Belgrade, Serbia: Land of Meat Plates, Graffiti, and Rakia

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Sunset run on the Sava

It’s hard to describe Belgrade, Serbia in a nutshell but I can try to sum it up by explaining my first hour there:

It’s late when our buses roll into the terminal after a long trip from Prague. We plop into vans for transport to our accommodations and eat sandwiches of (mostly) bread, meat, and cheese — a combination otherwise known as the Belgrade Diet (spoiler: ineffective).

At my stop, I exit onto a dark street and meet my absurdly tall landlord, who escorts me to a sketchy graffiti-covered building marked with a Cyrillic address. We squeeze into a rickety elevator and at the fourth floor, climb two dark flights of stairs. I am convinced my new home is a dusty attic and pray for good wifi.

He opens the door and leads me through a bright, modern apartment. It’s cool and spacious. It has a patio. It’s not at all what I anticipated. The same can be said for Belgrade, a city barely on my radar before it landed on the Remote Year itinerary.

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If cities are people, Serbia’s capital is the quiet one in the back of the room who doesn’t say much until you get to know them. When you do, you find out they’re quirky and cultured and like dancing to house music until 6AM at floating nightclubs, or splavs, along the Sava River.

They also smoke everywhere, all the time, on the streets and in bars and coffeeshops and airports and bathrooms, but that’s just a habit you live with.

The city is funky. It’s gritty. Belgrade has a rough history but has begun to turn around in recent years. Scars of its tumultuous past are visible on its streets, but so are its efforts: crumbling buildings sit atop quaint cafes, shops, an array of restaurants. Evidence of violence is still there. One building stands out in particular; its side is completely gone, destruction preserved as a memorial of the 1999 NATO bombings that destroyed it.

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Morning exploring: The best part of working EST in Europe

September was a busy month and I left Serbia twice: once to hike in the Slovenian mountains and again for a calm weekend retreat in Munich otherwise known as Oktoberfest. Even so, I liked Belgrade and would visit if/when I find myself back in Eastern Europe. Here are a few highlights:

Biking the Serbian countryside: Biked 40-50 miles through the countryside and towns outside Belgrade, (“Serburbia”), slept in floating hotel rooms, dropped in on a wedding, and ordered a lot of meat for lunch — too much to fit in a takeout container, so we put it in a garbage bag and tossed it to puppies and goats along the way.

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This goat likes red peppers. He does not like leftover beef.

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Home-sweet-floating hotel room

The best part? Wandering into a local restaurant and being welcomed into someone’s family party — I think. Nobody spoke English but they were so incredibly friendly, brought us food and beer, and encouraged us to sing and dance with them even though we had no idea what was going on. I’m always nice to travelers but now, inspired by these lovely Serbians, I’ll be nicer.

The second-best part? Stopping at a water park in the middle of nowhere on the ride home.

RAS volunteering: A powerful experience I had this month was volunteering with Refugee Aid Serbia (RAS), working with people fleeing countries in conflict. We hear a lot about Europe’s refugee crisis in the US, but it’s easy to feel removed.

Serbia is host to 7,000 refugees and asylum seekers who pass through en route to western Europe. We were no longer removed from the problem. We were seeing it every day. So we helped – giving refugees food and clothing, talking with them, helping them feel comfortable.

This was sobering, frustrating, heartbreaking. Sometimes when you try to help, you can’t. Sometimes there isn’t a pair of pants to fit a ten-year-old Afghani boy who just crossed into Serbia, where chilly fall evenings lead to bitter winters. Sometimes I had to say no. That was hard.

Novi (don’t be) Sad: Day trip to Novi Sad, Serbia’s second-largest city about an hour outside Belgrade. After stopping at a monastery, wandering city streets, seeing traditional Serbian dancers and learning about the local fortress, we enjoyed a wine tasting/lunch in the cellar of a local winery, hosted by the world’s most precious old woman.

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Streets of Novi Sad

This was the same day I learned Belgrade is not as LGBT friendly as others I’ve lived in. The early morning streets were empty, save for lines of police in riot gear. Our city manager explained this was because of the day’s pride parade, which apparently leads to violence. 

