Halfway There… And what have we learned.

It’s 6:30p.m. in Berlin. I’m at a little pizza place looking out at a major intersection. It’s one of those intersections where underneath, just down a flight of stairs, you find an entire city, complete with a hairdresser, bar, pawn shop, McDonald’s and certified Apple reseller. I like taking the underground route across these intersections just to see if I end up on the right corner when I surface. It’s 50-50.

I’d have gone somewhere more German(?) for dinner, but I hobbled to get here as it is. Two months in, cold weather setting in, my body is finally saying alright, dummy, relax. My right knee started hurting two days ago and I see some sort of brace coming in the future. Imagine that happens when you spend all day, everyday, walking. Eleven hours, yesterday, to be precise. In addition, the urge to be adventurous was curbed today when I woke with a sore throat. I’d guess my two rebellious nights of being a drinking lightweight followed by a third night Skyping until 3:30a.m. did me in. I’m not complaining, as long as I don’t lose my voice. No one wants to Skype someone who just talks in whisper. I’ve met that person. You don’t want to talk to her in person, either.

Today and tomorrow are quiet days. Today’s big adventure was laundry. It involved getting admonished by two people, one who thought I cut the line (I’d been there twenty minutes) and the lady at the register when I asked for my change in change. “NO.” Tomorrow, I’ll go to Amsterdam on an early train, arriving midday. Maybe I’ll find some cure to my knee aches there. Heh heh heh. Yay? Nae?

Good gosh, I love brownies.

But for now, where are we, halfway done.

I started this trip thinking I could do it. I knew I wouldn’t die.

Excuse me while I knock on wood…

The sounds of “Have you seen Taken?” “Alone, four months, really?” echoed. I packed my bag relying on the core group of people who believed I could do it, some more confident than I.

But then you get over here, and everybody is doing the exact same thing. Alone. For just as long. For longer. The longer trips are always Australians, at least 80% of the time. Word is there are 22 million Australians and 2 million are on holiday.

The Americans you meet are mostly on shorter trips. Nine out of ten are from California. Not just my observation – my Canadian roommate told me the same this morning. She told me to say I’m from New York, it’ll make me more interesting. She and I also celebrated mounted shower heads together. You appreciate funny things here.

Andrea and I walked through a park in Istanbul one day toward where we thought there’d be an exit. A group of adults followed us. We ended up… Not… at an exit. The adults revealed they weren’t only following close behind us, but actually following us. “You looked like two Turkish girls going home. We thought you knew where to go.” It was there I realized I could at least appear to know what I was doing.

What doesn’t get written happens to be some of the most stimulating, frustrating, challenging aspects of the trip. Nothing so hard it’s complain worthy – arriving in a new city at 6:30a.m. and figuring out the metro system. Learning a new hello, goodbye, sorry, thank you every six days. Spending a morning asking strangers, “Excuse me, laundromat?” and pointing to the left and (or) right. Introducing yourself to five new people, at least, per day. Janae. Janae. No that’s ok, It’s Janae. “Ooh.” Moments later, meh, Janet’s close enough.

Halfway through. Probably halfway through this post, as well.

I like walking in straight lines, map away, just to see what I see. I like avoiding public transportation at all costs, including knees, because I have no need to be anywhere faster than the time it takes to walk to it. I like that Erin described how far away the restaurant we were going to was by saying “Google says it’s a 22 minute walk.”

I like trying new foods, everywhere. Especially the places with no English menu. Pork Hungarian Style? Yes, I’ll have that. Can I have “that puff pastry that has that something in it” Thank you. I love that the best, greatest version of “Hallelujah” I’ve ever heard was in a Berlin market, by a performer on the street with his guitar, as I sat munching on a gözleme. Didn’t know what was in it, it just looked good. Wikipedia just told me it’s traditional Turkish cuisine. Oh.

