explode and turn our kitchen into a scene from the Titanic. I walked in to find a pool of water emerging from underneath the washer. We spent about two hours mopping, cleaning, and draining the washer until we could find our wet clothes buried in the swamp. That weekend, we spent 3 hours (and $20) at the local laundromat. Oh, the adventures! Our landlord is still “in the process” of fixing it, so I’ve recently become a hand washing guru and started pretending that wearing the same bra two days in a row is a new fashion statement. I try to make light of the situation, but honestly I’ve been quite stressed about all the problems we’ve faced since moving in. Thankfully, Kuba is Czech and handles these types of situations much better than I do. He’s the one talking on the phone to our (only Czech-speaking) landlord and calming me down when I have a freak out. Honestly, he’s been quite the godsend. And although we’ve sped up our relationship, I am content. I stopped worrying about what people from home might think when they found out I moved in with my boyfriend of only a few months. We’re happy and doing what’s best for us and that’s all that matters.

14449870_10153716798841230_4491218741110618685_n
Pilsen Brewery

Kuba and I even went on our first little adventure together to see the Czech town of Pilsen, an hour outside of Prague. We stayed in a nice hotel and spent our time wandering the streets, smoking shisha, and touring the famous Pilsner Urquell Brewery. We even got to go down to the cellars and enjoy a glass of unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner straight from the barrel. It was a really nice weekend and it reminded me just how much I craved new adventures. Speaking of adventures, I just booked another spur-of-the-moment solo trip to Brussels. I found a $5o roundtrip ticket (thanks RyanAir) and will be on my way next month. There’s something about the prospect of breathing in the air of new places that brings me so much giddiness and excitement. It reminds me that my life isn’t as monotonous as I make it out to be and adventures are always waiting to be had.

14390899_10153717059716230_1448147674767970889_n
Kuba and I on our Pilsen trip!

Kuba has also decided to come to America with me to celebrate Christmas! It will be his first time in the U.S. and he’s really anxious to see what it’s like. I’m really excited to introduce him to my family and friends and to finally just be home. I can’t believe that another year has passed since I’ve set foot in the U.S. Time goes by so quickly; it honestly baffles me. I can’t believe how much life has changed in the past 2.5 years since I’ve been in Europe. If you told me back then that I’d one day be bringing my Czech boyfriend home for Christmas, I would’ve laughed in your face. But that’s life is, isn’t it? A series of unexpected surprises. I’m learning to take the good ones with the bad and be thankful for every experience in my life (including the exploding washer incident). This realization makes me feel like I’m finally starting to properly adjust into adulthood at the ripe old age of 26. And that, certainly, makes my soul happy.

 

My Top 5 European Travel Spots (So Far)

To date, I’ve visited the following European countries: Belgium, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and the U.K.

Although I’ve done a fair bit of traveling within Europe, I still feel like I’ve only yet scratched the surface. There’s so much to do and see and I’m always looking for my next adventure! That being said, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite spots that I’ve traveled to thus far.

1.) Budapest, Hungary

Parliament
Parliament

Budapest was truly a hidden treasure for me. Quite embarrassingly, I didn’t know where Budapest even was prior to visiting. In the summer of 2014, my flatmate (at the time) and I took a bus from Prague to Budapest for a weekend trip. And wow! It’s safe to say that the city exceeded our expectations. We didn’t have an extensive amount of knowledge on the city, so we just walked around and explored for the majority of the trip. During our travels, we found a random stone stairway and aimlessly climbed to the top to find the most beautiful view!

The view!

We also visited Kiraly Baths, one of the many thermal spas in Budapest. We spent our time in the spa hopping between the sauna and one of the cold baths and sunbathing outside. That night, we also joined a free pub crawl and had the best time. We got drunk off Hungarian liquor and sat around bullshitting with the locals. This city rivals Prague, in my opinion. I was blown away by the beautiful architecture, the thermal baths, and the overall relaxed ambience. I’m determined to make my way back to Budapest.

2.) Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

 

P1010618

P1010620

Cesky Krumlov is a city about 2.5 hours from Prague. I took a weekend trip with my local friend to explore this enchanting city that I had heard so much about. Well, let me tell you, it definitely lived up to the hype. Cesky Krumlov is often referred to as a “pocket-sized Prague”, and I concur. It has all the “fairytale-esque” qualities of Prague, yet nowhere near the overwhelming amount of tourists. Walking through the cobblestone streets made me feel as though I had been transported back in time. My friend and I took a tour of the Former Cesky Krumlov Brewery and also indulged in some authentic Czech cuisine.

