I’ve spent the past three months backpacking around Europe. I imagine that some of my friends, family, and even readers might be curious as to the whys, hows, and wheres of the trip, or might just want to see some pictures. Personally, I’d like a place to post some of my thoughts and memories before they begin to fade.
I’m starting this post in Dublin, Ireland, and I have just a few days left before heading back to America.
I found a $90 flight from Chicago to Edinburgh, and I wanted to visit my friend Craig. From there, it became, “why not?”
That’s the short answer, of course. I didn’t plan to backpack around Europe in 2017. Traveling solo around the world has been a dream of mine since I was 17, but as the years went by and became a decade later, I still hadn’t done it, nor really even gotten many steps closer to doing it. I was afraid, and I always had an excuse.
I still haven’t traveled the entire world by myself, but a few months around Europe is certainly a step closer than before. I wanted to prove to myself that I could, and push the boundaries of my comfort zone, and see if world travel is actually for me. I also wanted to meet the other friends I have across the pond, and later I found out about all the family I have there as well.
Usually when people find out about this, they ask me where I’ve gone. I’m not quite sure how to answer that, because if I start prattling off city names, they’ll say “alright, shut up already,” about half way through. “A lot,” isn’t an acceptable answer either. I’ll just prattle them off for you anyway.
- Scotland (Edinburgh)
- Portugal (Braga, Porto, Lisbon)
- Spain (Seville, Malaga, Nerja)
- Germany (Berlin, Munich)
- Czechia (Prague, Slavkov U Brna)
- Austria (Vienna)
- Hungary (Budapest)
- Bulgaria (Sofia, Kazanlak)
- Greece (Athens)
- Slovakia (Bratislava, Klin)
- Switzerland (Zurich, Lucerne)
- England (London)
- Ireland (Dublin)
So that’s 13 countries, except it’s actually 12 because Scotland and England are just the UK. Here’s a map of where I went.
I actually wrote a compilation of things I learned as I was traveling about how to find accomodation, transporation, what to bring, how to keep track of everything, how much to spend, useful apps, and other tips.
The real how – the how did you quit your job and decide to do such a thing – is really just a matter of saving up some money, quitting your job, and just doing it. If you think it’s not possible, it is. If you think you can’t, you can.
I’ll try to keep this as short as possible. Sorry for the low-quality of the pictures, it’s all I can manage on the public Wifi I can find. I’m trying to just get something out, then maybe update it with more exciting prose and higher quality pictures later.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. A medieval castle looms over the city, and you’re never too far from the sound of bagpipes. I arrived on August 19th, and I’m bad at timing, so Craig (a friend I made through this site) was off to America the day after I got to Scotland. We managed to go up Arthur’s Seat, a peak in the middle of the city, and have some haggis and whisky. I’ve developed a taste for both. Sadly, haggis is illegal in the US.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is the largest performance festival in the world, was going on the whole week I was there, so I saw some improv shows, sketch shows, and a terrible play about Trump on some dates. Don’t get excited, that was the only time I tried dating on the trip. I divided my time between playing with the cats, writing articles, walking around the city, and going out at night. Went on an impromptu bar crawl with my temporary roommate, Alex from Germany, and his Italian coworker.
Edinburgh was a good place to start due to English being the language (ish). Scottish accents are the cutest native English accents, so just listening to people talk was a fun activity. There were only small language issues, like when the border officer asked me “how long?” and I thought he said, “alone?”, or when Alex excitedly said, “I got a flat!” and I said, “oh, bike or car?”. (He was referring to an apartment…)
I got on a plane to Porto, and João (another friend through the site) picked me up from the airport and was nice enough to feed me and drop me off at my hostel. Braga is a small, devout town in the north of Portugal full of cathedrals, sanctuaries and chapels. The hostel I was at ended up being an old art gallery/mansion that got converted, and the beds were just randomly scattered around. This ended up not being the norm as far as hostels are concerned, but it was really cool. This is also where I met Katie, another American traveling for months, which also surprisingly turned out to be extremely rare. Here’s the view from the hostel.
I walked all around Braga and got bacalhau, the local specialty of salted cod. Later João and I had francesinha, a monstrosity of a sandwich filled with several types of meat, topped with sauce and a fried egg and sprinkled with fries. Portuguese food was some of the best I had on the trip!