I’ve enjoyed traveling without makeup, hairdryer, flat-iron. Society makes girls feel uncomfortable, unfinished, without them. I certainly don’t go without at home. But my tired eyes, oddly curled hair, teenage-like complexion have made plenty of friends. I wish everyone, like so many backpackers, were so open to making friends with personalities first. You know that first time you let the new guy see you in sweatpants? “Man, I hope you dig this as much as my six inch heels, we’re gonna be able to spend a hell of a lot more time together.” My new friends meet me one notch above sweatpants mode. Most of them, anyway.

I love that Erin gave me a haircut in the hostel bathroom the other night. Cheers to finding the girl who cuts her own hair, and her friends’ hair, the week I was looking for a cheap haircut. For free. I was really loving my pony-tail long hair. We’re back above the shoulder now, and I’m just as excited. We rid my length of three inches of what had once been bleached/dyed/box-colored/murdered blonde hair. It was pure wire, dead dead dead, at this point. I think that’s almost the last of it… Sixteen months since the big brunette change, five months since the last of any color dye… Now I think we’re good to grow.

Two months in, I’ve rediscovered my love for writing. Not this blog, but real, edited, solid writing. I’m trying harder than I have in a long time. I’m addicted to sunsets and sunrises, poetry and photography.

I’m aware and happy seeing new isn’t getting old, even if the new isn’t always good. Used to seeing homeless people sleeping on the streets all over the big cities here, last night I saw two sleeping men huddled together for warmth. It made me think twice today as I thought to whine about dropping two nights hostel budget for a new iPad charger to replace my dud one. If only all life problems got solved on the fourth floor of Media Markt.

Most importantly, the past two months have proven two things I would’ve previously thought contradicted each other.

I can really get by, get around, on my own. This independence business is a lot of fun and constantly spontaneous. I didn’t book where I was sleeping today until noon. Same yesterday. It’s a pretty neat feeling. It may make moving somewhere busy a requirement – gotta keep moving. Keep walking. Keep seeing. New York City, you’re looking great right now.

But wow. I think more this week, maybe it’s just more each week, I appreciate missing home, people both coasts called home interchangeably, as much as I do. Not homesick, crying in bed, unhappy. Happy homesick. Thankful I have someones to miss, people to love. Just the people matter – I’d stay living off items in the bag if I just had a roof over my head. So many travelers are doing just fine here, because where else would they be? It’s nice to miss as much as I do. It’s not easy – Goodness, sometimes it’s really not – but that’s a good problem to have. And a great thing to get back to, in two more months.

And the blend of those is what the first two months have been about. Experiencing and sharing, and the grown appreciation of sharing an experience. You can see a lot if you’re by yourself. Less bathroom breaks. But you’ll never do the greatest experiences justice in the story. At least, I won’t, and that’s supposed to be my gig, right? Even if it’s just one person out of the world’s seven billion, someone you met an hour ago or ten years ago… You have that person to “Remember when” with over email, the phone, or in person as you are sharing the latest and greatest experience.

Those are the thoughts, two months in.

Halfway through.



Halfway There… So what have we seen?

As if you can recap 79 posts and 2 months in a single one. My blog hit 10,000 views last night. THANKS EVERYONE!

50%. Today is day 61 of 121 days in Europe. Halfway to home. Sitting on the rooftop terrace of a Berlin hostel, spending the morning (eh, early afternoon) doing laundry. Very necessary.

Wasn’t it just yesterday I bought my bag?


The quick recap: 10 countries, 17 cities, 18 different hostels/hotels
Spain – Barcelona, Madrid
Turkey – Istanbul, Goreme, Ankara
Bulgaria – Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo
Serbia – Belgrade
Romania – Bucharest, Brasov
Hungary – Budapest
Austria – Vienna
Poland – Krakow, and a bit of Warsaw accidentally
Czech Republic – Prague
Germany – Just Berlin… So far.

I realize I can never recap this adequately. That’s why I keep the blog as I go… But let’s give this a shot, if just to trigger memories of the bigger stories.

In Spain, I discovered my love for cava. I learned not to overestimate my ability to speak Spanish (mmm boquerones!), I giggled at my birthday massage. And most importantly, I learned… I guess I already knew this… I appreciated, loved my daily coffees and dinners, and breakfasts and lunches, with Dad.





