The Ones You Can’t Google

I went to Schönbrunn Palace today, one of the most important cultural monuments in the country, a former imperial summer residence. The palace is massive, greater than any I’d ever seen, and the gardens, you could get lost in them for hours. Beyond the main area of flowers, trees (like woods?) stretched in either direction. You could wander the stony paths all day. I spent three hours there.

My camera, however, didn’t. It died almost as soon as I got there. For a moment, I was ticked. Annoyed at myself. Then I realized this is probably one of the most photographed places in the world, anyone can see it online, and I’m going to spend the next two hours walking the gardens of an Austrian Palace just by myself, no technology but for maybe some Nat King Cole playing in my earphones.

For looking like the typical camera-toting tourist, I burn my camera battery on the most non-touristy things. I hope one or two of these moments catch your interest.

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Scenes from Vienna

Oh Vienna, you’re beautiful.

I walked all day yesterday, and most of this morning. I’m back at the hostel resting before another cruise around town. Did I say I was going to Bratislava? Wrong. Don’t listen to my plans until I show up in a new country. Night train to Krakow, Poland tonight… Enjoying many glorious days and nights in a hostel that includes breakfast, dinner and unlimited tea and coffee. My Vienna hostel… Not so much. Not at all, actually. But I guess that makes me venture out, if spend even more.

Yesterday’s route (imagine today I left my hostel and walked an hour the exact opposite direction):

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So anyone worried I don’t get out and see enough… I walked that big straight stretch, up and down, three times yesterday. And I don’t draw the side streets I wander up and down as well.

Vienna is lovely, if a little sleepy. Not much going on after 8:30p.m.

Kunthist. Museum

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Hofburg

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Parliament

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Rathaus

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Schönbrunn Palace

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And more…

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Grin and Bear Hug It

I get off the train in every new city giggling. It’s generally followed by a “What the heck am I doing in (city, country)?”

Giggle giggle giggle. Get on city bus to hostel. Get lost. Giggle.

I’m in a fantastic mood. Maybe I’ll buy lottery tickets today.

I took the train to Vienna, Austria today. It’s absolutely gorgeous everywhere you look. The architecture, the roads, the parks, the people. I’m here one night but coming back. My hostel is at capacity tomorrow, so why not slip over to Bratislava, Slovakia for a day or two? Back in time for the Vienna Boys Choir at Sunday mass and a night at the opera.

While walking, I take pictures of pretty things. You all know this by now.

But here’s a story you don’t get everyday.

I’m in the neighborhood with everything, it seems. The Hofburg Palace, State Opera, Burg Theatre, City Hall, Parliament, the university and the Museums quarter. Seen below, I snapped a shot of the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien.

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Pretty, right? Maybe I’ll ask someone to take my picture. Andrea taught me well when we traveled. Offer to take a couple’s photo, they’ll take yours in return. Or just smile, ask and say please.

I saw two middle-aged Asian men with cameras. The sole reason to make the admittedly vague ethnic description is to stress the mile-high language barrier between us. I motioned me + museum + camera, and got this picture.

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Yeah! I offer to take a picture of them, pointing my finger back and forth at the two of them.

Not a word of English being said, but heads are being nodded, two fingers are held up.

I’m still speaking English as though it’s going to help, reaching for their cameras. Not getting them.

Sure! I’ll take a picture of the two of you! that’s not what they’re saying

Both of your cameras? Of course! wrong, still wrong, you suck at this game

Two photos? Vertical and horizontal? Gotcha covered. no, nope, not that.

OHHHH!!! …you’ve got to be kidding me.

We never spoke a word, we never exchanged names… But we shared this moment. On three different cameras.

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I’m sending it out as my Christmas card this year: “Holiday Greetings from Nae and This Guy”

Maybe I resemble someone famous.

I wonder who.

Never Too Much

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Budapest, Hungary – Parliament

On a first date this summer – said like someone who had multiple first dates this summer – I said I write a lot. He said “Really? What’s your form” (or maybe it was forum, either way).

“I blog.”

Said it. Immediately felt like a huge dweeb. Does that even count?

“I write poems, too. I kinda have a knack for rhyming.”

Yeah, you could be the second coming of Dr. Seuss, Nae, you’re still not doing yourself any favors here.

