Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chelsea in New York City

Since you guys last heard from me, so much has happened. First, I apologize that this update has taken so long! It was surprisingly overwhelming for me, coming back to America. I had planned so much "catching up" and by the time I finally made it home, all I wanted to do was just hang out with my family. So, that's what I did. But, before that, a few things happened....

I got into JFK, said goodbye to Romeo, and headed into the city. The subway ride was long and mostly depressing. I passed through some seriously sketchy places, and was a little on edge the whole time, guarding my bags and trying to hide my iPad in my purse while simultaneously trying to see where we were along the subway line. I eventually made it to Kristen's stop, hauled my backpack on, and headed out. I wasn't sure exactly which exit to take, but I had a map of the area on my iPad and just needed to get oriented. Once I was above ground, I picked a direction and walked. Fortunately, I chose correctly and once I found a cross-street I recognized, I was able to find her building easily.

I buzzed her and she let me in, meeting me on the stairs squealing with delight. After dropping my backpack off, we went to her neighborhood bar down the street with her roommate, and her roommate's niece who was about my age. I was totally exhausted and after only a single beer (Blue Moon, my favorite), I was ready for bed. My body was working on the premise that it was around 6am, when it was really only getting close to midnight. After stopping by the bar across the street, we headed back and I passed out.

The next morning, I woke up fairly early and was starving. Kristen showed me this awesome app where you can order food to be delivered, and we ordered some bagel sandwiches. They arrived a few minutes later (the bakery was in her neighborhood, we were both just too tired to actually go). After getting ready, we headed out into the city.

First stop was the FedEx location to pick up a package, then we went shopping. Kristen showed me all the cool places and shops in West Village, her neighborhood, and we walked through Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and Meatpacking. At one point, we found a couch on the sidewalk. It was actually a pretty good couch, minus the fact that it was on the side of the road. We stopped to take some pictures, and a random guy walking by in running attire offered to take our picture together. He took a few and made some small talk, then we said goodbye. He was really nice!

We walked along the Highline, which is a park area built on former railroad tracks elevated through lower Manhattan. I'd never heard of it, and it was a beautiful and unique thing to do with Kristen. I had told her I don't want to do touristy stuff, just see her New York.

After a full day of walking, window shopping, and catching up, we needed to refuel. We agreed on sushi, since I surprisingly hadn't had any in so long. We went to a place in Meatpacking, I don't remember the name, and had some delicious sushi rolls. Finally, we headed back to her place on the subway.

When we got back, we immediately smelled burnt plastic. Kristen went into disaster-aversion mode and discovered that her roommate decided to use their oven for the first time in 3 years. However, she forgot to empty the bottom broiler area, and thus a big plastic water jug was currently being melted and warped, thus creating a toxic smell. Once we safely removed the guilty bottle, the apartment needed airing out. We propped the door open with a chair and decided after about 30 minutes that we should probably go to her boyfriend's apartment for the night so we didn't get sick.

However, before we could make a getaway, we heard a terrible howling racket. Kristen immediately knew it sounded like her roommate's cat, and we looked around, looked at each other, then both looked at the door propped open. The dumb cat had escaped. Kristen went searching the building for said cat, and I checked the fire escape (we had opened the windows as well). Thankfully, after a few minutes, someone opened their door and asked Kristen, "Um, did you lose your cat?" It had been yowling in the stairwell, and even after being taken in, had continued to disrupt the entire building with it's caterwolling. Finally, after we had her back in the apartment and the door closed behind us, we left the fowl-smelling apartment behind and walked a couple blocks to Kristen's boyfriend's.

We decided to make the most of my short time in NYC by going out that night, but not before a quick nap. Around 9:30, I laid down on the couch, just to refresh, and when I opened my eyes it was after 1am, Kristen was asleep, and there was no going out for us. I was disappointed but also so grateful for sleep. Unfortunately, going to bed so early meant that 5am rolled around and I was wide awake. I spent the next few hours reading and watching TV on my iPad. Soon after I woke up, however, I saw the flashing lights of an ambulance down the street, in front of what Kristen told me was Brooke Shield's apartment (and, where we had actually SEEN her come out of earlier that day!). I tried to be a little nose-y and look, but I didn't see anything of note. In fact, the ambulance could have been for the neighbors... who knows.

Finally, Kristen woke up around 9:30am, and we headed back to her place to get ready. I had an appointment at Warby Parker for an eye exam (yes, their retail stores do $50 no insurance eye exams!) so we headed to SoHo for the day. We popped into some shops and again I did a lot of window shopping. Finally we made it to the Warby Parker location and I had my eye exam.

My eye doctor was actually a Korean-American woman and we chatted about Korea. She didn't seem to miss it or want to go back, but it was fun to talk to her. I declined to have my eyes dialated but she did do some other test. She put a drop in my eyes then told her she was getting her machine really close to my eyes and not to blink. Later, my eyes felt really funny and I asked why. She told me my eyes were numb. Confused, I asked why she needed to numb my eyes. She confessed to me that her machine that got "really close" had actually touched my eyes. I freaked out!!! I literally NEVER KNEW those sneaky optometrists actually TOUCH your eyes with those things! Once I'd come to terms with that gross and weird fact, I picked out some glasses and ordered them. When we were finished, Kristen and I walked back towards her place. On the way, we stopped at a juice bar, called Melvin's Juice Box. We each ordered a juice and a wheatgrass shot. I figured it was worth it because I had been eating pretty poorly my entire Euro-trip.

As we sat down with our drinks, Kristen looked at the door, turned back to  me with big eyes and says, "Don't look now but Russel Simmons just walked in." No need to tell me not to freak out, because I actually wasn't sure who Russel Simmons was. Kristen continued to remind me to play it cool, but I just sat puzzled. I'd heard the name, but couldn't think who it was. Looking at the guy, all I saw was an older, casual yet well dressed black man. After he ordered, he sat down beside us. While he ate, Kristen slid her phone over to me with a wiki article pulled up and then I realized he was the founder of Phat Farm (as well as the founder of Def Jams, a hip-hop music label, apparently). He made small talk with us about juicing and after his meal (which looked super delicious and healthy!), he left. Once he was gone, Kristen properly flipped out. Apparently, we had seen a disproportionate amount of celebs for my 2 days in the city: Brooke Shields, cat-on-his-head-guy, and now Russel Simmons. (FYI: Cat on His Head Guy is apparently a NYC icon. In case you didn't know, this is him.)

http://iheartparsons.com/2013/03/11/chow-time-restaurant-week-part-2/
When we got back to her apartment, we freshened up and hopped in a cab to the East Village for dinner at her favorite Indian restaurant. We arrived and it looked a little sketchy but once we got to the restaurant itself I could see why she brought me. It was crazy, the entire 300 sq-ft place being absolutely stuffed with strings of lights. Here you can see what I mean. (That isn't me in the photo; I jacked this from Google...) Anyway, it was BYOB so Kristen and I brought a huge bottle of prosecco. We had good foresight and brought a bottle to bring the rest home that we didn't finish, but I guess the waiters didn't realize, so when the entire bottle was empty, they gave us looks of disbelief. Speaking of, the waiters were crazy nice. I guess Kristen goes often and brings people who visit, so they were super friendly with us. Kristen even sneakily told them it was my birthday and I got sang to and a little cake. It was hilarious and a lot of fun. Eventually we grabbed a cab back, as she needed to go to work the following day and I had a plane to catch.

The next day, I again took the subway to the airport, collected my baggage, and headed to Houston for a few days. I'll catch you up on that one soon, I promise. :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chelsea at JFK

On Friday morning, Romeo and I finally packed our bags for the last time. We were lucky that the guesthouse was so obliging about our departure times, as we finally got out the door around 12:30pm. We took some food (leftovers and pre-made mac and cheese) for the flight, since IcelandAir only does buy-on-board food. We made a few pit stops in Reykjavik so I could buy souvenirs, then headed out towards the airport. On the drive, Romeo stopped to get a rock along the shoreline, his only souvenir of the trip. At the airport, we had issues with the airlines wanting Romeo to check his large backpack, but we argued that the same airline had allowed it to fly into Reykjavik as a carry-on. I got extremely frustrated at this situation, but Romeo handled it well and eventually he convinced the airline employee that it would fit as a carry-on. We got through security and headed for our gate.