Other Belgrade adventures: There were a lot of random things I did in Belgrade and I’m slowly realizing how long this post is (I’m also on a Cambodian bus and currently getting carsick):

Learning about Serbia’s extensive, complex wartime history at the Military Museum.

Spotting beautiful/angry/intricate graffiti while walking the city streets.

Getting cheesy at our monthly fundraiser, a grilled cheese competition, by making piles of macaroni-and-cheese-BBQ-sauce sandwiches.

Sipping rakia, the local liquor, and sitting in a parking lot surrounded by bars because that’s where people hung out (it has since shut down, which makes me sad).

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Work from any floating cafe

Working from Smokvica, Aviator, 19 Grams, Lemon Chili, and Black Sheep, which has the best gelato in Belgrade and maybe the world.

Running along the Sava River and past the aforementioned floating nightclubs after leaving them eight hours prior.

Going to restaurants and pointing at the menu with no idea what I’m ordering, only to have a lot of meat arrive shortly after.

Asking for iced coffee “without ice cream” because Belgrade has a sweet tooth.

Dancing all night at Apgrade in Kalemegdan Fortress, because where better to have a music festival?

Then seeking mental and physical detox post-festival, renting a car, and driving across three countries to hike in Triglav National Park.

Whew.

Coming soon: Oktoberfest, otherwise titled The Time I Went To Munich For My First Beer.

Bonus! More random photos from Serbian September, AKA Serbtember AKA Septerbia:

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View from my not-attic apartment

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An especially photogenic community lunch

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Because why wouldn’t you put a swimming pool in a floating nightclub?

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Dancing in a fortress

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I drank a lot of coffee in Belgrade

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Morning commute to the workspace

Living the Thai Life: Month 10 in Chiang Mai

Late last summer, I reluctantly dragged myself onto a bus and moved from Prague to Belgrade. I was Not Happy to leave because:

  1. Prague is a gorgeous, fascinating city and I was having an incredible time.
  2. I had no idea what the hell to expect in Serbia.

Any other year, I may have stayed. But my living situation is currently dictated by a calendar, so I promised Prague a return visit and hit the road. You wouldn’t know because I’m years behind on blog posts, but Belgrade was a giant (/weird/exciting/super cool) surprise.

The don’t-make-me-go hit a second time while packing to move to Cambodia. The northern Thai city of Chiang Mai was a big reason I was excited to join RY3. Thailand had been on my bucket list for ages and I fell hard for its culture, food, and friendly locals.

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It didn’t take long to understand how the Land of Smiles earned its nickname. Over 30+ days, I didn’t meet a single Thai person who was impolite or unfriendly. Our daily interactions, however brief, made a positive difference in my time there.

Month 9 in Malaysia wasn’t my favorite — EST work hours, daily rainstorms, not “clicking” with KL, and other random factors — but my attitude turned around this month. I was happier; less stressed. It seems I wasn’t the only one who felt the shift. Good vibes are contagious.

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Morning hike on the Monk’s Trail. Also: SUN

I could recap December with several hundred photos of noodles, elephants, and temples. That would be boring and I wouldn’t get to make any puns, so this is the wordy edition:

Eating everything: The first, foremost, and most obvious highlight is the abundance of cheap and delicious food. You can buy pounds of noodles for the price of a single NYC Thai meal and have leftover cash for mango sticky rice, which I’m now thinking about for the third time today.

Also, the Mexican food is on POINT. Not super relevant but had to be noted. Onward.

Temple time: Chiang Mai and its surrounding countryside are home to hundreds of temples, some of which date back to its 1296 founding. Some are massive and ornate, some are small and simple. I tried to visit them all and was unsuccessful, but the ones I saw were pretty cool.

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Tunnels at Wat Umong

Kelephant and the elephants: Day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside Chiang Mai. Elephants are immensely valued in Thai culture, but many “elephant camps” marketed to tourists are unethical and torture their animals by making them do tricks or carry people. It’s not okay.

Fortunately, there are several organizations where elephants are respected and well-cared for. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is one of them. We spent a day feeding, bathing, and playing in the mud with these beautiful and intelligent creatures. Hands-down one of the best days this year. 

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Chiang Mai Marathon: After four months of the world’s weirdest and most geographically diverse training plan, I finished my first marathon abroad in Chiang Mai. RY3 runners finished half and full marathons, some of them for the first time, and I’m so damn proud of them all!