I took a hike to the cathedral on top of a mountain, 17 flights up (twice, so I could make room for francesinha). But by far my favorite part of Portugal was the traditional dancing in the streets of Braga. I couldn’t believe how many different styles of dance they had – from Celtic jig style, to middle eastern circle dances, to mournful slow dances, to medieval sounding music, to square dancing and so many more. I joined in when some old Portuguese men pulled me in a few times. Stumbled around and stepped on people’s feet, but it was a good time. Who knew Portugal had so many types of dances and musical styles? Eventually I found Katie, and we met up with some locals and walked around the town.
I was pleasantly surprised that with just a tiny bit of studying and my knowlegde of Spanish, I was able to read signs just find and even order food and get tickets without resorting to English.
Porto is a port city in the north of Portugal, the second largest in the country and the namesake of port wine. Katie and I took a day trip here, where we took a sky lift across the city, tried port wine and the local churrascaria, and just explored. This was by far the hilliest city I’ve been in, and it was easy to get lost in the narrow streets. I was most struck by the sheer number of abandoned, decrepit buildings amist regular, functioning houses and stores.
Once when we were walking along the street some guy yelled out to Katie, “Hey, Bob Dylan lady!” as she has dreads. I think he got the wrong Bob.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, a city in the south that was once one of the biggest centers of commerce in the world, during the Portugese era of exploration. I took a train here from Braga, and it was the first part on the trip where I didn’t know anyone. I met up with a Moroccan girl from Couchsurfing to explore the city a bit, one of my two experiences with Couchsurfing throughout the trip.
Highlights of Lisbon were meeting Nilson (also a friend through the site) and seeing Fado in a tiny bar in the backstreets of Alfama, the ancient Moorish sector of Lisbon. Fado is traditional Portuguese music played with two guitars and a singer. It was very slow and emotional, not very dramatic like flamenco. The style of singing was unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
Katie ended up in Lisbon on my last night, so a British kid I met and I went out to find her in the streets despite none of us having a method of communication or Wifi, and somehow it worked. We saw more fado, drank more Super Bock, and I remember climbing up some ancient statue at some point.
Seville is the capital of the Andalusia region of Spain, in the south. I took a rather long bus ride from Lisbon. I was excited to be in Spain because it’s the only part of Europe outside of the Anglosphere where I can understand the language. However, a very large portion of my “Spanish” vocabulary is Mexican slang, and the Spanish accent is quite different from South American varieties, but I managed to get by.
My other couchsurfing experience was meeting up with two Spaniards, Adrian and Jesus, playing flamenco in the streets. One of them was having a great time while the other hated me and my presence with a fiery passion, but he got over it after a few drinks. Stumbling home through the labyrinth of old Seville was a challenge. I also had Sangria and saw flamenco in a tiny, packed bar that had almost as many fans as people inside.
I went inside the world’s largest cathedral, which was absolutely overwhelming. Here’s Christopher Columbus’s grave.
Malaga is a beach city in the south of Spain, and the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. I met up with another friend I met through this site, Esther, who lives in the nearby town of Nerja. We went to the Picasso museum, laid on the beach and swam in the ocean, and we went up the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, two ancient Moorish hilltop citadels.
The biggest thing I did was finally get to watch the finale of Game of Thrones.
Esther and I went to Nerja and did a hike through the Rio Chillar. I’m not sure exactly how many miles the hike was, but I walked 17 miles that day. It’s a river hike, and your legs are submerged in water up to your ankles or knees throughout the entire journey. At the end, we arrived at a pool under a waterfall. Back in the city, we had tapas and wine, and walked out to the Balcon de Europa, or “Balcony of Europe”.
Bathing suits and gym shoes.
Malaga and Nerja were easily the most athletic parts of the trip for me!
From Spain, I flew to Berlin, finally making it to central Europe. Berlin is the capital of Germany, a place full of history and clubs. Döner kebabs and currywurst were at the top of the list of things to do. I chose to go to Berlin to meet up with Timm, who did not find me through this site, but we bonded over a lack of good dev communities. We saw all the touristy pointy things in Berlin, and went to the computer game museum.
