Friday, March 27, 2015

List of Expenses and Itinerary from Europe

Here it is, what you've all been waiting for "The Golden Nugget"

My grand total for 45 days in Europe.....$4900. Don't believe me? Take a look below. You'll find my list of expenses and also the list of things I did each day. If you would like even more details like where I stayed, what I ate, etc feel free to contact me.
Still too expensive? That's fine because here are a few tips to reduce costs: Do NOT go to Switzerland, fly Mondays Tuesdays and Wednesdays, walk in smaller cities instead of using the metro, don't be intimidated by hostels; hostel culture is big now and they all compete pricewise and are very clean, travel with a student ID for reduced and free admission.
 In the next few weeks I will also be providing guidebooks to most of the cities I visited as part of my book series "How To Experience Europe 2 Days At A Time".  Stay tuned and Enjoy!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Days 44 & 45: Headed Home

Over the last 45 days I have been to 20 cities, at least 15 museums, cooking classes, the opera, countless churches & historical sites in 12 countries. All while learning basic communication in 9 new languages. Most importantly I have made some great lifelong friends from all over the world. This trip was a life changing experience and I learned a lot about the world and myself. But the time has come for me to come home. More on that in just a second. Because I started the day in Stockholm witnessing a pretty rare solar phenomena, a solar eclipse. This is when the moon goes in between the Earth and the Sun and temporarily blocks out light. I have seen lunar eclipses before but never a solar eclipse and this is the last one for 19 years. So even though I missed out on the Northern lights this was my consolation prize.

I tried to keep my return date on the down low as I thought it would be fun to surprise my parents. Though I am returning, it does not mean the end of this blog. I want to help others plan and do similar trips, experience the world and feel free to pluck my brain for ideas and suggestions! I would love to help! Yes, the updates may not be as frequent but there will be a few major ones in the coming days including: my list of expenses (How much did all this cost me? Not much considering everything I did!), my daily itinerary, and my tips on what I would have done differently and what I think you should do. Also, I am planning another trip (yes I have the itch already) in the coming weeks so tune in for updates! 

If I could go back would I change anything about this trip? Nothing at all! It was the best experience of my life. A few months ago if you told me I would do something like this I would have laughed in your face. I used to have to plan everything, have to have a regimen, have to have everything planned out. But I learned sometimes you have to enjoy the moment for what it is and just go with it. Just going from city to city, not knowing the language and learning to rely on my instincts to know where to go or what to eat was a growing experience. I am happy I did it alone, I had to do it alone. When you travel alone you are forced to be vulnerable to your surroundings which helps you better immerse yourself in your surroundings so you can get the maximum experience. Many cities I arrived without a plan and each time someone said "Hey Dennis, why don't I help you by telling you some places to go see and some places to eat". Each time I worried about being lonely I met a group of people that made me feel like I was right at home amongst my peers. I may have been halfway across the world but I was never alone. My advice for everyone, things of this world won't always go according to your plans. But control what you can which is how you spend your time. Spend it in joy whether it is with your family or doing your hobbies. I choose to enjoy my time traveling, it has become a passion of mine to go and explore the world that I was placed in because I realized how small a place I occupy in it and there is so much to explore and learn. Also be nice to others, care for each other. That energy helps feeds others and just caring for each other does make a difference I promise!

I want especially thank God for giving me this opportunity to just go, explore and learn. All while running into no major problems at all. I was always safe, always healthy, always cared for and that is truly a blessing. During the turmoil of the last few months my faith never faltered and that was easy because I worship, trust and love an awesome God who always provides. Romans 12:12(Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer) has been the theme of this season for me. I never had to be scared because I was always provided with genuine people that took care of me wherever I was. I know I have said this before but there is a sort of kinship among travelers and backpackers and we always look out for each other. Whether it is putting together a group to travel together or giving tips out or even hosting and giving tours in our cities when another traveler is around. I also want to thank all my friends and family back home for supporting me during this time. I know many of you may have saw this trip as a quarter life crisis, haha. But it was never about that. This was something I needed to do for myself, to be completely selfish for once so that I could learn and grow. That is one of the things I learned, being selfish sometimes isn't a bad thing because sometimes you have to fight for yourself to remind yourself that there are things in this world worth fighting for like your own passions and dreams. I want to thank all the wonderful friends I gained on this trip. When you meet people while traveling you know your time is limited and you open up fairly easily and you bond over a lifetime of stories sometimes in the span of hours. I met some great people that I feel like have been my friends for a lifetime and we will still keep in touch with each other. Whenever you're in my city I'll show you around!