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Runners, cheerleaders, and locals! This was taken about 5 minutes after I crossed the finish line, so I’m still blinking sweat out of my eyes.

Setting things on fire: Took a Thai cooking class and had a great time learning to make Som Tum (papaya salad – my fave), Penaeng curry, stir-fry chicken & cashews, and chicken in coconut milk soup. I also learned there are no cultural bounds to my terrible cooking, so thanks to the amazing instructor at Secret Thai Cooking School for helping make my dishes edible. 

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Nomading HARD: Chiang Mai is a haven for expats and nomads from around the world. Its streets are packed with cafés and a growing number of co-working spaces. A couple were open 24 hours, lending some much-needed location variety to my semi-nocturnal working hours.  

 

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Pre-holiday cram session at 9th Street Cafe

I’m dreaming of a sticky, tropical Christmas: Spent Christmas morning hiking in the Thai jungle and climbing “sticky waterfalls,” which have a mineral deposit that enables climbers to scale the rocks with bare hands and feet. My Christmas present to myself was getting to be Spider-Man for a day.

We also celebrated with a holiday dinner at the Rustic & Blue farm. It was hard having my first Christmas away from family and friends in the US, but festive and fun to celebrate with my travel family. 

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Christmas dinner, the most adorable and Pinterest-inspired event I’ve ever attended

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Bua Thong sticky waterfalls

Rockin’ out on island time: Post-Christmas trip to Krabi, a southern Thai province known for beaches and epic rock climbing. We went twice with Krabi Rock Climbing on Railay Beach and spent hours scaling walls alongside beautiful sea views. I’m not a big climber (yet) and loved the challenge of outdoor top-rope climbing. Definitely a future hobby.

We also spent a day exploring Krabi’s surrounding islands. While I wouldn’t recommend the tour — which was hilariously disorganized, forgot people, and got us stuck on a coral reef — it was a great day. I snorkeled for the first time, saw clownfish, got so excited I choked, ate mystery BBQ on a dark beach, and swam with glowing plankton in the pitch-black sea.

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Climb time 

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View of Railay Bay from a jungle trail

New Year’s on party island: Ventured from Krabi to the eastern Thai island of Koh Phangan for its Full Moon party on NYE. Think drinking out of buckets, neon everything everywhere, flower crowns, face paint, and lots of tie-dye. It has no chill, but it’s a lot of fun.

As luck would have it, my first bout of Asian food poisoning struck on December 31, but I managed to celebrate midnight on the beach before nausea forced me home. We spent the first 2 days of 2017 lounging seaside and exploring the nearby island of Koh Tao.

Peace, Love, and Pai: Spent a weekend in the hippie backpacker mountain oasis of Pai, lounging by the pool, sipping Chang (basically Thailand’s Budweiser), hanging in hippie bars, eating delicious food, and catching dragonflies in a hot spring. And getting neon face paint because apparently that is a theme this month.

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Mountain views en route to Pai

Muay Thai: Saw my first Muay Thai fight and took a class to learn the basics. It was a great workout and I had way more fun in the ring than I thought I would. 

Joined a biker gang: Not really, but I did rent this scooter for three days, rode to Chiang Mai’s “Grand Canyon” (spoiler: inflatable water park), and drove around aimlessly because it was fun.

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New ride

Mango watermelon juice: Shout-out to the wonderful women at the juice stand in Old City market, who made the best watermelon mango juice I’ll ever have in my life. I miss you most.

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Take me back to Thailand

Dear Croatia, We’ll Sea Each Other Again

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Seaside on Brac island

October 2015: Highlight of my month is plunking down a deposit to join Remote Year.

October 2016: Highlights of my month include hopping among Croatian islands, walking the old city walls of Dubrovnik, and taking my work breaks in the Adriatic Sea.

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The water is this clear everywhere and it’s amazing

We landed in Split via the only chartered flight I’ll ever take in my life, so Month 10 was off to a good start before we left Belgrade. Then we arrived at our new home, a massive 3-bedroom apartment. Then I woke up and saw the sea sparkling from our porch window.

AWWWWW YEAH.

About 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, so it’s almost impressive that RY3 managed to spend 7 months in landlocked cities before a seaside break in Croatia. I had never lived near the ocean and was excited for sunshine and swimming.