Although the nightlife in Cesky Krumlov is scarce, we managed to find a pub open late (can’t remember the name, sorry!) and enjoyed our Czech pivo over a game of foosball. Overall, it was the perfect getaway. The city is easily accessible by bus from Prague, which makes it an ideal weekend trip. It was so nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of Prague and enjoy some peace and tranquility. 

3.) Dubrovnik, Croatia

IMG_6595

Oh, Dubrovnik. Where do I even begin? I had the good fortune of visiting Dubrovnik two times last year. Once on a solo trip through the country and another time on a trip with my mom and family friend. Both times, the city managed to absolutely hypnotize me with its splendor.

If you’re visiting Dubrovnik, I highly recommend you take a tour of the Ancient City Walls and make a trip on the cable car (amazing view of the entire city). Also, I strongly recommend a stop at Buza Bar. It’s a little bar located in the city walls. The views are stunning. I enjoyed a beer (or two) here on my 25th birthday while watching the waves crash onto the rocks below. There were even some people jumping off the rocks into the water. You can take a walk down to to get closer view of the beautiful water.

View from Buza Bar

Dubrovnik has stolen my heart. And I can’t wait to go back.

4.) Barcelona, Spain

View from the top of Sagrada Familia

Barcelona was just as lovely as I imagined it’d be. During my trip, I visited Park Guell was not disappointed. It’s a large city park with pathways, a large spire house, and many other quirks that make it truly unique. Also a must: Sagrada Familia. This beautiful basilica took my breath away with its sheer size and gorgeous stained glass windows. Take the optional tour; you won’t be disappointed. After a few days of exploring churches and parks, I got to settle down on the beach and sip mojitos. Talk about a perfect ending!

Beach living

5.) Aegina Island, Greece

My travel buddies and I took a boat from Athens (I believe it took around 40 min.) to reach the small island of Aegina. We stayed on the island only one night because we were unsure of all it had to offer. Well, let me tell you…I would’ve stayed on that island forever if you’d let me! It was my own little version of paradise. We stayed at a lovely family-run hostel called the Seaside Village Rooms. The hostel had a walking path right down to the rocks where you could jump off into the sea. Most of the time, it was just my travel buddies and I down at the rock. Occasionally, another guest from the hostel would come and join, but for the most part it felt like our own private part of the world (yes, skinny-dipping ensued).

We rented ATVS and mopeds for a day and circled around the entire island. This was the highlight of the trip for me. We stopped along the way to take pictures of the sea, reveling in its beauty. It was the perfect way to see the whole island!

Although my stay in Aegina was short lived, I’ll always remember it as my own little piece of paradise.

Our little “private” rock
Stopped during my ATV ride to snap this pic

These are just a few of the places that I’ve visited that have really stood out to me. What are some of your favorite European spots? I’d love to know!

To Live Would Be an Awfully Big Adventure

Bucket lists: love them or hate them? Personally, I love a good bucket list. They get me excited for the future and are good reminders to live, not simply exist.

I’ve attempted multiple bucket lists in the past.The last one I made was in October of 2015, featuring things I’ve already ticked off and things I’ve yet to do. You can take a look at the old one on my previous blog here.

I’ve had many experiences in my 25 years that I’m very grateful for. However, this new and improved bucket list highlights only the things I’ve yet to do (and hopefully what’s to come!)

 stay close to (3)

stay close to (5)

So maybe I’m a little overzealous, so what? Gotta think big to be big! 🙂 Is there anything on your bucket that you think I missed? Let me know! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When One Door Closes…

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’ve been on the job hunt. Well, guess whose luck has finally turned? That’s right, this girl!  I scored a job as a Social Media Moderator for a start-up travel company here in Prague. Isn’t that the funny thing about life? It knocks you down then builds you back up.

As you already know, I’ve been incessantly searching for job leads for the past month and a half. Two weeks before I landed my new job, I made a deal with myself. If I was still unemployed by the upcoming week, I’d start searching for teaching jobs. Although teaching kids was basically soul-sucking, I didn’t mind teaching private lessons to adults. In fact, I had picked up two students as a side job and was actually really enjoying it. And here’s the thing: with my certification, finding a teaching job was pretty much guaranteed. There are countless language schools searching for native English teachers and I knew that I could find a job without too much trouble. I wasn’t thrilled with the thought of teaching a class of adults (cue anxiety), but what was the alternative? Sitting in my flat, broke and searching for the “perfect” job because I refused to teach? With that sentiment in mind, I swallowed my pride and the search began.