I do also want to take some time to thank some corporations that made this trip possible. Sandeman New Europe tours, who showed me around and taught me about most of the cities I was in, all for free! They conduct free walking tours (tips suggested) and I enjoyed their brand so much that I would seek out only the Sandeman tours whenever I was in a city. Skysanner, for helping me find the best option for my flights whether it was last minute or to random cities they always helped me pick the best route, time and country to travel to maximize my time. Hostelworld, for helping me search and book hostels, they are the premier site and I highly recommend them because they haven't steered me wrong. Charles Schwabb, for letting me withdraw money from any ATM without charging me any fees, they put money in my pocket and you need one thing to do go on a trip like this. Yeah nothing cliché, you need cash that's about it, anyone can do this trip as long as you have some money. T-mobile, though I am a Verizon customer, their international plan options were simply horrible so T-mobile was able to provide me with a temporary SIM while I was stateside that I could use in any country and have access to data anywhere for no extra charge. Chase, though I am a big proponent of AMEX, paying foreign transactions fees is a waste of money and Chase's Sapphire card let me swipe anywhere without any such fees. Norwegian Air, for flying to and from Europe for prices that were so affordable that it would have been stupid not to go. Scandanavia is the place to fly in and out of for affordable fares now!

Thank you so much for reading and being part of this journey with me. There were some nights I didn't want to write anything but knowing that all of you were reading to check up on me kept me going! Check back soon! Or subscribe for updates!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Days 42 & 43: Stockholm

I arrived in Stockholm closer to the evening so I knew I would not get any sight seeing done in the dark. Instead I chose to sign up for a cooking class at the hostel to learn how to make Swedish meatballs. We went through the whole process: what meat to choose, what spices to add and how to prepare and fry them. Really fun class!
The next day I set out for a walking tour. I did 2 walking tours with Free Tour Stockholm, the city waking tour and the old town tour (Gamla Stan). I don't know if it was the tour guides fault or if it was just that Stockholm does not have too many sights to see compared to all the cities I've been to in Europe but these were not my favorite tours. Stockholm as a city itself is very nice and very clean and this was the first time I did not even try to learn the language because people in Sweden really enjoy speaking English. Stockholm is a very walkable city.

Stockholm is a nice stop over city. I would not say to spend too much time here as you can run out of things to do but it is a good place to stop for a day or 2 on your way to somewhere else. Especially because Scandanavia is the cheapest place to fly in and out of from the US. Also a tip for a cheap art tour: ride their subway! Every station has a unique design and theme.

The best part of Stockholm had to definitely be the people I met. I was still pretty bummed about leaving London so I wasn't as social as I usually was here. But then 2 of my roommates and I got to talking and we ended up talking all night. Gas, who's a doctor in his residency from the UK and Michelle, who just finished her masters in Bioinformatics and has been hunting for the Northern Lights through Scandanavia. She had some great pictures! We ended up having some of the most thought provoking conversations I have had in a long time. We talked about our career paths and since we all come from the medical field we talked about how the systems in the US and Europe differ. We also talked about just how to deal with people in our lives and how we should be a little selfish when it comes to important things like our career and relationships because if you don't stand up for yourself, who else will? It's just funny how even the days where I didn't want to socialize I end up making some great friends that I will definitely keep in touch with after Stockholm. 

During my stay in Stockholm I have been staying at City Backpackers Hostel. This also has to be one of the best hostels I have stayed in. Everything was very clean and you had a lot of space in the rooms. I definitely give this place a thumbs up as it is close to everything you need (attractions, subway, and main bus/train terminal). Also don't forget, NO SHOES, according to Swedish customs no shoes inside. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Days 39-41: London

I have been in London for the last 3 days and I knew whenever I would get to London that I would be busy. The great thing about traveling through Europe is that as you meet people they always take care of you when you get to their city. My friend Vanessa has been great showing me around London the last few days. She made a whole itinerary for me which included places to eat! The first day we explored all over Central London. It felt good to finally be in a city where all the signs were in English and everyone spoke English naturally! It was nice to take a break from trying to learn languages for a little. The one thing I won't get used to is the cars being on the other side of the road. Yes I am not driving here but when you cross a street it makes a difference because naturally I look to the left to see if a car is coming where here you're supposed to look to the right. I've had a couple close calls almost getting hit by a car! The amount of effort Britain uses to remind people to look right by writing it on the ground at every intersection you'd think they'd just use it to put everything the CORRECT way.