Living in Split was a breath of fresh air after the rest of Europe — literally. I loved Belgrade, but I also secondhand-smoked at least two packs a day. The city was a cigarette, albeit a very fun and interesting one.

I am super behind on blog posts and don’t really know how else to do this, so today I present you with the highlights of my Croatian month. These are mostly photos because 1. I can’t do justice to Croatia’s beauty and 2. it’s late and I’m exhausted.

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Just your average sunrise run in Split

Clean water and perfect sunsets: The Adriatic Sea has spoiled me for life. Before Croatia, I never bothered bringing goggles into seawater because nothing was visible (what’s good, Jersey Shore).

This month, I went out and bought goggles because the water in Croatia is so pristine, I could see the ocean floor 20 feet away. I’m still not over how crystal-clear it was. The water was chilly in October but that didn’t stop me from packing a bathing suit with my laptop every day.

Also, the sunsets looked like this:

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Plitvice: I wanted to see Plitvice Lakes National Park long before Remote Year and was so excited to finally go! We turned this adventure into a road trip, complete with pounds of snacks and bad music, and also drove through Krka National Park and the sea organ in Zadar, Croatia on our way.

Plitvice exceeded my high expectations. Our hike (trail C, in case you’re going) took us on a 5-6 hour journey through gorgeous turquoise lakes and fall foliage. I took about 5 million pictures. Here is a small sampling:

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Croatia is showing off

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This is a real thing that I saw in real life

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Island hopping: 3 remotes and their wifi hotspot boarded a ferry, sans plans or accommodations, and spent a week on Hvar and Korcula.

Highlights: working seaside/on playgrounds/in cafes, wandering old fortresses, a wine tour that turned into a brandy tasting, countless beautiful views, cave hiking, and getting stranded, which led to partying with locals and befriending a restaurant-owning family who welcomed us into their celebration. Best week of the month, and one of my favorites this year.

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Getting a guided wine/brandy tour of Korcula, after we found out the only ferry to Split left at 6AM

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Where the Hvar-ty at?

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These rocks were my office

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That moment when you fall on your face because you’re staring at Korcula

Dubrovnik: Took a ferry to King’s Landing and pretended to be on Game of Thrones for a weekend. We walked around the city walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, swam, worked, climbed some fortresses, and ate a lot of Indian food (this reflects a broader Remote Year trend). The Old Town district is cool and 100% worth a trip, but there wasn’t much to see or do outside it. Two days was plenty of time.
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Observing the kingdom from my new fortress

Work in Progress: Remote Year built its first co-working space in Split and normally I don’t write much about our workspaces, but I spent a lot of time working/napping/hanging out/eating/drinking here so this is an exception.

WIP was a cozy workspace and it was here I learned how to use an espresso machine, a process that may have resulted in me exploding espresso grounds all over the wall. The best part of WIP was its proximity to the water. My work breaks became swim breaks.

Actually, I lied. The best part of WIP was Willy, our adopted puppy who spent the month hanging out with us at the workspace. Fortunately, he found a home right before we left for Asia!

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BFFs

I loved our month in Split but plan on returning to Croatia in the future. Because we were there at the end of the season, it was quieter and many tourist attractions were closed or closing. I’d love to return for a few weeks during the summer for more boating and island-hopping.

My Unplanned European Cross-Country Road Trip

Ten hours into my first solo trip, I call the hostel’s owner from a gas station in the pitch-black woods outside Ljubljana, Slovenia. My rental car’s dated navigation system decided to avoid highways and as a result, I’m 3 hours behind.

“Would it be possible to do a late check-in?” I ask.

“Ummm, no,” he says, albeit apologetically. The call drops.

I try to re-connect but my account is inactive. Skype has marked the call suspicious because it doesn’t expect me to be in Slovenia.

Well, Skype, I didn’t expect me to be in Slovenia either. But here we both are.

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Greetings from Bohinj!

Solo travel was among my personal goals for Remote Year and by early September, I needed a break from the beloved chaos my life has become. During my first week in Belgrade, I researched bucket-list countries: Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, etc.