But my, oh my, yesterday was a nice surprise. Hello everybody! 1,163 hits yesterday, dozens of comments, so much love (Never Too Much – great Luther song). The previous record was 252 – the day I posted the Steve the Saz series. Pretty sure that was just Ryan rereading about his spontaneous (and utterly unmailable) string instrument Grand Bazaar gift… Now worst-blown Christmas “surprise” ever.

Side note, wrote a bunch of postcards in Romania. Stamped them. Forgot to send them. Left the country. Bought postage again in Hungary.

I should just refrain from trying to mail anything.

I’m currently on a train to Vienna, Austria – city thirteen and country seven of this backpacking journey of mine. Steve got a suitcase thrown on his neck today. He looks okay, I hope he sounds okay. He’s going to make a great wall decoration someday. Merry Christmas!

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I went back to the love fence yesterday to read names and dates. My favorites aren’t the professionally engraved ones, but the locks that look like someone took a pocketknife, or the key itself, and wrote their initials. Spontaneous. “You feelin’ in love today? Aw, babe, me too! Let’s do this.”

As I was standing there, two women wandered over. They spoke English and were trying to guess the significance. I explained the story I’d heard the previous day and they asked if my name was on there somewhere. I thought about choosing a random lock and making a story, but the first one I glanced at wouldn’t do. I’d never pass for a Yvonne. I said no, no, and besides, I just got here.

It turns out these two women are here for a women’s conference being held at the palace, and they are both speakers. In fact, the woman I’m speaking to the most is from Washington, D.C., and is speaking about career development.

Bells are going off in this public relations/political science/unemployed brain. Career develop ME! I can love D.C!

The conversation didn’t go that direction, but it was a pleasant couple minutes. While she didn’t offer me a job (go figure!) she thanked me for the explanation and said goodbye.

“And I do hope you find love soon.”

Well, I appreciate that. Job is a job. It’ll happen.

As the four wise men once said, “love is all you need.”

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Sweet Dreams in Budapest

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Gotta love the “always-blurry-taken-by-a-stranger-just-to-prove-I-was-there” photo.

One backpacking skill I lack is the nerve to go out alone and grab a drink with locals. Of course, that wasn’t high on my skills list at home either. So, as many of the days go, walk, think, eat giant ice cream cones. Walk across some bridges.

And then come home and find out I’m on the WordPress homepage, and thousands will read yesterday’s post by the time I wake up tomorrow for my train to Vienna. Not a bad day for this 22-year-old.

Life is beautiful.

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Ellipses and (ink)

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Margaret Island, a 2.5km long island in the Danube River between the Buda and Pest sides

Walk and think.
Walk and think.
Got the energy.
Slept a wink.
Walk and think.
Straight line away.
No time to be back.
So I walk and think.
Get Ray Charles stuck in head.
I can see clearly now.
Sing along.
Skip and think.
Look for water.
Hydrate well.
Walk and drink.
Spill on shirt.
Get embarrassed.
Cheeks turn pink.
Walk and think.
Find Hungary’s làngos.
Deep fried pizza dough.
Sour cream and cheese.
Sit by fountain.
Eat, won’t shrink.
Favorite Beatles tune plays.
Carefully reroute to find it.
How ironic If I Fell.
Listen and think.
Think about Now.
I hate these sandals.
Purple and plastic.
Sore walk and think.
Think about Future.
Here in a blink.
Walk and think.
Got no roadmap.
Going on instinct.
(Oh enough with the parallels)
Not Now.
Stop that. Don’t think.
Take a photo of a duck.
Make eye contact, make offer.
Take a couple’s photo.
Smile, can’t wink.

Walk and think.

Walk and think.

Walk and think.

Take the journal out.
Put it in ink.

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Part Two: And all the rest.

One: I have only a small idea who reads this blog, but apparently about fifty people do. If you’re not someone I’ve talked to daily, or weekly, or recently, please shoot me a message. The blog is barely interactive, and I’d rather life stories be shared both ways… So let me know what is up! I’m equally, if not sometimes homesick and therefore moreso, interested in what is going on in your lives.