By Monday, I had applied to a few languages schools to teach either private students or small group classes. Unsurprisingly, all the replies I received asked me to prepare a 60-90 minute lesson. Okay, so here’s the thing…I actually forgot how to create a proper lesson plan (very different from preparing a conversation lesson). I finished my TEFL course over two years ago and I threw away all my resources after moving into my new flat (in my defense, the papers were collecting dust on the shelf for almost two years). I asked my fellow TEFL friends for their resources and slowly began relearning the methodology of teaching English. Preparing a 90-minute grammar lesson was painful, to say the least. I was getting more and more frustrated with every passing minute as I tried to create a comprehensible lesson plan. In the midst of my concentration, I had nearly forgotten about the upcoming interview I’d scored with a hostel. Although the position was only part-time, I was holding on to the hope that it’d get me out of teaching as much. I hopped on the tram en route to my interview, abandoning my lesson plan and promising myself that I’d finish after.

Fast forward to an hour later. I’m leaving my hostel interview, replaying the events of the past hour in my head. Although the job was basically offered to me, the atmosphere was odd and the whole thing just felt a little off. Knowing in my heart I wouldn’t take the job, I slowly walked to the tram, absentmindedly checking my email along the way. I had been expecting an email from the travel company I interviewed with a week back with the old “we regret to inform you” line. I spotted a new message from them and almost skipped over it, when a few lines made me do a double-take. The words “we would love to cooperate with you” popped out at me through the screen. Wait, was I reading this correctly? They wanted me? The interviewing process for the job was definitely the most demanding one I’d experienced recently. The interview consisted of a 30-minute “test” of sorts creating hypothetical content and responding to mock customer enquiries. As I was leaving that interview, I vaguely remember my potential boss telling me that “many people” applied for the job. That pretty much made it clear (to me, at least) that I was not getting the job. So to receive this email solidifying the fact that they wanted ME was a huge shock, and that’s putting it lightly. Rejection after rejection and I’d finally received a big fat yes!

It’s been about a month since I’ve taken on my new role at the company and I couldn’t be happier. The exhaustion I feel at the end of the day is welcome and oddly comforting. I walk through the door at the end of each workday to see that unfinished English lesson plan sitting on the table, beckoning me. A reminder of what could have been. A commemoration to the phase of my life I can finally leave behind. And maybe I’m a just sucker for a good cliche, but I can’t help but to feel that the lesson plan is a sentiment to the past. A chapter that I can finally leave behind.

Expat Life: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Since my last post, my life has changed substantially (for better or for worse is up to you to decide). My amazing managing/proofreading job ended around the same time as my 12 month lease. Lately, there have been a lot more downs than ups, to be honest. I knew that when I took on my job at Zoot, it was essentially a temporary project and my contract was ending in March. However, the workflow was steady and I was pretty confident (after speaking with my boss) that it would get extended. All those hopes flew out the window when my co-worker and I were called in separately for a meeting. We both got the boot (my exit more brisk because of my job). Although I received the utmost praise from one of my proofreaders and well wishes from my boss, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. However, I was optimistic that I’d find something equally as appealing soon enough.

Fast forward to nearly two months later. Here I am sitting in my new expensive (yet lovely) flat scouring the internet, once again, for job openings. Thus far, I’ve had two interviews. One that I’ve yet to hear back from, and the other ending in false hope after realizing they hadn’t a clue on how to legally hire a non-EU citizen (first we need to see your visa…err, just kidding…do you have a work permit?). Oh, the joys of being an expat. And this is where I get down to the nitty gritty of this post…sometimes being an expat is hard. Like, really hard. Although I live in Prague, that doesn’t make the daily hardships any easier. In fact, sometimes it’s just the opposite. At first, everything was shiny and new. You could discover something fresh and exciting around every cobblestone corner. After around the six month mark, the shininess begins to fade and you find yourself cursing the crowded trams and the tourists who take up far too much room on the sidewalk. You become jaded.

Add in a foreign language and the stress of moving, and you’re basically screwed. The first few days of moving into my new flat were pretty much a disaster. Not only was I exhausted and stressed from the move, but I also found the most mundane tasks inconceivable. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the gas, the washer, or even where to take out the garbage (pro tip: the dumpster on your street corner is locked). The fact that no one had bothered to clue me in on this was frustrating enough, but realizing that my landlady probably couldn’t communicate it to me in English anyway made it even worse. I ended up Face-timing my mom in tears that day because I didn’t know how to work my goddamn washing machine (can’t a girl have some clean underwear?!). During the first few weeks of my move-in, I just remember continually having one single thought: “something so easy shouldn’t be this hard”.

On top of crying over my washer, I also had to deal with the legality aspects of changing addresses (yay!). My landlady had to sign and notarize some papers that I didn’t understand so I could send them off to immigration. And let’s not even talk about battling the Czech post office! That’s another headache in and of itself. All these tasks kept stacking up, eventually toppling over and nearly crushing me with their weight. All the while I just kept cursing myself…why does it have to be so hard.