Andrea and I had an amazing reunion. We ate kebab everyday. We snuck up on the roof of a closed restaurant for the most amazing sunrise, and I spent the day conquering a fear of heights. And of course, we bought a string instrument for a friend back home. And then we learned the cost of postage. Finally, we mastered the cave stretch.











Restaurants called Happy make you happy. Playing chess with Andrea becomes routine, and a blast. I learned long walks take you to beautiful places. Also, always take water with you as you climb a fortress solo.




Stay away from Fabio-esque characters, even if you’re impressed he can open your beer bottle with his teeth. Also, everything comes in pastry form. Took long train rides. Found more forts. They’re beautiful.





Entered first country without Dad or Andrea. Conquered big city anxiety – that was a cranky day. Lapped the city repeatedly. Had first solo experience of putting the map away and just… Going. Entered Dracula’s Castle.






Fell in love with bridges and love locks.







These recaps are getting shorter as we go… Took a picture with this guy!




Had to say goodbye to Steve the string instrument after an unfortunate fall. He was good to me. Loved every bit of Krakow, and then an hour away, saw Auschwitz.







Czech Republic
Found my next home. Found Erin. Found the Lennon Wall.






Sticking with Erin. Walking past history everywhere… I’m still in Berlin, click back to yesterday.



Blogging this made me tired. Did anyone actually make it to the bottom?

A real halfway reflection later. For now, my laundry is done – Time to finally start this day in Berlin!

The Berlin Series: Scenery, Skies… And the Sillies.

Sometimes clouds are the best. Also, we just so happen to be in Berlin for the start of the Festival of Lights… Everything is great.

Scenery and Skies






















… And the sillies.

These kids walked by us in two lines, wearing boots and hazard vests… Adorable.


Erin hates scaffolding with a passion.

Erin: “All that meat and only one piece of cheese.”


Every meal looks like the best meal ever when you spend your days getting lost.


Did we go to The Ramones Museum? You bet! Lifetime entry pin? YOU BET!





Trying to follow this museum exhibit’s instructions made me giggle so hard I cried.


Me: “Oh my god, it smells like college in here.” I miss Syracuse.


Don’t even know.


The Berlin Series: The Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial

All Erin and I have done in Berlin is walked… Long and far, and often incorrect, ways. It leads to great pictures and stories. As you walk down these streets, you don’t have to enter a museum to see history, and it’s true all over Europe. Here are just a few snapshots of what’s been seen and learned.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The Holocaust Memorial was completed in 2005. From the edge, it just looks like a series of blocks you could sit on. As you venture in, you realize the ground slopes downward and the top of the blocks are high overhead. The entire memorial is unmarked and relatively undefined- open to interpretation. Personally, the trip back at night gave me anxiety. It was a long walk in the dark through those tunnels when you couldn’t tell what was around any corner.

A few minutes walk away from the memorial is the location Hitler shot himself (the ground above where his underground bunker was). When you stand there, there is no memorial, no area that could be turned into a shrine… It’s a basic sign, located at the edge of a parking lot.







The Jewish Museum
Erin and I could have spent all day here. Serious, somber, extremely bare on the bottom floors, it had some of the most engaging, real exhibits I’ve ever been in. In one room, ten televisions played as ten different people sang ten different, hopeful sounding songs. I caught a minute on tape. It was sensory overload, but it was beautiful. Assume any serious exhibit, I spent one minute taking pictures for five soaking it in and staring. I know to experience it before I work on sharing it.


The Holocaust Tower
Unheated, lit only by a diagonal strip of natural light from the outdoors, you walk in here and can hear the traffic and sounds of the outside world. It was so cold in there. It echoed, everything was chilling about the minutes spent in here.





The Garden of Exile
49 earth-filled vertical columns on slanted ground, with olive willows growing out of them. The walk through is physically dizzying.




The Memory Void
The museum is built to have a lot of empty space, symbolizing voids. In The Memory Void, a massive area, is a piece named Fallen Leaves.


“Please write your wish.”
I hung mine as high as I could reach.


“We just don’t pick $h*t people.”

Tour company assistant: Hi, how many in your group?
Jeff, scanning hostel buddies: Let’s see, 6, 7, 8, 9, uh 10… Looks like there’s 11 of us.
Tour company assistant: Okay, well we have to split you up if it’s more than a group of 6.
Jeff: But we’re all traveling together.
Tour company assistant: Well then if you’re all traveling together, you can handle being apart for four hours, can’t you?
Jeff: Alright, 4 of us. There’s definitely 4 of us.

Jeff, Cody, Erin and I had known each other forty minutes. We’d met at breakfast. It’s a wonder I made any friends at breakfast. It’s a wonder I made it to breakfast at all…

Erin was waiting for me in the lobby Tuesday night when I got to our Berlin hostel. I celebrated that getting on bus 142S does in fact take you to the same place as bus 142… Wasn’t quite sure about that halfway through the ride, and it was pouring rain outside.

We went out to find dinner- my first meal in Germany was a chicken burrito.


We wandered further (why not), winding through nice restaurants, streets, metro stations. We spotted the giant lit-up television tower, which Erin called the “penis” immediately. It led to such sayings such as “let the penis guide you home” and “follow the light of the phallus.”


Freaking north star, it was.

We also played “penis” on the streets of Berlin. What a great game.

I’ll pause here to say this post doesn’t really get any classier as it goes. A departure from the usual form.

We found the street full of prostitutes. Dozens and dozens were in short little skirts, tights, with big boobs and little black money belts worn on their backs. Only one was wearing jeans.

I consider pausing for a photoshoot of me on various corners. I’m in jeans I’ve worn too many days straight (they might’ve dyed my legs blue), and a beanie. And a scarf covered in ducks. Come to think of it, I hadn’t showered yet. Pay me? I’m a tax write-off at this point.

We got back to our hostel, which has an amazing rooftop bar. As we’d checked in, we’d gotten a free drink coupon, so redeeming them seemed like the logical step. Wine. Her red, mine white, the first cheers to “Being in Berlin!”

And a few minutes later, she said “I’ll buy the first round.”

Oh no, we’re doing rounds?

Second cheers: “To us!”

Third cheers: “To… no guys!”

Fourth cheers: “To being in a bar wearing a beanie!”

I’m not really sure what the actual fourth and fifth cheers were, we might’ve stopped caring to celebrate. Lesson learned: don’t consume more wine in one night than you’ve collectively drank in your life, and don’t choose the night you’re on the top bunk to do it.

But back to being a classy, respectable traveler. Did you know 50% of backpackers get drunk every night? Just an observation, no scientific fact.

Erin and I met for breakfast at 9:15a.m., shockingly, met Cody (from CA like me!) and Jeff (from Australia like Erin!) and got them to come along on the free walking tour.

Our little family unit was a blast. Super goofy. Beyond seeing everything historical Berlin has to offer, we saw Hotel Adlon, Michael Jackson baby hanging hotel – Erin wasn’t keen on my offer to reenact for a photo, and I was offering to be the baby.



The tour was fantastic. It lasted four hours and was run by the same company that did the free tours in Prague, otherwise known as my future employer. Berlin tour photos to come.

After the tour, we ended up at a local bar the tour guide led us to (I know, you’re thinking really Janae, more?) but you could pour your own beer! And I sucked at it!



After some secondhand shopping – two pairs of jeans now -Erin and I took the long route (code for lost route) home.


Erin and I ended the night with our third, and sadly, last dinner with Prague friends Wade and Reid (I’ve committed to only making male friends with four-letter names). The waiter liked Erin. Erin poured our beers. He poured shots of oozo. Five each, to be exact.



Thus, our other foursome dysfunctional family photo was taken not in the most flattering state. We’ll keep those on the memory card. It is pretty cute, though.

Erin and I have had a blast meeting people together. We think too similarly – “get out of my head, stop saying my thoughts!”

But my favorite thought of hers, when we talked about our great friends. “You gotta surround yourself with the good ones. We just don’t pick $h*t people.”