The flight was easy. We watched Oblivion together, then each watched another movie. I used the last of my ISK to buy us some snacks on the flight (neither of us much caring for our packed food). We arrived at JFK just one hour later (according to the clock). It was actually a 6 hour flight, with a 5 hour time difference. At the airport, we collected our luggage then headed to JetBlue to see if Romeo could get put on an earlier flight out. Unfortunately, they weren't very accommodating, and he had to stay the night at the airport. I took my bags to store them in another terminal, and then it was the moment I'd been dreading: saying goodbye to Romeo.

Since I was staying in New York City for the weekend, then heading to Houston, I wouldn't see him for another week. We embraced and said our farewells in front of the Air Train in the middle of JFK. I "got a little something in my eye" as we said goodbye, then I headed for the subway.


As I waited on the subway, I reflected over an incredible month and a half of travel with Romeo and had an overwhelming sense that something was missing as I headed into the city alone. But, with all the memories we had collected, I knew the trip would last forever in my heart, and this surely wouldn't be the last I saw of him...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chelsea in Selfoss

Wednesday and Thursday, November 12 - 13

When we woke up Wednesday morning, we raised our curtains and saw a magical land of white. Despite being so extremely far north in the world, and in nearly-winter, I still didn’t expect snow for some reason. When we had arrived, it was rainy and windy, but I just didn’t think it would snow! So, I was thrilled to see a layer of white over everything. I thought it was probably only a dusting, but when we put on our shoes to head over to breakfast, our feet sank at least an inch or maybe even more!

I was almost giddy with excitement, and I think Romeo got into the spirit of the snow; he lobbed a snowball at my back! We proceeded to tromp through the snow to the main building for breakfast. Near our cabin, we saw tracks. It looked to me like one set was some kind of small hoof, maybe a deer. The other set was definitely dog-like. Romeo thought maybe they were both dog, but we couldn’t be sure. Since our cabin was in a clearing near the woods (not thick woods, but definitely thick tree cover), we thought maybe it could have been some kind of wild animals. After all, we were in Iceland, a land where nature is far from tamed.

We made it to the main building and had a very good European style breakfast, complete with meats, cheeses, breads, and fruit. We decided to take it easy that day, since it was still pretty overcast and threatening to storm on us. We hung out at the cabin most of the day, but ventured out in the afternoon in search of food. We didn’t want to go to the same restaurant, but there wasn’t too many options so we went to the one other recommended restaurant in Selfoss: Kaffi Kafe.

I navigated Romeo to the area and we parked across the street at a grocery store. We walked across the road, dodging the ice patches in the roads. We got to the entrance and tried the door but it seemed locked. I tried it twice to be sure. Since the door was on the side of the building, we thought maybe the main door was actually on the front or other side of the building (nothing screamed “front door”), so we walked around. 

There were windows that showed people inside enjoying their food and coffee, but the next door we encountered was on the other side of the building. We tried that handle and it turned. As we opened the door, I knew in an instant that it was wrong. In the 2 seconds it took to open the door all the way, the entire kitchen crew had turned to stare at the gaping doorway. Broom and mop handles fell through the open door, and we started, embarrassed. I tried to recover with, “Um, where is the entrance???” When a guy responded with, “On the other side,” I responded that it was locked. He just said that the handle is stiff sometimes. Errrr... Awkward!

We walked BACK around, totally embarrassed, and someone opened the door for us. I swear that the door had been locked... But, alas. We entered and grabbed a seat, were provided menus, and we chose some very delicious looking meals. Romeo had a burger and I had a lobster pizza. As we waited for our food, we looked at the delicious desert counter and decided we should save room for some. 

Our food came and we devoured it. My pizza was very delicious, and Romeo enjoyed his burger. We got a slice of Bailey’s Cheesecake (made with Bailey’s Irish Cream) and it was sooooo good. After such a scrumptious meal, we agreed that the next one we should cook to compensate for such high prices in Iceland. We stopped at the grocery store and grabbed a box of mac and cheese.

Initially, we had planned to go to a swimming pool (discussed further in the next blog), but we were quite full and once we got into our warm cabin, we couldn’t be bothered to leave again. We spent the evening watching movies and relaxing, watching the snow-covered branches of the trees outside our windows sway in the wind. We drank hot chocolate and thoroughly enjoyed our evening. 

The next day, we again enjoyed our breakfast at the guesthouse. The weather was even worse; a freezing wind with constant drizzle. We weren’t too excited about the prospect of getting out in that weather, but as we were set to checkout of the guesthouse, there wasn’t much choice. We got ready and took our time, finally checking out around 12:30pm. 

A side note: both of our accommodation locations in Iceland were extremely relaxed. Neither of them had us fill out tons of paperwork, we paid at the end of the stay*, and they didn’t have any set check out times which allowed us to take our time and leave when it was convenient for us. We booked through booking.com, so I’m not sure if that was the reason, or if they’re just super relaxed in Iceland, but either way: I liked it!

After we checked out, we debated what to do. We had wanted to see Kerio Crater which was only about 10 miles away, but the weather was so terrible and it required a hike. Instead, we decided to go swimming.

Iceland has lots of natural geothermal pools and hotsprings due to its location. A very famous one is called the Blue Lagoon. Unfortunately, the Blue Lagoon costs approximately $50 each for the basic entrance fees. We decided to go somewhere less touristy. Many towns and cities have swimming pools that use the water from the naturally heated springs. These are usually around $5 entrance fees. Conveniently, there was one such location less than a mile from our guesthouse in Selfoss. We were a little nervous, since the pools are OUTSIDE usually. But, we got our bathing suits out and headed over.

The facilities struck me as similar to a YMCA or some kind of neighborhood rec center. We paid the entrance fee, about $4 each, and went into our separate changing rooms. Iceland requires bathers to wash naked with soap before entering the pools. I chose a locker in the women’s changing room, and got naked. As I was attempting to modestly de-robe, about 20 4th-5th grade girls came in. I guess the school next-door uses the facility for their gym class or swim teams or something. Anyway, I was properly embarrassed and found a shower head with a partial blocked view from the rest of the showers (no stalls, just shower heads in a large room) and rinsed off quickly. I had literally just taken a shower at the guesthouse, had put on no lotion or other products, so I was a bad guest and didn’t use the soap provided (oops). 
I met Romeo outside the changing rooms where there was an indoor pool. It was fairly utilitarian, a basic rectangle with lane markers. We had our towels modestly wrapped around us and made our way to the doorway. A bunch of kids were hopping in the pool and running in and out of the outside door, freezing bursts of air hitting us as we contemplated what to do. 

Eventually, we just said, “Lets go!” and ran outside. We made our way to the closest pool, which ended up being a toddler pool. However, we didn’t care and the water felt amazing as we eagerly doused our cold skin with it. After a moment to get adjusted, we spied an unoccupied hot tub nearby and ran to it. Finally, we were fully emerged in the water and letting our cores warm back up.

The weather was terrible. It continued to drizzle, the temperature hovering around 1C. However, being in the water made it so much better. When some of the fog lifted we could see the white mountains in the background and it was a bit surreal. We tried all the different hot tubs with varying temperatures (all of them being quite warm to very hot). Eventually we decided to try the actual swimming pool (complete with a SLIDE) and found it slightly cooler but still very bearable. Unfortunately, the big slide was closed so we couldn’t enjoy that. It was probably a good thing since the walk up the stairs would have been horrible with the wind and rain. 

After a couple hours between all the different pools and watching the kids doing their swim practice in the lap pool, I had had enough of the rain in my face. It was quite comfortable, temperature wise, but the constantly mist, and occasionally harder drops, in my face was annoying. We headed inside and rinsed off and got dressed. 