Finding flights was easy. Getting excited about the trip was surprisingly hard. The idea of swapping Belgrade for another big city was exhausting and I didn’t want to hunt for sightseeing spots or walking tours or wifi-equipped cafes or hostels where all those things were accessible.

Maybe a city wasn’t where I needed to be. Next stop, Google: “Best national parks in Europe.”

Images of towering peaks, lush forests, and deep blue lakes flooded the screen. Suddenly, a week off the grid sounded perfect. Slovenia’s Triglav National Park was a quick 1.5-hour flight from Belgrade … or a 5- to 6-hour drive across Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia.

Pause. I hadn’t driven a car since February, had never driven across country borders, and couldn’t understand Serbian highway signs for my life. But thoughts of flying down an open highway; of being in charge of my own ETA were too hard to pass up. ROAD TRIP!

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Sunset from a random farm

I originally decide to travel Sept. 12-16 but on Sept. 5, I wake up impatient and want to leave early. Nobody disagrees, so within an hour I book a hostel room, rent a car, pack a backpack, and hit the road.

The journey to Triglav’s Lake Bohinj is an experience. This GPS prefers backroads so my 5-hour trip becomes 10. I wind through Slovenian countryside, watch the sunset, get totally lost, and drive down a hiking trail (oops). Hostel Bohinj is impossible to find at 11PM, so I’m about to sleep in my car when the only open hostel in Slovenia appears. Travel win!

Come sunrise, I find the hostel and head to Slovenia’s largest permanent lake, nestled among the massive and beautiful Julian Alps. Being in the wild is invigorating after months of city life. I hit the trails, run miles around Bohinj and jump in its crystal-clear water until I’m tired, exhilarated, and refreshed. This is why I came to a national park.

A light rain starts to fall around 3pm, just as my workday is about to start. I camp out on a cozy hostel couch, sip coffee and write to the sound of rain falling in the forest.

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Storm stops in time for sunset

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The location of my future mountain hut

My week follows this pattern: explore in the morning; work throughout the evening. It’s peaceful here and I find myself enjoying solitude I don’t normally crave. A break from the city, from Remote Year, helps me focus and gain perspective. I realize I needed to breathe.

But as with any adventure, there are surprises.

One day I run down a random trail. Ten minutes in, it takes a steep incline and the dirt path gives way to a rock face with pegs jutting out for support. What started as a run turns into scaling the side of a mountain, in shorts and running shoes, as hikers in raincoats and boots stare at me like I’m crazy. This may be true.

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The moment I realize I’m in an Eddie Bauer ad

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The moment I realize I should probably turn around

The trail never flattens, and my run doesn’t happen, but I find this lake at the top!

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Surprise! Now you get to climb back down.

On Thursday I hike a trail that promises up-close views of Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak and the park’s namesake.

It’s not easy. I climb for 1-2 hours, savoring the accomplishment that only comes from pushing my physical limits. When I turn around, all I see are endless mountains; all I hear are my own breaths and pounding heartbeat. Being alone is less scary and more empowering.

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At the top, I’m rewarded with a view of Triglav half-hidden behind clouds:

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Triglav is shy today.

Early Friday morning, I reluctantly leave Bohinj to get back for a weekend bike trip. At Serbian border control, the man checking my passport seems confused.

“It’s just you?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“You’re traveling alone?”

“Yep, just me.”

He raises his eyebrows and returns my passport.

I drive ahead and turn down the radio, thinking about the past week. My trip surprised me in a few ways. In the past I’ve always preferred to travel with people, mostly because I was scared: of loneliness, of discomfort, of the possibility of running into trouble on my own.

As it turns out, I’m more capable of navigating the roadblocks than I thought. Guess driving across three foreign countries with a prehistoric GPS will teach you these lessons.

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I’ve spent so much time worrying about the dangers of traveling alone that I never focused on the good. In Triglav, I didn’t worry whether someone else wanted to swim or run or eat ice cream for lunch. Nobody cared how I drove (badly) or sang in the car (worse).

My choices were mine, and I was the only person they affected. This was addictively freeing.

While I still love traveling with people, there are definitely more solo trips in my future. This break from my hectic reality made me excited to head back to Serbia with a clear head, new energy, and the goal of hitting a national park whenever I can.

Blogging and Pragueing

It’s weird to be in a place you’ve only seen online and in your imagination. This particular strangeness has followed me from Patagonia to Salar de Uyuni to Macchu Picchu to London.