Although I originally planned this post being more upbeat, I felt it necessary to show the less than stellar aspects of living in a foreign country. And that’s not to say it’s all bad. The good days far outweigh the bad. But I’ve learned that you can’t go into this experience expecting your life to be shiny and happy-go-lucky all the time. In fact, some days just plain suck. It sucks being afraid to go to the lekarna (pharmacy) to ask for cold medicine and it sucks going to the post office trying to figure out which line to get in all the while receiving death glares. But even after all these frustrating days and maddening tasks, I force myself to remember one thing…how much I wanted it in the first place. I wanted a life full of culture and adventure. I wanted new, exciting experiences for myself in a foreign country. And that’s what I got. It may be messy at times and it might not always be what I had envisioned, but it’s real. It’s life. It’s my life. Even on my worst days, I never question if I made the right decision moving here. For better or for worse, Prague holds a special place in my heart. And that’s something I wouldn’t change for the world.

The First Chapter

The first chapter of my brand new blog. How exciting! When I first started a blog in 2013, my main goal was to write about wanderlust and travel. I started it with the hopes of pursuing my traveling goals and reaching out to those that had that same urge for new experiences. With this new blog, I’ve decided to really buckle down and write about all things that make my soul happy. For me, that number one thing is still (and will always be) traveling. But my perspective has vastly changed since moving to Europe. I have been living in Prague, Czech Republic for a year and nine months. Prague has taken me in its hold and has yet to let me go (not that I’m complaining). I feel like a completely different person now from the one I was when I hopped on that plane almost two years ago. And how couldn’t I be? I’ve been soaking up new cultures and trying to adjust to a completely different lifestyle. I see the world from a completely new perspective. And when I visit home, it feels like the only thing that has changed is me. I know that I’ve touched on this a bit in my old blog, but it’s true that being here isn’t a constant dream state of living. Although I’m living in Prague, I’m still living. I live paycheck to paycheck, I have horrible days, I’ve had heartbreak, I get homesick. Just because you’re in a completely different place doesn’t mean that your problems go away. You just have to approach them differently here.

So, how did I get here? Good question. Well, two years ago, I was desperate to find a way back to Europe after studying abroad. I looked up tour companies, au pairing, volunteering, you name it. I never really thought much about teaching until I stumbled across as a blog mentioning a TEFL course in Prague. Something about the way they described this course piqued my interest. I ended up scouring the internet for a good two hours ingesting all the information I could find about Prague and the TEFL course. After reading countless reviews and researching the city of Prague (and the Czech Republic), I just knew. I can’t really explain it any other way than a gut feeling. I had this gut feeling that this was what I was looking for. Everything about it just felt right. I never even considered the possibility of teaching English as a foreign language, but suddenly it seemed so clear. This was my ticket back to Europe. I believe that it was the very next day when I put down my $500 non-refundable deposit to TEFL Worldwide Prague. After finishing the one month course and receiving my certificate, I ended up teaching English in Prague for a total of 14 months. I taught preschoolers and pre-teens (scary right?). At first, I was really excited about teaching. It was new and fresh and I had so much to learn. After I hit the nine month mark, I found myself less and less passionate about teaching. And that’s okay. I knew that teaching was never my number one passion per-se, but it got me back to Europe and it was an experience. And I’m always up for a new challenge! I had a year contract with the preschool I was working for and stuck to it. By the end of the school year, I knew that I needed a change. I could feel myself pulling away from my happiness; it was exactly how I felt before I moved to Prague. I had a good job, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I remember thinking to myself, “If I’m in Prague, but I’m unhappy with what I’m doing, what’s the point?”. I knew that I had to find something else. I’m not the type of person to go through life hating their job…I just can’t be that person. I finished my contract at the end of June and was unemployed for about two months this summer. During that time, I sulked, traveled, cried, and seriously considered moving back home. All my close friends were gone, and without a job, I felt lonely and lost. Thankfully, God clearly had something better in store for me. I found my current job while browsing through a local expats website. The particular company I applied for was a popular online Czech fashion company. They were setting up their English website and needed English proofreaders. I went in for my interview and left basically praying that I got the job. A week later, I got a call that they liked my work and wanted me to start immediately. So from the end of August to late October, I got to work from home on my computer while making much more than I ever made teaching. I was happy. Then in late October, I got a call from my boss offering me a management position. I was over the moon! For about a month and a half now, I’ve been the coordinator/manager for all the English proofreaders. The best part is, I still get to proofread too. With this job, I’m so much happier and so much more at ease. I feel like I’ve finally found something that I love. And to think, I almost booked a flight back to the U.S. this summer. Life has a way of working itself out, and that certainly makes my soul happy. So tell me, what makes yours happy?