By that time, we were pretty hungry and decided to make our way back to Reykjavik, where we would spend our last night in Iceland. We stopped by one of the famous hot dog stands in Iceland and Romeo had a dog. I decided to save myself for a good meal in Reykjavik. We drove back, which took around an hour. We took a more direct road, but it wasn’t nearly so scenic, and there was a lot more traffic.

At one point in the drive, the fog got so bad our visibility was down to about 30 yards. I was so glad Romeo was driving, because I can’t handle situations like that. It made very nervous, but he handled it well and eventually it cleared completely. 

When we got into town, we headed back to the guesthouse we had stayed at the previous time. We checked in smoothly and dropped off our stuff. I used Yelp to find a good Indian restaurant in downtown Reykjavik. We hopped in the car and headed out for some dinner. Luckily, even though we had to pay to park in downtown, it’s only required until 6pm and we parked around 5pm, so we only had to pay for an hour. 

We had a delicious meal, but it was a little more expensive than we thought it would be. The menu said “for 2 or more people” but I guess that meant PER PERSON, because our bill was double what we expected. Luckily, that wasn’t too terrible. After dinner, we decided to walk around downtown and check out some of the shops. However, the rain picked up and most shops closed at 6pm anyway, so we didn’t get to do much else before heading back to the guesthouse.

The rest of the night was spent repacking my luggage to prepare for New York City. I needed to arrange my things so that I would not need anything out of my two checked bags, so I could leave those at JFK while I took just my backpack into the city the following day. We turned in early in preparation for our last day in Iceland and on our wild European adventure....

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chelsea in (the middle of nowhere) Iceland

Tuesday, November 12

We woke up at a respectable time, by our standards. We ate some leftover pizza and granola bars, and decided to make the most of our only clear day in Iceland, according to the forecast. We pack up and left our guesthouse en route for the Golden Circle.


The Golden Circle is a road that loops past some of south Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions: Thingvillier National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss Waterfall. As we headed out along Route 1, we began to see why Iceland is so gorgeous.

We were greeted by a beautiful sunrise at 9:45am (yes, it’s that late. There is not a lot of sunlight during the winter here!) of stunning colors. As we drove, we saw some snow covered mountains that seemed very near. We “ooh”-ed and “awww”-ed at every turn. We drove for a little while, and the sun was peeking from behind clouds. It was really clear and beautiful. 


After a while, we arrived at the Thingvillier National Park. We weren’t exactly sure what we were looking at/for. We parked and got out, only to be greeted by a BITING cold wind. We agreed to just go for a peek over the lookout section. We huddled together and looked out. It was beautiful. We took some photos and agreed to continue to brave the wind and venture further. We went down and between some rock walls to the bottom. There were a few other groups of people but it was pretty empty. We kept taking photos.

We decided to climb up to another lookout point close by. There were stairs and because of the cold, I was nervous that maybe there would be some ice. The temperature was negative 2C, so it was possible. I went first up the stairs, Romeo following to be sure I wouldn’t fall. We made it up, but then had to go down a little path to the edge lookout. Romeo went ahead of me and immediately he tried to brace himself, telling me to be careful because it was slick. I grabbed the back of his jacket to try to help him, but somehow I think I knocked him off balance because the next thing I knew he was on his butt on the ground. We died laughing and I almost fell on top of him as I tried not to repeat his mistake. 


We finally made it to the lookout and were rewarded with beautiful views. A woman who was there and had seen our wipe out told us she did the same thing. I couldn’t help but think “Well, why didn’t you warn us then?!” After a few quick photos, we decided we’d had enough of the wind for the time being. We headed back and decided to walk on the rocks next to the slippery path instead. They were MUCH easier, almost like natural stairs. 

Finally we made it back to the car and warmed up with our seat heaters. I keyed in our next destination: Geysir. Apparently, my research has given me to assume that this is the “original” geyser after which all other geysers ('geysirs' in Iceland) are named. One blog equated this to seeing the original Tree or Rock that all other trees and rocks are named. I thought that was pretty cute. 

On the way, we stopped for petrol/gasoline. We found a station in a small town and pulled up to the pump. After pushing some buttons and getting confused, we decided to try and pay cash at the register. We headed inside and asked the woman. She tried to explain to us about the system, but we were clueless, so she patiently led us outside to help us figure it out. Apparently, you put in your card (which you must have a PIN for, so we had to use my debit card), then tell it how much you will authorize. We were again clueless for how much we should authorize, since we needed about half a tank. The kind lady suggested about 7,000ISK, so we did that. We filled it up and it topped off at 4,925ISK. We had to put the card back in, then it printed a receipt for us. With a great deal of help, we mastered the process of getting gasoline in Iceland!!


After this ordeal, we decided it was time to find some food. We checked at several restaurants but everything seemed closed. We ended up just snacking as we drove to Geysir. When we arrived, there were many more people than had been at the National Park. We parked and followed our noses to the sulfur stinking geysir minefield. There were loads of smoking holes in the ground and we even saw Geysir go off as soon as we parked. We headed in for a closer look. It was bitterly cold, but the sun was out so we were lucky. Geysir went off again after about 10 minutes and we got to see it happen.

The water that all pools around the “blowhole” is steadily bubbling, but right before it blows, it kind of makes one huge bubble in the middle, which is vividly blue, and an instant later it blows sky-high. The first one we saw close up caught us by surprise, but we waited around for another, and we were rewarded with both photos and video coverage. After the third time, I started to not be able to feel my face. We decided to head back to our car. It was very cool to see, but just didn’t take too long. We popped in the restaurant/gift shop and I found the brand of Icelandic wool clothing that I had been wanting to see. I bought some wool socks and took photos with all the CUTE puffin stuffed animals. 

Finally we got into the car and once again warmed up, although this time our toes did not completely thaw. I drove about 5-6 miles up the road to Gullfoss Waterfall. There were two parking areas and we chose the one on higher ground, not really knowing the difference. Basically there are 3 viewing platforms, and you can walk between all of them. We went first to the middle one as it was the closest. It had pretty good views, but it was crowded. We took some photos, then walked down to the bottom level. It had a little better views, and there were far fewer people around. The last one was up higher and closer to the waterfall, but it looked like the views wouldn’t have been very good, so we didn’t go. We took lots of pictures, but by then I was starting to look like that scene from Dumb and Dumber when they ride the scooters to Aspen and their snot froze in icicles, but without the scooter. My face was numb and I couldn’t sniff back the snot, but then again, I couldn’t really feel it on my face anyway. I rushed back to the facilities near our car and got freshened up. 



As we were about to leave the Gullfoss parking lot, we saw the moon. It was 4:15pm, and the moon was just on the horizon. You could clearly see the moon on one side, and the sun starting to set on the other side. Both were pretty large in the sky. It was weirdly awesome.

Finally we headed to Selfoss, a town in South Iceland. It was a little over an hour’s drive, and by the time we arrived, we were starving!! We found our guesthouse, checked in (which was basically nothing! He just handed us the key, pointed out our cabin, and told us to enjoy!), dropped our stuff, and immediately headed to a restaurant. 

We went to a place called Kaktus (like the plant). The woman working looked like she was going to a club, but she was really nice. Her cute little daughter helped her take our order and bring our drinks and food. I ordered baby back ribs and Romeo ordered fish-n-chips. Both were very good! I ordered a small, but it was pretty much an entire rack. Romeo laughed at me using a fork to peel off the meat from the bones. We shared and his fish was very tasty. Both of us had french fries with our meal, and they were fantastic! Honestly, they probably had too much salt, but I love salty fries and they were so hot and crispy and salt, I just loved them! We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, both because it was tasty and because we had spent all day out and about with very little to eat!

We made a pit stop at the grocery store, but the big one called Bonus closed at 6:30pm, and we arrived just a little too late. I was shocked at how early they closed! We found a smaller store opened and bought some hot chocolate packets and some milk. We headed back to our cabin.

It was actually really fun to have a cabin rather than a room in a hotel/hostel. It wasn’t new or fancy, but very cosy and comfortable. We cranked up the heat, but after only an hour I was feeling sick because it was so stuffy and hot. We had to turn off the heater completely and open a window before I started to feel better. We made the hot chocolate and watched some movies before we went to bed. 