The second day I was able to  museum hop while there was some rain in the forecast. I started off at the National Gallery, then I headed to the British Museum. These are 2 of the top museums in the world on the same level as the Louvre in Paris and the MET in New York.  Next up I headed to Regents Park, which is really nice park and I think it would look fantastic in the spring when all the flowers are blooming. Lastly I headed to the Victoria and Albert are musuem. By this time I saw enough Greek and Roman art so I headed to the different sections like Ceramics and I also spent a bunch of time in a room with huge paintings by Raphael. The great part about London museums are they are all free so you are free to explore at your own pace and come back whenever. 

In the evening I was able to meet up with Caitlyn and Emily who I met in Paris on day 3 of my travels and here we were in London on day 40. It's crazy to think how much time has passed and to realize that we've all survived. We were able to exchange stories about our experiences in Europe and I was able to share some stories about places they should visit.
It's my last full day in London and Vanessa and I headed out to do all the typical touristy things. We started the day off by going to see Big Ben and Westminister Abbey. Of course we had to take a bunch of selfies which included me in a typical London phone booth. Next up we headed to the house of Parliament to watch the guards set up for the change. Then we did the Queens walk along the River Thames to the London Bridge passed St. Paul's Cathedral to board a double decker bus to Brick Lane!

If you are unfamiliar with Brick Lane it is a street in London with all these little food places. Delicious! We had our famous London bagel with pastrami from Beigel Bake. Then we headed over to Tower Bridge and ended off sightseeing at Buckhingham Palace!

I really enjoyed my time in London. It reminded me a lot of home. Just the way the city works, how the people are and of course the language. I'm glad I have met some great people during my travels and that is the thing I will always cherish most about this trip. Next up is Stockholm, Sweden tomorrow!

Feel free to look at the rest of my London pictures:

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Day 36-38: Portugal

Lisbon reminds me a lot of San Francisco. It has hills and tourists filled trolleys. It also has a bridge called the Golden Gate Bridge that looks just like the Golden Gate Bridge. You may have noticed that I haven't updated in a few days and simply put that is because I really have enjoyed Portugal a lot, so much so that it has become my favorite country that I have visited during this trip. Many people have not thought to visit Portugal but I definitely recommed it. There is something for everyone: stuff for the history buffs, urban life for the city dwellers, great hikes and bike trails for the outdoorsy person and the Atlantic ocean for the surfers. Best of all...everything is really cheap! The girls at reception at my hostel were so nice, they sat with me and helped me plan out what I should do in Lisbon and what I should eat which was really helpful because now I realized 2 full days was not enough and I had to pick and chose what to do. But we covered the most important stuff which was what to eat!

During my first full day in Lisbon I attended a Sandeman tour and as expected it did not disappoint. But this was definitely the best one yet. The tour guide Yuri was so energetic, he read ous poetry from Fernado Pesso and was so passionate about his city that he made us fall in love with it too. He gave us tips like do not pay any more than 5 Euros for food, which is true! He showed us around the historic city and told us a lot about rich Portuguese history. During the tour I met 2 girls, Liza and Vanessa and we started chatting, they were Americans who were teaching English in Ibiza in Spain. I introduce them because we're going to meet them again later in this story, so mental note!
Since I knew I was only going to have the one day to explore Lisbon, while the next day I would venture to other towns, I decided to stay with Yuri for his afternoon tour of Alfama. Since this group was smaller we got to bond with Yuri a bit and learn more about him. We actually became friends and exchanged contact info incase we bumped into eachother in our travels again. I definitely recommed doing any tour with Yuri if you are ever in Lisbon, which you should totally visit! We strolled through the old streets and alleys of Alfama. The place where the water source was and where the old city was built. We were able to stop into some tiny little mom and pop shops also and get some real Portuguese pastries. If you didn't know. The Portuguese are big on their pasteries, there is a pastery bar on literally every corner. Yuri also mentioned that good wine in Portugal costs only $4 a bottle!