Now the feeling has followed me to Prague, where I can’t seem to shake it.

It has been 2 weeks since the horrendous 4AM wake-up call that started our travel day to Praha. Two weeks since I stood at a beer garden above the Vlata River, soaking in a beautiful view and cheersing to the first day of Praugust.

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A filter would be an insult.

On that first evening I wandered in Old Town Square and snapped photos of the Týn Church, its spires glowing orange in the sunset. I strolled through Wenceslas Square and ate sausages and against my better judgment, stayed out until 5AM.

Day two brought clouds over Prague’s red-orange rooftops. Shoving my hangover aside, I rolled out of bed and into the city’s winding streets for a 12-mile run. As we weaved through crowds of tourists, I blinked out raindrops for better views of the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and block after block of stunning architecture.

Prague had me at dobrý den, though it was a week or so before I learned how to say “good day” in return.

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Rainy morning on the Charles Bridge

The Eastern European city is fairytale beautiful, though the story of its past is decidedly the opposite. On a walking tour of Prague, our guide took us to landmarks and shared historical tidbits — for example, how New Prague came to be and the “defenestrations” when officials were pushed out of windows.

Really fun, uplifting stuff.

I did more than wander the patterned sidewalks of Praha during the 2+ weeks I’ve been here (but that’s probably my favorite Praguetivity). Here’s a recap of some things I’ve seen and done in Praugust so far:

Made a ton of truly awful Prague/Czech puns: It started with Praugust and snowballed into Praguesome, Czech mate, Czech it out, Pragueably, no Praguelem… the Praguessabilities are endless.

Ran to St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle: Prague is one of the best running cities we’ve lived in so far, and it’s definitely the most scenic. I love lacing up in the morning and going on exploratory runs before the tourist crowds swarm the streets. Most of these adventures take me along the Vltava River but some have gone to the majestic St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle and Petrin Hill, which has great city views.

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Worked in an old Danish embassy: K10, our coworking space for this month, is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ll ever call my office. The converted embassy building is gorgeous and has a massive backyard where I like to lay in the grass and take calls. Nomad life is rough.

Welcomed a friend from home! My friend Brynne, whom I met in a running group back in Hoboken, visited Prague for a European adventure. It was so great to see her and we had an incredible time walking (and running) through Prague, Dublin, and Budapest during a whirlwind 10 days.

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Welcoming Brynne (and RY3) to Prague

Ran Dublin: On our second weekend in Prague, we flew to Dublin for the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon. Running + Ireland = my jam. This was my first visit to Ireland since I was a kid, and my first visit to Dublin ever. The city was underwhelming, coming from Prague, but I quickly warmed up to its fun vibe and have no doubt I’ll be back to Ireland soon.

Budapest: Weekend #3 took us to Budapest, a city that’s been on my travel list for a long time now. Over three days we toured the castle district, walked through Buda and Pest, visited the Terror House, crossed the Chain Bridge, partied at the ruin pubs, and relaxed in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath while watching the women’s Olympic marathon.

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Budaful views

Tiptoeing into Czech culture: I felt utterly helpless the first time I walked into a Czech shop and couldn’t even say hello. In South America my elementary Spanish was at least somewhat useful, but it’s weird to be in a place where the language isn’t even remotely familiar.

I’m getting used to the Czech language — as in, I can greet people and say thank you — and also sampled some Czech food, which is super heavy and put me in a food coma. They eat a lot of meat and bread here, but fortunately there are several healthy restaurants nearby. I’m also loving the popularity of Vietnamese cuisine, which is big here.

It’s hard to believe we’ll be off to Belgrade next weekend. The next ten days will include me trying to squeeze in as many Prague adventures as possible. What’s up next? SKYDIVING on Monday! Can’t wait!

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Bridge views. I love Prague.

I Didn’t Drink Tea In London, And Other True Stories

On July 2, I said “ciao” to Cusco and “cheerio!” to London for the first month of Remote Year: Eurotrip. It was sad to leave South America — another post for another time — but London was calling.

Before I answered, I put the UK on hold for a visit to the US. It was wonderful to spend time with family, celebrate the 4th of July with best friends, hug my dog, and drink about 10 gallons of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee.

My stateside vacation was short but sweet and I’m grateful for the time to recharge. Before long, I was navigating the tube system on 2 hours of sleep, trying to find my new home before starting the workday at 2pm London time. Working NYC hours in Europe was weird but also convenient at times like this.

Our July home was The Collective, a co-living/co-working space best described as a giant dorm for adults. Think shared apartments and a bunch of communal areas where we could camp out with laptops for the day. Also, showers that made me feel like a giant.

The Collective had speedy wifi and comfy workspaces (laundry room was my fave), but most days I hopped on the tube to work from cafes in central London. I had never visited the city and wanted to see as much as possible during my 3 weeks there.

July was a crazy busy month but it was also crazy fun. Here’s the shortened version:

Almost-two-peaks challenge

Five hours after arriving in London, I left for a weekend hiking trip. Our group’s intention was to do the 3 Peaks Challenge, which involves scaling the 3 tallest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales in 24 hours.

After realizing our last-minute planning would make this almost impossible, the agenda was condensed and rebranded as the Almost 3 Peaks Challenge. Weather was not in our favor and we hiked through hurricane-force winds and pouring rain in seasonally appropriate gear like shorts and corduroys. We may have been underprepared.

“It’s Wales in July — what did you expect?!” and “Didn’t anyone warn you?” locals shouted at us above the storm’s roar.

Clearly not.

This sounds miserable but our hiking adventure was so much fun. We conquered Mt. Snowdon, spent an impromptu night in a beachside town, and hiked almost all of Scafell Pike but had to abandon early because of our long drive back. I also love outdoor adventures so this was a great way to kick off the month. Almost 2 Peak Challenge = success.

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The weather was only bad when we were hiking; otherwise it was like this

Leuve in Leuven

A friend of mine from Belgium was a total champ in organizing a trip for ~15 of us to visit his hometown of Leuven. It’s such a beautiful little city and SO much fun. Weekend activities: outdoor concert/dance party (a Leuven summer thing), trip to the Stella Artois brewery, super fun BBQ, walking tours of Leuven and Brussels, and a lot of beer/waffles/fries.

Recovering from Leuven weekend took about a week but was totally worth it. Cheers!

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Livin la vida Leuven

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Just your average Friday

Little sis comes to town!

Towards the end of July, my sister Claire came from the US and we spent a few days in uber-tourist mode, cramming in as much sightseeing as possible.

In one week and about a million miles, we saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, Tate Modern, British Museum, Hyde Park, Royal Albert Hall, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Globe Theatre, Trafalgar Square, Millennium Bridge, London Eye, Oxford University, and some other sights I’m probably forgetting.

My favorite parts of the week were walking through Hyde Park and spending a day at Oxford, which is probably the most beautiful school I’ll ever see in my life. We tried to see all the places where Harry Potter scenes were filmed and my inner wizard wept with joy. Other highlights were Tower of London and the street food at Borough Market – on. point.

The only London activity I didn’t check off was teatime. Looking back, I didn’t drink tea at all in England, which makes me feel like I did something wrong. I’m sure I’ll return eventually and will drink double the amount of tea when I do.

If it helps, we did sample every gelato shop in central London (Scoops was the best in case you’re wondering).

I had a blast seeing Claire and exploring London together. It’s weird and sad to know I won’t see her for a long time after having two visits in one month, but her trip was definitely one for the books.

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London was fundon, but…

It sounds weird, but July felt like a break from Remote Year — probably because I was gone half the month and took 70% of my vacation days in 3 weeks. Oops.

England was lovely and this month was fun, but I was pumped to move by the time July 30 rolled around. London felt very familiar to the city I left behind, which was comforting in some ways but also made me restless. I missed the exciting uneasiness of experiencing a brand-new place for the first time, a feeling that followed me throughout South America.

Now we’re in Prague and the feeling is back. The architecture is stunning, beer is cheap, and I spend way too much time translating labels at the grocery store. I feel like an outsider here now but am so excited to get to know this beautiful city.

Cusco: Adventures, Fun Facts, Llamas

On the last week of our South American journey (wah), I figured it was time to write about life in Cusco, Peru. There is a direct correlation between the amount of time I’m on Remote Year and the amount of time I want to spend typing.

We arrived at our new Cusco homes after a 14-hour bus ride, which was long but not bad thanks to naps, snacks, and mountain views. In typical South American fashion, I ate an empanada that didn’t agree with me and got 4 hours of sleep before the first June adventure: Rainbow Mountain!

Vinicunca Mountain is called Rainbow Mountain because sediments in the rock give it colorful stripes. Not just part of the mountain — THE WHOLE THING. It’s stunning and 100% worth the 3am wake-up call and 12-mile trek that took us from 4,000m to 5,200m and back.

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Rainbow Mountain was a long day and altitude was a challenge, but it was one of my favorite hikes to date. I’m so glad it was the first thing I did in Cusco and it was my second favorite adventure of this month (Inca Trail was a whole other beast).

Anyway, Cusco. We’re in the clouds again this month as the former capital of the Inca empire is about 11,155 ft. above sea level. I’m living in a hotel called Casa de Campo, which has a strong jungle treehouse vibe and sweet views of the city.

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I love the jungle thing but don’t spend much time in Campo because Cusco is awesome and there’s so much to explore. The city’s ancient architecture and tiny cobblestone streets make it look like a movie set. It’s touristy, yes, but in a super cute way.

First up: Cusco adventures!

  • Hiking Saqsaywaman: Ancient Incan citadel about a 10-minute walk from my hotel, because these are normal things in Cusco. I’ve run and hiked through it a bunch of times and it never gets less cool (or difficult).
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Not pictured: 1 million stairs on the way up

  • Cristo Blanco: On one of our first nights in Cusco, I noticed a white Jesus floating above the city. Turns out it wasn’t a hallucination but a massive statue at the top of a giant hill, which also has sweet views of the city. And llamas.
  • Welcome party: Rented another giant house because RY3 is in its element at house parties. Just give us a dance floor and DJ please.
  • Bus tour: Drove around Cusco and didn’t understand much of what the driver said, but did love seeing some great views and spending a few hours in the sun.
  • Fundraising and fashion: RY3 held a “Pisco and Poker” night during which we played poker, drank Pisco (Peruvian liquor), and raised money for charity. My friend and I ran a table for our Pisco cocktail competition, so naturally we dressed in traditional Peruvian attire and served Pisco shots.
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#trendsetters

 

  • The Junction: Every month, RY has a networking event and this month’s theme was ‘where I’m from’. We drank pisco (sensing a theme here?) and learned about one another’s heritage during a storySLAM (storytelling session), where I Irish danced and talked about throwing up after my first dance class.
  • Sacred Valley: Explored Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, Urubamba, and other parts of Peru’s Sacred Valley. This was the laziest and greatest day trip ever because aside from climbing some ruins, we mostly hung out in a van and drove around to cool places.
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Pisac

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Sunset views

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Moray

  • Inca Trail to Machu Picchu! Amazing. Too many other words for a bullet point. Separate post on the way.

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To sum up the things I’ve learned about living in Cusco, here are a few fun facts:

  • Cobblestones are deadly: The same stones that give Cusco streets their quaint storybook look are slippery at all times no matter what shoes you wear. I’ve considered adding duct tape to mine.
  • June is Cusco Fiesta Month: I do not know what it’s like to walk through the Plaza de Armas without seeing at least ten people in costume and usually a parade, because this is the month Cusco celebrates its heritage. Like fireworks-at-8am and people-dancing-in-the-streets levels of celebration.
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Casual weekday

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No party like a Cusco commute

  • Dogs and llamas are everywhere: There are maybe ten stray dogs for every llama you see walking around this city. And there are a lot of llamas.
  • When I said touristy, I meant it: Those llamas are being walked around by Peruvian women hoping people will want to take a picture with them (FYI totally works). Cusco is a huge hub for tourists exploring ancient sites, meaning there are hundreds of people trying to sell you things all the time. If you want a massage or a hat, just walk down the street and someone will offer you one.
  • The food is on point: Maybe it’s because we were coming from La Paz, maybe it’s because Cusco is a huge tourist hub, but this city is packed with delicious restaurants — Peruvian, yes, but also Italian, tapas, ceviche, you name it. No more PB and crackers for me! At least, not for dinner. Every night. Like in Bolivia.