Little did we know, overnight it snowed... :)

Chelsea in Reykjavik Part I

Monday, November 11

After staying up quite late packing and getting ready to set out for the land of Ice, we woke up pretty groggy and not looking forward to dealing with the airport and its many hassles. We weighed our suitcases (each of us with 2, a carryon backpack, and a carryon personal item -- maximum allowance of STUFF), and my large one was 0.5 lb overweight, the other was under; Romeo’s were both around 0.8 to 1.0 lb overweight. We went back and forth deciding if it was worth a risk. 

We eventually just decided to plead with the agent if there was any issues. We packed our stuff into Erin’s little Hyundai Elantra and with the three of us in the car, we barely all fit. Erin drove us to the airport so we wouldn’t have to deal with the train while lugging our stuff. On the way, we stopped for me to get one more brötchen (bread roll). 

We got to the airport and hauled out all our stuff. I said goodbye to Erin (cry!) and we headed inside. The ticketing agent for Iceland Air was really nice. While scanning our passports, he asked how long we would stay in Reykjavik. I replied, “Five days” (wondering couldn’t he see our tickets on his screen?), and he smiled and nodded, saying, “Oh, verrrry good!” This response made me wonder if he was Icelandic, with such enthusiasm about our trip. When I asked, he replied “Oh, no, I’m part Italian, part Spanish.” Errr... Okay. 

We loaded our luggage up on the scale and he said nothing about the weight. In fact, it didn’t even seem like he checked our stuff, since he had us put everything up at once rather than one at a time. Whew!! The only other issue we were worried about was Romeo’s carryon, which was a large backpack (the backpacking kind...). We thanked the ticket agent and headed to grab a bite to eat. Our brötchen was pretty dry and not too great, so we were still hungry. 

I’m sad to say, we ate at McDonalds in the airport. I’m even sadder to say that it was pretty darn good. But actually, that was just about our only option, so maybe that excuses us? Anyway, after eating we headed to security.

I’m not sure if it was the time of day, day of the week, the terminal, or WHAT, but I have NEVER in my entire LIFE seen a security line so SHORT! I literally walked up, was greeted by a cheerful man who checked my boarding pass, was directed IMMEDIATELY to a security line. Had exactly ZERO wait, put my stuff in a box and walked through the metal detector. 

I always seem to set those things off, so I got the pat down. For some reason, the little wand kept ringing around my crotch, so I got a VERY thorough pat down. (No, nothing crazy inappropriate like a strip search, but she had to feel my pockets and the surrounding area!) When she had me turn around to check my back, I saw Romeo was receiving the same treatment. We laughed seeing each other getting searched. Finally they let me collect my things and I saw my backpack and been kept behind the conveyor belt. They wanted to check inside and I guess my metal padlock (used primarily for locking my stuff up in hostels) had concerned them on the screen. They briefly checked it out, determined it wasn’t a threat, and let me go. 

I took about 5 minutes putting my carryon back together, as my computer and iPad had been inside and now required repacking. Romeo got questioned about some of his prescription medicine (it has icepacks to keep it cold, so they always freak out about that), but we made it through fine. I think the entire time I was being searched and questioned about my very dangerous lock, NO ONE came through the security line behind me. Like I said, I’ve never seen it so empty. It was AWESOME.

After all that, we headed to our gate. It was about an hour before boarding time, and there were about 5 other people in the waiting area. We killed time watching clips online and surfing facebook, and around 12:50, they opened the desk. A few people got their tickets checked and went through, but there was no mad rush to the desk or huge line. Romeo and I walked up and after greeting our Italian/Spanish friend again (who was checking tickets), we went through a doorway into another waiting area. We sat down by another door that looked like it led to an airplane. 

Finally everyone was in this other room and then they repeated the process, only this time, rows were called by number. Once again, no mad rush to the desk when rows were called. Everyone queued peaceful and nicely. We boarded near the end, as I had requested seats near to the front. We got on and got seated. The guy seated next to me ended up being able to move to an empty row, so we had some extra room in our row. 

I kind of expected Iceland Air to be low budget and maybe a little crappy because the flights were quite cheap. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the seats as well as the TV monitors. They looked new and they were touchscreen (none of those gross and annoying remotes in the armrests). We had a huge selection of movies, TV shows, documentaries about Iceland, informative short films, and music. 

I was feeling a bit sick as the plane took off. I put on an episode of Family Guy and tried not to think about it. They came around for drinks (free) or snacks/meals (paid). We both got water and I chugged mine and took some medicine. Then I watched the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox. It was good but a little weird. I was especially intrigued by the way the movie used the word “cuss” instead of any actual cuss word. Here are some gems: “Badger: If you're gonna cuss with somebody, you're not gonna cuss with me, you little cuss!” and Mr. Fox: The cuss am I? Are you cussing with me?" and Mr. Fox: “This is going to be a total clustercuss for everybody" -- Yeah, it’s kind of obvious what they meant, but I thought it was an interesting change and glad they left out any actual obscenities since it was an animated movie.

Anyway, after this I blogged your previous two entries, and by then, we were about to land in Iceland! The weather was pretty grey and ugly when we cleared the clouds. It was also very windy and the plane was quite shaky. I got very nervous right before we landed and couldn’t help imagining us getting blown into an accident of some kind. But, thankfully, we were fine. 

We got off the plane, headed to get our baggage (using the free baggage trolleys!), and I am so sad to say there was NO IMMIGRATION checkpoint to get a stamp in my passport. I wanted one so bad!!! Dangit.

When we got past that point, we headed to get some Islandic Kroner (money) and then picked up our rental car. We had a Hyundai i30 automatic transmission. We signed everything necessary, then headed out into the elements to get our car. It was extremely windy and blustery, and starting to sprinkle. We found the car and packed up all our stuff. We noticed immediately that the fuel tank was not on full, as we had been told it would be. It was about 3/4 full. Romeo drove me back around to the rental car desk, and I showed them a photo of the tank and the guy wrote on our contract that it we only had to bring it back at that level.

Satisfied, we finally set our GPS for Reykjavik and headed out. The international airport is actually a little far from the city, so it took us a little bit to drive in. Romeo drove and got accustomed to the roundabouts, and we found our place with only one wrong turn. 

We were a little confused about where we were staying. The GPS took us to an area that looked to be businesses, but I found the correct street and house number. It was just a door with no sign. I got out and saw a small paper in the window saying the name of the guesthouse. It also said in order to check-in, we had to call Sam at some phone number. Very frustrated, I went back to the car to tell Romeo and complain that, if someone is in need of a guesthouse, chances are they are tourists and DON’T HAVE A CELL PHONE! 

After a deep breath, I decided to go back and knock on the window. I did so, and rang a doorbell. Finally a girl who looked about 18 came to the door and opened it. I said I needed to check in, and she started to say something about needing to call, but then she saw something over my shoulder and I turned around to see a man coming out of the building behind me. He looked at us and waved. The girl told me that was the owner, so thankfully I avoided a potentially hairy ordeal with not having a phone! 

It was pretty casual, with no paperwork or even ID check. He led me upstairs and actually let me choose which room I wanted between two. Romeo hauled our suitcases inside, and we got settled. The owner, Sam, pointed out the different things in the surrounding areas such as a supermarket and pizza joint. After searching online and seeing how expensive most meals are in Iceland, we decided to go to the supermarket and get something to cook in the guest kitchen provided. 

We headed back out (thankfully no rain this time), and over to the 24hour supermarket. I had a ball finding American brand products and my self control got some exercise trying to restrain myself from buying everything. We settled on getting some frozen pizzas and snacks for the next few days. We also got Romeo a hat since his jacket doesn’t have a hood, and some wool socks since his thin cotton ones also have holes in them.