On day two, my friend and former coworker Teo from back home joined me in Berlin for a two week Eastern European adventure. All of the best pictures are from when Teo was around, because all of mine are iPhone shots and he brough a professional camera.
Realizing my hair was getting more and more horrible, I went full Enya and got most of it chopped off in Berlin.
The first thing Teo, Timm, and I did was sing karaoke at a bar all night, one of the highlights of the trip. I sang Total Eclipse of the Heart, of course, and a few more.
Prague is the capital of Czechia, a city of black and gold and spires. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I liked Prague so much, I visited twice! It has the most amazing castles, views, and of course, bars and clubs.
A great photo from Teo.
I probably met more people in my two visits to Prague than in all the rest of the cities combined.
A big group of us Americans, Brits, and New Zealanders traveled around Prague for a few days, touring the castles, going to clubs and pubs, and eating. Food in prague was mostly cabbage and pork in sauce.
We only had two full days in Vienna, the capital of Austria, which wasn’t nearly enough. I could have been here for two weeks and not even scratched the surface. Vienna was full of so much culture and history, and more monuments per square foot than anywhere I’ve been. It was also massively fancy and expensive. White horses with carriages wait for tourists, unlike the tuktuks of some other European city centers I had been in.
Vienna was a big deal, because I met the first set of my distant family members – the Austrian side of my heritage, through my mother’s mother’s side. They were very hospitable and nice enough to show me around Vienna, and I stayed in the house my grandmother grew up in before the war broke out. I learned that my great grandparents were an Austrian prisoner-of-war and a Russian nurse that met in Siberia.
We were off on the train to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Budapest was another cultural and historical center as well as party city. I learned that “Buda” and “Pest” are two different districts bisected by the Danube river, that became joined once a large bridge was constructed. Ruin bars, old mansions that have been converted into many-leveled clubs, and natural bath houses were the big draws to Budapest. We got to soak for a day in the Szechenyi bathhouse with Brad, who we met earlier in Prague.
A ruin bar, which definitely didn’t conform to any fire safety codes. Also a friend I made from Switzerland, who appears later in this memoir.
The castles in Budapest were particularly picturesque.
Here I am post-bath, leaking at the monument of the Iron Curtain.
I had paprika chicken and goulash during my time in Budapest, but it had to be among my least favorite food of the trip.
From Vienna we took a train to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria and birthplace of Teo. Here I met up with another group of longlost family members, the Bulgarian side, my mother’s father’s family.
Here’s the front door of our chic Bulgarian AirBnB.
Sofia was full of ancient Roman ruins and massive Orthodox cathedrals, a change from all the Catholic ones I had seen earlier throughout the trip.
Meeting my Bulgarian family was amazing, and they were very hospitable. It ended up being a huge family reunion with family that currently lives in other countries as well, so I got very lucky. At dinner, all the employees came out and sang a “Welcome to Bulgaria!” song, and gave me a cake with a firework sticking out of it.
After a few days in Sofia, we took the train to Kazanlak, a smaller city in the center of Bulgaria, where much of Teo’s family is from. I enjoyed being a crazy cat lady and making friends with all the local strays.
We saw Throacian tombs, and an exquisite Russian cathedral on top of a hill. We ate shopska salad every day, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and fresh sheep cheese. Most of the rest of the food we ate were various types of meat-on-a-stick, and one traditional meal cooked in an oven called “tile”.
Teo and I parted ways after Bulgaria – he went back to Berlin then home, and I went on to Athens, the capital of Greece. After all the cold from Berlin to Bulgaria, I wanted somewhere warm with sunshine, so I chose Athens. Unfortunately it wasn’t that warm – only in the mid 70s while I was there – but it ended up being an amazing experience nonetheless.
Seeing the Acropolis and the Parthenon and all the buildings and temples of ancient Greece was one of the absolute highlights of the trip. The birthplace of western civilization!
I also went to the beach, and made from friends at the hostel and had ouzo and gyros. A guy invited me for a motorcycle ride up Mount Lycabettus, which was both terrifying and amazing.
I had no idea where to go after Athens, but I ended up getting in touch with the Slovakian branch of my family, and took a flight to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I was extremely excited to go to Bratislava based on what I remember from EuroTrip. Far from being a depressing wasteland, it was a very nice, cute city with a beautiful castle.
The instant I arrived, a bunch of people were going to a pub for traditional food and beer, so I went along, despite being exhausted. I made some friends who I went out with during my time in Bratislava, including one who I met up with later in England.
I even participated in hostel dinner and helped chop stuff for dinner. It had been a while since I did any sort of cooking. The hostel was great, but I forgot one night and had to stay in a one-star hotel, probably the worst place I slept the whole time.
In Klin (or Zubrohlava) I met up with some Slovakian relatives, through my father’s mother’s side. They were kind enough to drive me all the way from Bratislava to the small village in the mountainous center of the country. Along the way, we saw the ruins of many old, medieval castles.
The village was on a hill overlooking the rolling fields and farmlands, and was more beautiful than pictures can capture. My family members made dinner and we all practiced English (since I couldn’t speak a word of Slovak).
My family was kind and hospitable to give me a free ride to Prague, where I stayed for another week. I had my best hostel experience, and made a whole new group of friends. I discovered all sorts of new places that I hadn’t been to the first time around, walking 40,000 steps in a day with Bruno, a friend I made from Brazil.
We discovered a giant pillar looming over the city that represented the height of an old Stalin monument that got knocked down after communism. We also went to the sex machine museum, one of the more interesting museums I’ve been to.
Munich, the capital of Bavaria in Germany, was a pit stop on the way to Switzerland. I had two free Flixbus rides, so I decided to just stop in Munich on the way. I spent most of my two days writing and working, but I saw all the monuments and tried beer while I was there.
Zurich and Lucerne
Zurich is a beautiful, expensive city in Switzerland which is a country that isn’t Sweden. I took my other Flixbus ride there to meet up with Michael, a friend I made in Budapest. There was a constant fog rolling over the city, and walking alone the riverside during sunset was amazingly beautiful. It was amazing to see how such a small country has left such a big impact in so many ways – Swiss cheese, Swiss banks, Swiss watches, Swiss chocolate, Swiss neutrality.
We took a day trip to Lucerne to go up the Pilatus mountain.
Back at the house, his friends and I made Raclette, a Swiss specialty of potatoes, other vegetables, and cheese, made on a special griddle.
London, England was one of my favorite cities to visit, and a place that I’d love to live some day. I actually went on my first ever walking tour in London, despite that every city and nearly every hostel has a free walking tour. I saw Birmingham palace, London Bridge and Tower Bridge, Hyde Park and Green Park, and walked through the neighborhoods and burroughs of the city.
Met up with Paul, Craig’s friend in London, and he showed me around.
Drank a lot of whisky and beer in London with Andrea, and we even befriended some programmers.
I saw King’s Cross, Camden Town, and the Eye of London. I also met up with two more friends that I met through the site, Ralphie and Jeremie.
My second-to-last stop on the trip was back to Edinburgh. I went back up to Arthur’s Seat, and strolled through the Royal Mile.
I rented a car, and Craig, Laura and I went on an adventure to Glencoe in the Highlands. Driving on the other side of the road while learning how to deal with roundabouts and narrow, winding mountain roads was a challenge, but it ended up being worth it.
I also took day trips to St. Abbs, a tiny fishing village, and Linlithgow, the ruins of an ancient castle.
Dublin is the capital of Ireland. I went to a tech meetup with Rose, my friend here, and had some proper Guinness at a pub. Like Nashville, Dublin has live music in almost every pub, and if I heard an accordion, I went in.
I saw St. Patrick’s cathedral, and went into the Revenue museum and saw a drug toilet.
I met Patrick at the meetup, and we went to Glendalough, which had an ancient monastery and abandoned mining town.
This is where I am right now, in a cafe.
In just a few days, I’ll be heading home, which will be bittersweet for me.
Extra special thanks to Craig for being the catalyst for my trip, to Craig and Laura for putting me up in Edinburgh, and being all around amazing. Thank you!! And thank you to all my friends over in HTTPChat for joining me along the journey and keeping me sane, and everyone I met through this site who met up with me along the way, and to all my family members in Europe who were so hospitable to me. Thank you so much!