After the tour I took a train to Belem which is about 10 minutes west of Lisbon. Why am I going to Belem? Well the famous pastry of Portugal is the pasteis de nata, these custard tarts. But the most famous ones are the pasteis de belem, so secretive is the recipe that only 3 people know it at a time and they are never allowed to travel together incase they all get killed. I walked around Belem for a little bit, took some pictures, but it was time, yes it was time to fill that burning desire in my stomach. Yuri had me try a nata earlier and I savored it so I can't imagine how much better this one was. He promised that it was at least 5 times better haha. So I ordered my natas and as I was walking over to sit down, who do I bump in to? Long and behold it was Liza and Maggie from earlier (remember when I said mental not earlier, yes this is what it's refering to, see how I did that? ;)). One thing I have learned on this trip is. Every time I am worried about being alone I have always met some really great people to hang out with and enjoy a city. It has gotten to the point that I don't even stress about it anymore because I know wherever I go I am going to meet some really cool people. We talked about how over here travelers look out for eachother and there is always a sense of kinship whenever travelers see eachother and we always offer eachother help when we can. We each had stories of how we were in some random city and a friend we met in our earlier travels always came to our need whether it was to offer a place to stay or just to show us around and give us tips. The backpacking experience has taught me the just GO and let the rest work itself out.

So we exchanged plans for the next day and since we had some overlap we decided to just stick together for our last day in Portugal. In the morning we headed to Cascais, a beach resort town on the coast that looks oddly like California, to rent bicycles and bike along the water. This was the perfect way to start out the morning. We wished we had a whole day to spend in Cascais but as we were limited in time we did a short loop and returned our bikes to head to Sintra. 

We boarded a bus to Sintra, where there a bunch of old castles. We knew we wouldn't be able to see all of them so we decided on going to to just one and pass by the others. Boy did we make the right call, we headed to the Palace of Pena and the best way to describe it is unique. I've seen so many castles on this trip but I have never seen anything like this one. Each section of the castle was a different color. It was the type of castle you would design as a kid in your coloring book. 
Afterwards we headed down to the historic town to explore a little and there was of course another famous pastry we had to try. We headed to piriquita which was jammed with locals to try some traesseiros. Yum, yum and more yum the best way to describe it is its kind of like an apple pie but it's not? I don't know guys it's hard to describe how good these pastries are. The simple solution is go to the airport, board a plane, come here and try them! Also another thing about Sintra, they have these cherry chocolate shots all over the place. It's a shot in a chocolate glass and after you drink it you eat the cup. Since I don't drink I just made the girls drink my shot so I could eat the chocolate cup haha.

Well after our long day we absolutely had to make one more stop. Yup you guessed it! We headed to Belem to have another round (which ended up being a few rounds but I won't say how many to save ourselves from embarassment) of pasteis de belem. And with that came the close of our time in Portugal. We each felt the same way, there is so much of Portugal to explore, Porto in the north and the coast in the south. It is definitely an underrated country that everyone should make some time to visit. It is very affordable and the people are so nice. One thing to note is that even though the words look like Spanish, don't pronounce it like Spanish. For a Spanish speaker that is hard and I even found myself pronouncing words as they would be in Spanish. But Portuguese people get offended when you do that so I would say make the effort to pronounce words correctly, it is pretty easy to pick up. There's just more shhhs and grrrs than Spanish. 

Take a look at the rest of my pictures from wonderful Portugal:

Lastly, I stayed at Lost inn Lisbon right near the Cais do Sodre train station. This may have been the best hostel I have stayed out. It was very clean, great location, and it was very spaceous and modern looking. Everything was accesed with key card. The staff was so helpful. They went out of their way to make sure I got a real experience of Portugal by helping me plan my days. Also the free breakfast here was definitely a step up compared to just toast in other hostels. There was ham, eggs, fruits, a whole bunch of stuff. Also every evening they have Sangria tastings.  The one negative I had about this place was they did not have good internet, which is another reason why it was hard for me to post daily. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Day 34 & 35: Copenhagen