Finally we headed back and cooked our pizzas and enjoyed relaxing in our sparsely decorated, yet clean and comfortable room. I was also pleased to discover the heating was through the floors, like in Korea! We went to bed somewhat early, after deciding to do as much sightseeing as possible the following day since it would be the only clear day in our itinerary. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chelsea in Heidelberg

Saturday and Sunday, November 9 - 10

We decided to go out of town on the weekend, as Erin had Saturday and Sunday off. Erin used to live in a town about an hour south of where we were staying called Heidelberg. We decided to go there. Erin also had a special friend down there, so it was mutually beneficial. I was excited to see another city in beautiful Germany, especially since it came after about 4 days of relaxation. 

However, Friday night Erin was kept at work until nearly 2am, so Saturday we had a late start. We all got up late and took our time getting ready. We finally hit the road about 4pm on Saturday. Thankfully, Erin drove and it took only an hour to get into town. We checked into our hotel and went straight to get a drink and some dinner.

Erin’s friend Ian took us to a traditional German restaurant that had menus only in German, which I take as a good sign that it won’t be touristy or overpriced. Ian had to translate the menu for us, and I chose to have some kind of pork steak with sauce and fried potatoes. Romeo got a schnitzel. We also shared some kind of dish that roughly translates to macaroni and cheese with fried onion rings on top. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious. Erin got Christmas on a plate: goose with potato croquettes, red cabbage, and cranberry pudding. It was so yummy! 

I decided that German food might be my favorite variety that we had tried. Italy was good but hit-or-miss; France’s food was mostly cold sandwiches; Amsterdam was unnoticeable; London was just expensive; Brussels was basically a liquid diet (cough, beer, cough); Hungary was really good with goulash; Bratislava and Prague were mostly eat-in. We had enjoyed the heck out of homemade food with Erin’s mom being basically a professional chef, but this was flipping good! I could gain a few pounds in Germany, for sure...


After dinner, we went to Ian’s local divebar called Joe’s. He told us that it’s a bit themed with metal rock music, but it didn’t seem too dark or weird. We had a variety of beverages, but I mostly had some mixed drinks. We’d had a LOT of wine at Erin’s, and I was beer-d out, too. We all hung out and chatted with the owner, Joe, as well as enjoyed the plethora of 80s music. Romeo and I headed out around 1:30am, but Erin and Ian stayed a bit later. It was a good thing we left when we did, or I think I would have been pretty ill the next morning. 

As it was, I felt pretty rough, but I was capable of thought and movement, so that was good. We had our breakfast at the hotel; I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh bread (brochen) that was still warm in the middle with real butter. Simple but delicious! We checked out at 11am, and waited for Erin in the lobby. We had arranged the night before to meet at 11am, since we couldn’t get WiFi in our room to text in the morning. However, with large quantities of alcohol comes a fuzzy memory, and I don’t think Erin remembered arranging that time with us. We ended up waiting nearly 3 hours.


Finally, Ian collected us and apologized for keeping us waiting with an offer to buy the first round of beers. At the mention, my stomach kind of churned, but we didn’t have much choice. We headed downtown and got to see the real city. Ian works at a university, but he should be a tour guide. He was showing us all these little landmarks we wouldn’t have known about, and explaining so much about the history of the town, traditions, and other “fun facts”. It was very interesting, but my body was protesting so we headed into a bar nearby. After a few glasses of wine, I was feeling better and we continued our mini-tour around the town square area.


We got to see the bridge over the Nachar River, the old castle (although I declined the hike up and tour around it), a couple old churches, lots of important plaques which were accompanied with loads of information from Ian, as well as lots of charming buildings. 

We drank at a local brewery called Vetter’s, where I found my favorite drink: beer with sparkling wine and real fresh strawberries. It was delicious and I could have continued drinking those all night. We also had some cheese spread that I enjoyed thoroughly. Eventually, we headed out again and found a restaurant. Erin remembered that I had been wanting fondue ever since our planned route through Switzerland turned into Amsterdam instead. We went to a German restaurant that also had fondue for two. 

We ordered that and when it came I think my jaw dropped. It was a big saucepan full of bubbly cheese. The waitress set down a plate of bite sized pieces of bread and I waited a beat, looking around for her to bring another plate with some other “dippers”. I expected at least some veggies or maybe apples as well as the bread. But, nothing came. I asked Ian to inquire if we could get something else as well, but when he asked her she looked very confused and said no, there was nothing else. I even offered to pay more, but she refused. (I miss American service). I was actually really stunned that they didn’t offer ANYTHING except bread. Also, the menu claimed for 2 people, but I think all 4 of us could have eaten on that and there still would have been leftovers. We ate as much as we could, and Erin shared some of her meal. Even so, when we left, I felt stuffed to the brim and not a little uncomfortable. 


We left and I was getting antsy to get back to Erin’s house, as we were leaving for Iceland the next day and I wasn’t completely ready. I could tell Erin wasn’t in a hurry to leave, and I didn’t want to cut her vacation short, but between body aches from putting it through liquid hell the night before and repeating the process again that day, and the huge quantity of cheese I’d ingested, I couldn’t handle much more. We eventually headed back to Hofheim around 10pm, arriving a little after 11pm. 

I spent about 2 1/2 hours getting my suitcases situation and weighed to the appropriate limit. Eventually I hit the sack completely exhausted and not looking forward to leaving such a comfy home for the frigid land of ice. However, I got up in the morning and felt pretty excited to see the beautiful landscapes and natural wonders of Iceland. And with that, I am sitting on a plane writing this, only 45 minutes from getting off the plane in that place. I am a conflicting ball of emotion between ready to get home and wanting to properly enjoy the last bit of the trip. In fact, my stomach is a little butterfly-y at the thought of being back in America in LESS THAN A WEEK!!!!

Wowwwwwweeee..... See you soon, America!!

Chelsea in Hofheim

Monday, November 4

Monday morning, we packed our bags yet again and headed towards our LAST ride on our Eurolines bus pass. We couldn’t be happier to be finishing up. I think I am going to do an entire blog on why you should avoid Eurolines at all costs. But anyway, we headed to the station and got on the bus. 

Unfortunately, it had neither power sockets or WiFi. We actually got on a little late, and most people had already boarded and gotten seats. There were no sets of seats together left, but I asked some French girls that were sitting across the aisle from each other if they were traveling together, and they offered to move so we could sit together. So, we disembarked heading towards Frankfurt.

The trip was boring and long. Despite having had some incredibly long bus rides, they all suck and they all feel like they will never end. I finished reading Ender’s Game (which, for the record, I much preferred to the movie). We arrived in Frankfurt at the main train station around 8:30pm and celebrated as we got off the bus with a happy dance and a decision to ritually burn our passes. (I’m sad to say, that never happened. I cleaned out my purse the next day and threw them away without thinking....)

We headed into the train station to find the train we needed to take to get to Hofheim, Erin’s town. First, I looked on an automated ticket machine. I typed in the destination, but there were about 4 different variations of Hofheim. So, we spotted a woman who looked official (thanks to her walkie-talkie). We asked her which Hofheim was correct, and she told us Hofheim am Tamus (something like that). 

I headed back to the ticket machine, chose the correct station, and was then confronted with two different ticket variations. They were the same train, which I’d already selected, but one said “via Wiesbaden” and the other was “via ohm something-something”. Once again confused, I clicked on each, seeing that there was a big price difference. The Weisbaden one was over 7Euro each, while the other was about 4Euro. On the way here, the ticket was about 4Euro, so I assumed that was the correct one. But, to cover our bases, I had Romeo go ask Official Chick again. She said the Weisbaden one (the more expensive).

I was pretty sure that was incorrect, so I decided to go ask Information Desk to be certain. I stood in line for about 5 minutes before Romeo spotted a sign for a live-person ticket desk (the line I was currently in did not sell tickets). We went in search for that, but apparently it doesn’t exist anymore, since we walked the length of the train station with no sign of said desk.

I headed back to the Information desk and finally got to the counter. The friendly German woman at the desk gave me a blank stare and asked, so sweetly, “Yes?” (Obviously, I’m being a bit sarcastic here. The woman was colder than an icecube.) I patiently explained our confusion, just like this, “I need some information; we are trying to get to Hofheim...” (no head nod, nothing...) “Um, Hofheim?” She snaps back, “Yes...?” and gives me a very irritated look and did a hurry-up hand gesture. I swallowed my annoyance and continued, “Yes, at the ticket machine there are two options with different prices. They have different via stations, so I need to know which to choose.” She turned to her computer and asked something that I didn’t hear. “Excuse me?” Huffing, she repeated herself. Once again, I couldn’t understand. I smiled and blushed and said “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” She then puts on what I can only assume is her version of an American accent and says, “What are the two ‘via stations’?????” (I felt like she actually said it with 5 question marks, too). By now, I am really trying to control my frustration with her attitude. I replied that one was Weisbaden, the other I did not know how to pronounce, but started with ‘ohm’. She LITERALLY rolled her eyes and typed into her computer for half a second before saying, “That one... Not Weisbaden.” Just to push her buttons even more, I gave her my most winning smile and said with just a bit of sarcasm “Thank you SO much.” 

We FINALLY bought tickets, but then had to figure out where the train was leaving from. There was no clear indication on the ticket, so I compared the departure times with the departures board and found one that matched and seemed to be right, so we headed there. There was a notice saying the train was running about 15 minutes late, so we grabbed some Chinese to-go. A train rolled into the platform, but after everyone got off, no one got on and the sign on the front changed to say something about night (several other non-occupied trains on platforms said the same phrase). I assumed that meant the train was done for the day. I finally saw a conductor in the train and asked him “Hofheim?” He replied “Nein!” He must have seen my face completely fall, because he then responded in English “You must take the S8 downstairs.” 

I couldn’t help it; I was beyond frustrated. No one could give us consistent information and it seemed we were going to be stuck in the station indefinitely. It was already 9:15pm, our train supposedly left 20 minutes prior, but who knows which train that was supposed to be. We headed downstairs to the subway system and I found Hofheim listed on the board. It was the S2 train rather than the S8, so I was a bit confused. We checked the map and I was pretty sure the S2 was correct. Of course, that one had literally left about 1 minute before we confirmed it was the right train, so we had to wait another 17 minutes for the next train. By the time we got on the train, it was after 9:30pm, and we’d been trying to figure out how to get home for over an hour.

I was actually a little worried that the tickets we bought were for a different kind of train, and that if we were checked, we would be told that our tickets were not valid. I was too exhausted and my brain too fried to do anything, though, and we held our breath. Thankfully, no one checked and we disembarked at the correct station after about 20 more minutes. We lugged our bags to the closest taxi and I showed him Erin’s address. He nodded that he knew where to go, and 5Euros and 4 minutes later, we pulled up at the closest thing I’ve had to home in over a month.

We got inside and Erin’s mom welcomed us back. Erin was still at work, but we had a bite of food and a glass of wine with Moe (Erin’s mom) and regaled her with some tails of our adventures. I practically fell into bed that night after Erin got home and we caught up a little bit. 

The rest of the week was pretty lazy. Erin worked doubles at the restaurant most days, so we only got to spend time together after work and on Wednesday when she had a break. Mostly, I sorted through my clothes and parred down my suitcase contents. I had too much stuff, and wouldn’t be able to fit it all. We also drank a lot of wine, ate some amazing meals Moe fixed every night. We had a fun night with Erin on Wednesday, but fell asleep pretty early most nights. I worked on some photos from our trip, regretting the 33GB of photos I took. And, I relaxed, and it was amazing. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chelsea in Prague Part II

Saturday - Sunday, November 2 - 3

We took the metro into the city and headed for the big castle in Prague. I wasn’t entirely sure what the best places to see in Prague were, despite having a convenient guidebook provided for us by our host. But, I always like a good castle so that seemed a good place to start. We navigated the metro (which was pathetically small - only 3 lines!) and ended up on the southeast side of the castle grounds.

We walked up quite a hill towards the castle, a little unsure of where exactly we were and what we were looking for. We walked for a while and I realized that I was absolutely starving. I’d eaten breakfast, but it was a while back and I’d had nothing to give me energy (Romeo continues to attempt to get me addicted to coffee... I continue to resist adamantly). We decided to make for a restaurant we had seen recommended in the guidebook, which was located on the opposite side of the castle.

After a good 10-15 minutes of (strenuous) walking, we finally made it to the actual castle! It was pretty formidable to see up close, but the surroundings made it hard to get a good view of it. You couldn’t get a good enough distance to get the whole thing in your camera’s lens, and your neck hurt from looking up so sharply. However, it was pretty cool!


We got as good of photos we could, then my greatly diminished energy levels prompted us to turn our attention to food. We would probably have skipped the tour of the castle anyway, due to the price, but my need for some sustenance made the decision much easier. We continued our walk west and finally found the restaurant we had been looking for. 

It was an Asian restaurant, combining Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese dishes. The interior was slightly underground and the lighting was extremely dim. Despite it being mid afternoon, the small windows near the ceiling were blocked, so we could only see by candle light. It was a nice atmosphere, but strained my eyes to read the menu. Upon a recommendation from our waitress (who sported blue hair), I ordered the pad thai.

When the food came, both our jaws dropped at the sight of such a huge plate of food. It was piled high with layers of food. After removing half the garden from the top of my plate (mostly it was sprigs of some kind of herb, I’m sure), I finally got a bite. I would swear that this was the best pad thai I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was delicious. I ate as much as my stomach could handle, shared some with Romeo, and still the plate was not empty. We were both stuffed as we left.


When we left, twilight was starting to set in. The time change that happened a week ago was really taking its toll on us, as most of the time our days didn’t even start until noon or so. Four and a half hours of daylight isn’t enough! (Yeah, I know we could have gotten up earlier and gotten out earlier, but we’re on vacation okay!)

Anyway, we decided to head for the Old Town to see the Astronomical Clock (which is a big deal for about 60 seconds once an hour when it rings) and to get some dessert at a recommended bakery. After getting a little more money converted, we headed there and got some nice views of the castle from across the river. 

As we walked through the Old Town square, we saw a man riding one of those old school bikes with the huge front wheel and tiny back wheel. With Romeo being a huge bike nerd, I knew we had to at least pause and watch the guy. After a minute of riding in a circle, the guy hopped off and started to chat with some spectators. He encouraged some girls to ride it, but everyone declined. He amicably took some photos with onlookers, and I kept pestering Romeo to try to ride it. He was hesitant, but I finally convinced him and the man cheerfully showed him how to get up and peddle.

Romeo got up fine, and the man kept a hand on the back of the bike as he peddled, but Romeo still nearly got horizontal with the ground at one point (well, maybe not that bad, but he did tilt a bit at one point!) Romeo steered it back around and hopped off. I caught all of it on camera with his GoPro, so we have proof that he has now ridden one of those kinds of bikes (which probably have a real name but I don’t know it!)


After this amusing sidetrack, we found the Astronomical Clock and got into a good position to watch it when it struck the hour. I’d read that it is a lot of hoopla about nothing. The 12 disciples are shown through a window atop the clock, and it plays some music and stuff. I think there are probably more interesting aspects to it, maybe about the inner workings of the clock itself, but it was just a touristy attraction and it was over very quickly. 

We then walked down the road to Bakeshop, which is exactly what it’s name implies. On the way, we saw a very interesting art installation made of lots of cubes of shiny metal, the image which is indiscernible from some angles, but from the correct one you can see it is a pregnant woman on her knees with her legs spread and her hands behind her head. You can see her big belly and boobs. Of course, we had to take a ridiculous photo (Romeo being “born”) and witnessed others giggling like school children at the crazy statue/thing.

Anyway, at Bakeshop, we each got a piece of cake. I got Devil’s Food and it was crazy delicious! Romeo had carrot cake. The slices were pretty expensive, but they were so delectable, and we had been saving a lot by cooking recently, so I splurged. 

Once we finished up, we headed back to the flat and enjoyed another low-key evening playing cards and having a drink or two. So far, Prague had been good but I was still feeling so drained of traveling that I wasn’t really appreciating things like I should. We hoped to rest up the next day, as the forecast predicted a lot of rain. Goodie, rain, my favorite......... -__-

The next day was extremely uneventful. We woke up late, looked at the weather, and decided not to do anything. Well, nothing touristy or cultural. We did decide to go to the movies and see Ender’s Game. I was about 3/4th way through reading the book (I was the rare child that did not read it in freshman English), but the other options were pretty weak, so I decided to see it despite not having finished the book.

All in all, it was a good movie. I much prefer the book (which I finished within a day of seeing the movie), but it did a good job with what it did. It left out a lot, and changed some details, but it was still pretty good.

After the movie, we once again rationed our remaining funds to be sure we had enough to get to the bus the next day, and determine how much extra we could spend on food. We ate at the flat that night, making the rest of the pasta we had and basically polishing off everything else we had. It was good but, despite being full, I was sad not to have more. I think I just hate being so low on money that there is no possible alternative. I like to have choices, even if I choose free or cheap. Does that even make sense? 

Well, being that that was about all we did, I’ll wrap this blog up. In the next entry, Romeo and I take our final bus ride back to Frankfurt, and in future entries will come Iceland adventures, New York adventures, and maybe some Texas adventures (finally!) So stay tuned.

Chelsea in Prague Part I

Friday, November 1

There were no tears shed as we left Bratislava. I was actually cheering in my mind. We had a nice time at the apartment, getting to rest and relax a lot, but that town was NOT my favorite (okay, it was my LEAST favorite!), so I was very pleased to head to the bus station.

We waited on a curb for a little bit for our bus to pull up, and when it did, I think my eyes just lit up. We have had numerous problems, of a great variety, with the Eurolines buses, and to see “Business Class Eurolines” as well as “free WiFi hotspot” and “220 Power Outlets” I might have even done a happy dance.

We lined up and put our stuff under the bus, then we boarded. More legroom, free bottles of water at the front, magazines to read, and true to their word, power outlets! I grabbed our favorite seats that are right next to the back exit door, which don’t have any seats directly in front of them (aka: no one reclining into your face). I was anticipating a fantastic 4 hours to Prague.

Unfortunately, as with every other bus ride on this trip, there was indeed something wrong. BUT, for the first time, it wasn’t Eurolines’s fault. The road conditions were so poor nearly the entire way through Slovakia and into the Czech Republic that we kept bouncing. The little table-like thing in front of us was bouncing and squeaking and thank goodness for seat belts because I was bouncing too. I got a massive headache from this and felt sick almost the entire way. Bonus: the promised WiFi didn’t actually work. Boo...

But, we did finally make it to Prague! We arrived a little late, so I had to get WiFi at the bus station to send a message to our next AirBnB host to tell him to meet us a little later. We needed to make a reservation to Frankfurt (Hallelujah!) and get some food! While on the WiFi, I found a map of Prague and saw that a KFC was nearby. We had both been craving something of the sort, so we made a beeline.

About halfway there, we realized we don’t have any local currency. I am thoroughly annoyed by countries in Europe that don’t use the Euro! While the exchange rate is usually a little better than the Euro (usually only marginally so), it’s a huge pain in the butt to exchange money all the time! We crossed our fingers that maybe they accepted Euro. 

We got there and sure enough, they accepted Euro and would give change in CZK (koruna). We both happily ordered and sat down. Only then did was start to calculate exchange rates and realized that our meals were not very cheap! And, the exchange rate at KFC wasn’t exactly the best we could have gotten. Romeo languished over this for a while, but I munched away and just called it stupid tax. I mean, of course the FAST FOOD JOINT wouldn’t have a great rate, but whatever... We got our food and we didn’t have to walk all over creation to find a currency exchange with a favorable rate. 

After we ate, we headed to the metro and easily found our way to the proper stop. We met our host, Vilem, at the entrance and had no problems. The flat was extremely close to the metro, only 3 minutes by walking. It was on the 16th floor of the building and had huge windows along one wall. In the darkness, the view was only mediocre, but in the daylight it was pretty good! The flat was similar to what you’d find in Korea - one big room with a kitchen in the same room as the bed, etc. It was much bigger than my apartment in Korea, though! 

We got settled in then headed to the grocery store nearby to grab a couple of things. We wandered and tried to translate different names of items; I bought lentils (I had a weird craving!), pasta sauce for the pasta we had brought from Bratislava, a couple of drinks, and a loaf of bread. Romeo got eggs, more beer, some yogurts for breakfast, and chips. As we were walking out of the store, we saw a big glass window showcasing bongs. WHAT?! We literally walked back to stare. My jaw dropped!

Upon further investigation, I guess pot is “kind of” legal in the Czech Republic. Basically, possession in small amounts is alright but you can’t distribute and I’m not sure about growing. I was shocked, though. I’d had no idea! After we discovered this, I happened to notice our host’s taste in decor: he had a big canvas painting with pot leaves all over it. To his credit, it was surprisingly tasteful! It honestly looked like art; obviously, I didn’t notice the marijuana leaves for a few hours!

Anyway, we had a very low-key night in. I was disappointed to find no English TV stations, and no external hard drive stock piled with movies. However, that was probably a good thing! Instead, we played card games with some mini-cards we found in the desk. Add some iTunes Radio on the speakers, and it was a pleasant evening. 

We got some good rest and the following morning, after breakfast, we headed into the city.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chelsea in Bratislava

Sunday - Wednesday, October 28th - 31st

I am writing this a week after the fact, and I think I will group all of the happenings in Bratislava together, despite that they were spread out over 4 days. That's how exciting it was. *sarcastic voice here*

Well, we got up and got packed on Sunday and headed to the train station. We stopped at the station where we had bought our train tickets at to try to see if we could get any cheaper tickets. I had suspected we had overpaid for ours after looking online; I thought maybe we had round trip tickets instead of one-way. The lady at the counter told me that we had the cheapest tickets, so I just nodded okay and we were on our way. I think she was employing the Korean-way of "I don't actually know, so instead of finding out, I'll just say no". Who knows, but we didn't have time to worry about it.

We then headed to the *other* train station where our train was leaving from. We had barely $.50 worth of change, but we were hungry. I spied a change counter with a big "No commission!" poster, so I changed my 7leftover from Brussels and we got gyros and a coke to share before getting on our train. It was so delicious! We then jumped on our train and spent about 3 hours and something on the train. It was mostly uneventful, but quite enjoyable. I loved going through the countryside and getting to see vast green spaces and endless sky. I spent a while just staring out the window. One interesting thing that happened was when the ticket guy came around to check tickets, the chick across the aisle from us had issues. I couldn't completely figure it out, but she had a print out and I guess she was supposed to have gotten a different ticket at a counter before leaving. She had to pay something like 50in fines. She was pretty pissed (understandably, I think), and as the ticket-checker walked off, she kind of mouthed off to him. It was awkward yet entertaining. (Hey, at least it wasn't us this time!)

We finally pulled into Bratislava and got off the train in the late afternoon. We consulted a map and decided to walk the mile or so to our next place. We had again reserved a flat through AirBnB. The sun had set by the time we got there, and the process of finding the apartment, key, and entering the flat was a bit confusing. The key had been left for us under the mat, but when we entered, we thought maybe someone was actually in the apartment. I had been sure that we rented the entire flat, so this was particularly concerning. We poked around for a bit and decided no one was there after all...

We found a note with the WiFi password, so I logged on and sent a message to our host. He responded that he was at work (therefore he wasn't at the apartment, thankfully). However, he had left food in a skillet on the stove and the washing machine was running. I felt like that was awkward and weird for expecting to have guests. He messaged me saying he was going on vacation the next day so he had to wash some things and would come by later that night to pick up some last minute things.

Overall the apartment was quite different from our last place. It was our host's actual home, so it had a lived-in feeling. It was comfortable and clean for the most part. I guess I just felt awkward with all the photos of his son and his personal items scattered around. However, I was happy to discover his external hard drive hooked up to his 50" flatscreen in the living room.

We settled in and after a bit of research, found a nearby restaurant we could walk to. It was Italian and a bit of a walk, but it was also cheap and delicious. I had one of my favorite pasta dishes that I haven't had in over a year: gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce with pears and walnuts. So yummy!! After stuffing ourselves, we headed back to the apartment and watched a movie.

The next day (Monday) we had a lazy day. The weather was totally overcast so we spent the day in front of the TV watching some much-needed English TV/movies. We did make it out of the apartment around 4 in order to head to the bus station and make our reservation to go to Prague. We also needed to get some groceries so we could cook.

We walked about 2 miles to the bus station (in chilly wind with some light rain at times... aka terrible weather to walk in!!), but we were able to get the reservation we wanted with no problems.


We then walked about another 3/4 of a mile to the big Tesco in town. After an hour of shopping, we spent about 45on essentials (groceries and wine and beer, of course). Loaded down like a couple of pack mules (okay, Romeo was more of the pack mule and I just had one heavy bag), we began our way home. We luckily were able to get a tram from right outside the store to right in front of our flat. I was glad I had looked at the tram station near our apartment that morning and seen which tram numbers went through it! We unloaded our bags and made some dinner. Then, we watched more movies... (sensing the theme here...?)

The following day (Tuesday) had even worse weather than the previous one; actual rain storms and exactly zero sun. Romeo braved the elements and went for a run. I think he found the single hour that morning in which it wasn't completely miserable outside. When he got back we had breakfast and again watched movies for a while. Actually, that's the only thing we did...

I was starting to feel guilty about how little we had done (well, how few "cultural" things we had done) in Bratislava, so I tried to look for a few things we could do the following day, which had a much better weather forecast. I decided that I am just tired. Yeah, we rested and slept a lot those couple days, but travel in general is just exhausting. And we had now been on the road for about a month. That can wear you out! I just didn't have the enthusiasm and energy to be a good tourist...


However, on Wednesday, we did finally make it out to do some sightseeing. I wanted to see Bratislava Castle, and Romeo wanted to show me Old Town, which he had seen the previous day on his run. We walked to Old Town in the early afternoon and just enjoyed being together and being outside in decent weather. We walked a while and then decided to get a bite to eat. Neither of us wanted to spend too much money, since we had just dropped a bit at the grocery store. We ate at a little cafe and each had a little slice of cake, and Romeo had a coffee. We realized as we left that the cashier had given us back our balance (7) rather than our change (3, out of a 10 we gave her). We decided to accept our good luck and pay it forward rather than go back. With renewed energy (and sugar coursing through our veins), we walked further through the town and took some photos.


As twilight set in, we finally got to Bratislava Castle. We walked around the outside wall for a while then climbed to the outlook point. There were loads of high-school kids there, so we got a view and a photo, then decided to head back. I was exhausted by that point. We passed a pretty cathedral (St. Martin's, I think) and enjoyed the area. Finally we found ourselves back at the Tesco and grabbed the same tram home. I was just glad that we made it into town whilst in Bratislava. But, overall, I wasn't too impressed. It was dirtier and not as cute as Budapest, and just had very little personality. But, I can now say I've been to Slovakia! So, that's something...


List of Movies We Saw in Bratislava:
Django Unchained
The Hobbit
The Internship
Shawshank Redemption
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs
Black Swan (I fell asleep before the ending)
The Departed (Romeo, not me)
The Great Dictator
Jobs
What Happens in Vegas
and How I Met Your Mother: Season 7 (all of it)





Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chelsea in Budapest Part III

Sunday, October 27

Our alarms went off at 9am and we finally got up and got with it in a timely manner. We ate a moderate breakfast (meager compared to the two before it) consisting of two eggs, some sausage and the last of the baguette. We headed out around 11am and got our bikes at 11:30am, just in time to have a complete 6 hours and turn the bikes in at 5:30, right before closing time.

The bikes were actually pretty decent. Romeo's had a bell, but mine didn't. I wish they'd have had a basket, but otherwise they ran well and were pretty comfortable (although my booty today would disagree!). Our first stop was Parliament. We got to the back side of the huge building only to find fences blocking our view due to construction. We tried to navigate around the people but with bikes, it was a bit tiring. We finally decided to jump back on the bikes (we had been walking them) and see the building from the other side of the river later.


So, after that we headed to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. We biked to mid-way across the bridge over the Danube and then turned right onto the entrance road for the island. There were loads of people renting four-wheel multi-person bikes, kids two-seater bikes, even small golf cart type-vehicles. I was very glad we had rented the bikes and ridden them onto the island, as these all looked more cumbersome and more expensive (and more annoying).

We saw a large fountain in the middle of the park when we first got on the island and everyone was watching it expectantly so we stopped to see what might happen. About 2 or 3 minutes later, some music started and the fountain began! It was a water-show to some Hungarian music. It was cool to watch, but when the second song started we decided to continue biking. The island is about 2km long, and while we did not do a proper circumference, we probably biked the same amount. It was like one big nature reserve. Tons of trees, all of which had orange and yellow leaves both in their branches and covering the ground below.


We took a little break and laid in the leaves under a big oak and had a cookie from our snack bag. It was beyond gorgeous and I couldn't be happier. After a bit, we hopped back on the bikes and finished the island. After we got to the hilly Buda side of the river (we were staying on the flat Pest side), we took the path along the river, the same which I had stormed along the previous evening heading home. We paused across from Parliament and tried to get some photos. There was a big boat in the way, so our photos unfortunately are marred by that pestilence.



By then we were ready for some lunch, so we biked around the back roads and found a cafe serving goulash (which I was craving since the night before). We each had some stew, Romeo trying Hungarian cabbage and meat stew since there was only one serving of goulash left and he was a gentleman to let me have it. Since we had already completed 7 miles, we treated ourselves to some dessert and I chose apple pie. It was an odd kind of apple pie, as it looked like more of a tart being a square flat pastry. But, it was pretty good.

We finished eating and continued our path towards the Citadel area which google claimed had unrivaled views of the city. For some reason, I really wanted fantastic views more than anything in Budapest. We biked to the base of the hill and locked up the bikes. From there we had to hike up to the top, which was about 3/4 mile. It was a beautiful area, full of trees and couples walking along paths. Budapest also seems to have so many dogs! People seemed to take their dogs everywhere, and this area was no exception. We watched dogs playing along the hillside and enjoying the weather maybe more than I was enjoying it.

When we got to the top, the views were phenomenal. We were pretty tired by then, but still took some photos (finally, I got our photo with a view!). A couple next to us offered to take our photo in return for taking theirs. I agreed, of course, as I am always trying to find someone to take a photo for us. The guy's camera was badass! It was huge and I didn't blame him at all when he made sure to hang the strap around my neck. The photo I took was awesome, too. I love my camera, and I think it's perfect for my needs and lifestyle, but when I get filthy rich one day, I WANT THAT CAMERA!


We then headed back down and grabbed the bikes. Originally I had wanted to go to the Central Market Hall, but with our dwindling funds (down to about 1500 HUF, or $8, total), I decided against any temptation to spend money. Instead we crossed back to the Pest side and biked along the river. We caught a beautiful sunset against the backdrop of the Citadel and wound our way through the streets once we could no longer follow the river. We stopped by a grocery store and bought some more sausages.

We returned the bikes right at 5:30, and walked home. Along the way, we bought metro tickets with the last of our remaining money to get us to the train station the following day. We literally had pennies in our pockets, maybe totaling $0.40.

We got home and collapsed. I fought the temptation to take a nap and instead made some dinner: the last of the pasta, two sausages, and two potatoes (fried). We ate and lamented the lack of more food, but I was full by the end.

We fell asleep early, after each of us talking to our parents on FaceTime/Skype. It was a full and exhausting day, and we had to wake up and pack in order to make our train the following day to Bratislava. All in all, I fell in love with Budapest, probably due in large part to the phenomenal weather we experienced and the sunshine I had missed severely in our rain-soaked previous locations. So far, I am loving Eastern Europe!







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