Two: Here is the open apology to my parents for last year’s introduction to backpacking, wouldn’t it be nice to go through Spain and Italy, France and Germany. “So we think she’s in Budapest, last week she was in Bucharest… Yesterday Dracula’s castle… Two weeks ago she was in Serbia. Yeah… We don’t really know.”

Broke my sandal today.

It was tragic. Not only have they been in nine countries, not only had I worn them forty straight days and I’d never had an inkling of pain or blister, but these were the sandals made in “The Poet’s” workshop in Athens, Greece, in July 2009, my foot measured, shape traced, and the leather strap holes in the base cut to perfect fit. Not by The Poet, but by his daughter.

Tragedy. I’m not ready to part with them. I started rerouting my trip to go back to Greece – how many days can I go barefoot? – before deciding it was going to get cold soon anyway… Tape will work in the meantime.

Luckily, I carry tape and my journal with me everywhere. Not that anything gets taped in the journal in a timely fashion – it collects for about three weeks until the writing in the journal doesn’t match the things next to it, and the receipts are halfway illegible by the time they get posted…

Spain/Turkey

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Serbia

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Brasov

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…but point is I had tape in my bag. And yes, there’s actually writing in the journal, too. But no one gets to see those gems. The journal came in handy one day… Jacob made me the Starbucks shrinky-dink bookmark two or three years ago while I was at school. On the bus coming back from the fortress near Plovdiv, Bulgaria, an English couple I’d struck up conversation with said “You’re American? Aw so you must be struggling, the coffee here is crap. I bet you really miss Starbucks.”

Well let me just whip out my journal and show you.

Now I’m the taped-shoe, no-hairdryer or makeup, long-haired, spandex wearing, instrument carrying backpacker.

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And that’s the way it ought to be.

Want to know what else is in my bag? A boatload of foreign coins I can’t use at the moment.

Euro

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Bulgaria lev

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Romanian lei

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Turkish lira

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Serbian dinar

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Every once in awhile, the post is less about what I did today and more “here’s what it really looks like.” Well, I barely know what I look like, I spend about four seconds a day in the mirror. So you guys see me about as much as I do.

That said, I get silly on my long walks somedays, and take quirky photos. Of birds, of other people, of reflections and shadows. Take a peek, see you again here soon.

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Part One: A Look at Budapest

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“Who here is in love, raise your hands.” Anna the tour guide asks and glances around. I giggle at the sight of women glancing sideways at who I guess are their partners (can I put my hand up? Is he?) and am reminded of a t-shirt I once read: Don’t worry guys. We have that premature “I love you” that happens. It’s just as embarrassing.

Oh hey now, flashback in a flashback! Sixteen. Said “I love you.” He said “thank you.” Damn.

Am I old enough yet to say ohhhh, high school… I think so. Pretty sure I’ve grown more into a Golden Girl than a Gossip Girl. Or Gilmore Girl.

But back to romantic, grown-up girl Europe.

“This is the love fence. If you are in love, and you come here, you write or etch the initials of you and your love on a lock, put it on this fence and throw the key in the Danube River. Then you and your love will be together forever.

Maybe you think you love him but you’re not sure, maybe just a romance? So maybe you buy combination lock instead.”

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Arrived in Budapest yesterday morning. Slept great on the train, probably because being alone in the dark, cold Brasov train station scared the junk out of me. But arrived in Budapest, caught the city bus to the Ferenciek Tere square… Only knew I was there when a teenage boy tapped me on the shoulder and said Ferenciek Tere is the next stop. I laughed and said how did you know?

Smile. “You’re holding a paper with directions, I peeked over your shoulder. The green gate to the hostel is across the street, just take the metro tunnel under.”

I never would have seen that green gate.

It would be four more hours before I put it together the time had changed between Romania and Hungary, so I wasn’t just trying to check in early, I was annoyingly trying to check in early. But I did, and I handed over everything I owned in a massive bag of laundry to the receptionist and the equivalent of $8 with a “this is so exciting.”

And then I walked. Buda and Pest (pronounced Pescht) used to be separate cities, but were combined approximately 150 years ago to be the capital of Hungary. I’m staying on the Pest side – flat, where all the business districts, parks, most visitable places are. You go to the Buda side to live if you’re rich, to climb hills to the palace and cathedral, and to eat too expensive food. Also to visit the courtyard where Katy Perry shot the video for Firework last year. Pictures below are of the “Chain Bridge” linking Buda and Pest, and the Parliament building.

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Walked a long time yesterday, had the cheapest Chinese food for lunch, walked more, walked more, got a headache, headed home. Went back out last night, sans camera. The city is absolutely gorgeous. Don’t have night photos, but lunch was great.

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Today, I was up and out for the 10:30a.m. free walking tour. These really are amazing. Tip-based, the guides are locals, not affiliated with the government, they’ll tell you everything, good and bad. History, politics, ways to avoid tourist traps, cute local stories, problems. They are so much fun, and three hours later you’ve tipped the equivalent of $5-10 for an incredible amount of “infotainment.” They’re perfect for me – my eyes tend to glaze over in museums, I don’t read history books, I’m just a poor student in that regard. But after today’s tour, I can point out which architecture stye is communist era (everything ugly, gray, square, undecorated), and what came before or has been redone after. Pretty cool.

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Dracula’s Casa. Way more of a fiesta when he’s around.

If that sounds like a complaint, it’s not. I’m pretty thrilled I’m planning this trip for myself, never know two days in advance what country I’ll be in and I still end up at places known as Dracula’s Castle.

I’m just saying, to take a bus to the bus station to take a bus to a castle to take a bus to a bus, it was a journey for a couple cool photos, which as always are below.

Learned I’ve learned something, and that’s always fun. Always buy bus tickets in pairs. Big deal if you never use the second one. Bad deal when you get caught on the bus without one. See, we’d left a main city bus stop in Brasov to get to coach bus station to get to Bran. Upon our (me and my bus friends of one hour) return to the coach bus station, there was no vending machine for city bus tickets, and me, a young couple and a normal adult regular person couple got on through the back entrance. I’m not sure the other four even knew a ticket was required.

Except I was the only one with a ticket. And no one on any city bus yet has checked to see if I’ve actually had a ticket stamped by the little machines throughout the bus. But they were checking this time, and all four of them got hauled off by two attendants to the police station, passports requested and everything. The one couple didn’t understand what was going on, I had the full idea of both sides (what they didn’t have, what they were supposed to have)… The attendant saw me explaining to them, thought I was Romanian, thought I could translate, which led to me waving off with a “no, no, American” and moments later waving with a sad and useless “good luck.”

Overnight train to Budapest, Hungary tonight. Learned that other lesson, reservation bought this time. 12 hours in a window seat. Off to my sixth country and twelfth city, for the first time hostel friendless on a leg of a journey. I’d had Jay Plovdiv to Veliko Tarnovo, seeing him again in Bucharest. Alex, Veliko Tarnovo to Bucharest, arriving one day later than her in Brasov to sleep (or Skype rant home about snores) in the bunk below her.

Not this time… Wish me luck. :)

Bran Castle

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And goodbye, Brasov… I climbed 183 steps to take some of these photos. Yep, I counted. Lots of free time to think, folks… Gotta keep busy.

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“Probably” Perfect

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These umbrellas are everywhere in Brasov, and they crack me up. They want to make such a profound statement, but with the slightest insecurity, they don’t want to disappoint anyone. I think they’re brilliant. Today, I wandered the streets thinking of where else “probably” would be great to use. I ended up at the altar, letting go of my soon-to-be husband’s hands just long enough to properly air-quote as I stare into his eyes and tell him in my vows “you’re ‘probably’ the best one for me.”

I spend a lot of time alone lately, wandering, thinking, smiling and laughing at myself. Some call it “endearing,” others “unsettling.” I sat in the town square for awhile, eating ice cream and staring up at the Brasov letters in the hills, wondering how long it took to put each letter up. For how long did the hill say BRA? A couple hours, a couple days? And then BRAS?

So much thinking time.

Today was a great day to arrive in Brasov. An autumn Saturday, so many weddings. So many people in traditional Romanian formal wear, suits, tuxes, carrying canes. Really played up the whole “Transylvania” idea everyone has. A cloudy day here, it didn’t make me crabby like in Bucharest. The sun peeking through clouds just made the architecture all the more old-fashioned and mysterious.

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