The last 2 days have been busy between taking care of some things back in the states and trying to make the most of my almost 2 days in Copenhagen. This is my first foray into Scandinavia. First thing to notice, it is expensive but not Switzerland expensive. Another thing to note, I learned some Danish but I never had to use it because even if I spoke in Danish everyone spoke back to me in English. So I'd say save your energy, everyone here knows English and speaks it quite well. Another thing I learned, bikers run this city. I learned this the hard way when I was walking in the bike lane and a biker crashed into me, totally my fault for not paying attention.
Copenhagen is a charming little city on the water. No need to get metro passes, you can walk from one side to the other in about 35 minutes. The only time I had to use the metro was from the airport. After I checked in to my hostel I asked the what the first thing I should do was they said to join the afternoon tour to Christianshavn. I usually don't like to do specialized tours before the general city tours but I figured let's see how it goes. Christianshavn is land that was reclaimed from the see and made in the style of Amsterdam. Along the way we saw some sights like the the restaurant Noma, rated the best one in the world 4 out of the last 5 years and has a 6 month waiting list. Here's a modern building called the black diamond which hosts the national library: 

We finally made our way to outside Freetown Christiania. Before we went in we learned some history about this area. Christiania is an autonomous region in Denmark. It was created by a group of "hippies" that took over a former military base in the 70s. Denmark allowed the residents to kind of just function on their own as sort of a social experiment. The residents don't follow Danish laws and even have their own currency and don't pay taxes. The police don't go in and the US government warns its citizens not to go in as they claim it to be too dangerous because of heavy drug use. But in reality these things are blown out of proportion and the only drug freely available is some green plant that is common in Amsterdam...wink wink. So we went in and there are a couple rules.....No running and no pictures on the infamous Pusher Street. If you break any of their rules they handle it as they see fit. The last person caught filming was escorted out of Christiania with their camera and their shoes....yes nothing else. I thought the no picture rule was only for Pusher Street so I tried to take a picture of the no running sign. Instanteously I was surrounded by a group yelling at me "Are you stupid, you're taking pictures?" they yelled. Quickly an American ran up to me and said "hey dude, just put your camera away and walk away fast". So I obliged instead of causing any more trouble. I just wish I got a pic of that sign it was so funny. But here is a picture of the entrance.
The next day was jam packed as I only had one day to see all of Copenhagen. I joined a Sandeman walking tour with our tour guide Maria. We started out in town hall square in front of Tivoli Gardens and made our way learning a bunch of Danish history along the way. I had to leave a little early to attend to something but here are a few sights we saw along the way:
Every postcard of Copenhagen, this is what you see the port of Nyhavn
The Opera Hall:
The entrance to Tivoli Gardens, the 2nd oldest amusement park in the world:
I decided to visit a few of the sights on my own that I missed. I headed to the oldest observatory in Europe, the Round tower to get a view of all of Copenhagen from above.
That bridge in the background connects Copenhagen to Sweden
Frederick's Church:
The royal palace:
And lasty of course I had to see Copenhagen's most famous attraction and source of Disney tale, the Little Mermaid:
To end the day I had some Smørrebrod, which are open sandwiches. I had 3 different ones: fish, chicken and ham. I thought the fish was the best.
Lastly, let me talk about where I have been staying, Copenhagen Downtown Hostel. Let me start with the positives: the bar downstairs is nice. It is a large cozy area to even just sit and do some work and there is free dinner.

Next are the negatives: I didn't get a whole lot of interaction from the staff, maybe cause it was a large hostel. Also there were no lockers in the rooms which required me to carry my electronics all day. Lastly, depending on time there were lines for the bathrooms. Overall the hostel is in a convenient location but I'd give this place a neutral rating. 
And now as for tomorrow, I have an early morning flight, so yes I will be cranky. But I head to Portugal! Lisbon to be exact. Yea Iceland would have been nice but come on after that nice weather in Greece I couldn't resist the chance to go somewhere warm again! For all the people that are reading and keeping up I personally do want to thank you for following my journey. I hope you are enjoying it and I am keeping track of my itinerary and budget so that I can share to encourage many of you to do something similar! I have met so many travelers young & old from near and far, this is not a unique experience a lot of people do it so don't be initimidated to travel. My roommate here is much older than me and he said he's been solo traveling for a while and wouldn't do it any differently. I hope everyone is doing well, I'm doing just fine....across the pond =). And to all a good night! 

Here is a link to my Copenhagen pictures: