Traveling Europe: Looking Back.

 

 

Last year I made one of the best decisions of my life and decided to take (another) semester off from college and backpack around Europe for two months with my best friend. This was my first time, and hers, traveling outside of the United States. As you would imagine we were overly excited, nervous, and had no idea what to expect before we left for this crazy adventure. Although it was the best experience and trip of a lifetime, there were definitely some things I would have done differently and certain things I wish people would have told us before we left.  So, I am going to share my top 6 tips/lessons I learned that I wish I would have known before traveling to Europe!

  1. Eat EVERYTHING.

And I mean everything. Don’t be worried about gaining an extra couple pounds—you will regret not eating that authentic Italian pizza while you’re in Italy. Like who does that?! (yeah, we did that.. and it haunts me.) Even if you are gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, I don’t care.. you still eat the pizza.

Another tip along the lines of eating while you’re in Europe; if you want authentic food from whatever city you’re in, don’t eat on the main strips where they have pictures of food on the menu. The rule we learned (almost near the end of our trip) is to get good authentic food, go at least two streets back from the main square. Also, you don’t tip in Europe! Most places. That would have been a very nice thing to know before we left.

2. You Have To Pay to Use the Bathroom.

Yeah, this one was a shocker that I can’t believe no one warned us about. You have to pay to use public restrooms almost everywhere you go in Europe. I mean it’s only a quarter or fifty cense.. but it just would have been nice to know. Oh and FYI, bathrooms are called water closets and you will see neon signs that say “WC” and not “Restrooms” pointing you to their whereabouts.

3. Wear Pants At St. Peter’s Basilica.

If you plan to go to the St. Peter’s Basilica when in Rome.. wear long pants or something that covers your legs. We almost weren’t allowed in because my best friend was wearing a dress and apparently you cant have leg above the knee showing. BUT, luckily she had a blanket scarf to wrap around herself.. so we got to explore. And I’m so glad we did! Also, if you do  go there I would recommend everyone take the stairs to the top.. it’s worth it!

4. Slovaks Love Vodka.

I know this isn’t a stop on most people’s list, but just incase it is.. prepare your liver. My friend had relatives that lived in Slovakia that she wanted to meet for the first time, so we made a pit stop in Jaklovce, Slovakia for a few days. And what no one that had visited there before told us is… every time you meet someone new, they greet you with a shot of vodka and a mound of pastries. And let me tell you.. we met a lot of people. Even on Easter.. you obviously have to celebrate.. so, cheers! We took our first shot at 10 in the morning right after church. Even though Slovakia wasn’t the place we were most excited to go to.. we brought back some of the best memories from it. Since we stayed with her family we were immersed in their culture.. it was so cool and so eye opening. When in Europe, try to get away from the touristy type things and soak up as much of the raw culture as you can!

5. Splurge.

We were college kids traveling across Europe, so obviously we were traveling on a budget. But one of the biggest regrets we had was not splurging just that once to go hang gliding in Austria, or riding horseback through an Italian vineyard. You’re going to come back broke anyway, so spend the money on some kind of experience. And don’t wait for something better to come along or something “more worth it.” Because you won’t find it and end up at the end of you’re trip without doing any of those cool things you wanted to do.

6. Get Lost.

Looking back, I would have had more days where we didn’t have a plan and just walked around, purposely getting lost. I feel like that’s when we came across some of our best adventures and memories. It’s okay to not stick to the plan.

Overall, the trip was a great success and we made some unforgettable memories. These are just a few small tips that I wish someone would have told me before going and hope they can help someone else as they embark on their trip of a lifetime!

 

Post by Kelsey Cowan

 

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Must Do New Zealand Adventures: South Island

Last winter break I did a winter session course to New Zealand. It is even more amazing than what is portrayed in The Lord of the Ring movies. It is literally paradise on earth, you have the best of everything. There are a range of climates from mountains, beaches, rainforests and volcanoes. No one-cent and five-cent coins, which means that most prices end in a zero, or are rounded up. Crosswalks have no lights so you can basically cross the road whenever you like, though there are a few exceptions in very busy areas. It doesn’t mean that you should stop watching for cars, not everyone stops for pedestrians. Restaurant bills are not delivered to your table you will either pay beforehand or have to go up to the register to pay. In some places they don’t keep track of what you have ordered; they will just trust you to tell them what you had. There is no tipping! There are also no snakes, venomous insects, scorpions and only has one venomous spider, which is very rare up to the point it has an almost mythical status. These are just a few things that make New Zealand even better. Though you can’t forget about the amazing sites and activities. Listed below are some must do adventures on New Zealand’s South Island, in no specific order.

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Queenstown is your typical tourist town, high prices and many people. Disregarding those things it is a very picturesque town on Lake Wakatipu with street performers, stores and restaurants lining the streets, a gondola and a beach. It is a great town to stay at for holidays, night life and shopping. There is also a gondola where you can get breathtaking views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.  Queenstown also has a mouth- watering burger joint called Ferburger. Their line is usually a half block if not a block long and their wide varieties of burgers are about the size of a young child’s face. The half-hour wait is soo worth it. To end, Queesntown is world-famous for adventure, this leads into my next topic…

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Since Queenstown is the tourist destination in New Zealand they offer a wide range of extreme activities such as skydiving, jet boating and bungee/bungy jumping. If you don’t know, jet boating and bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand. And many times we do spontaneous things while on vacation, so might as well do one of these activities. Jet boating is the ultimate water sport where you power your way through narrow river canyons. You all know what bungee jumping is, and there are two iconic spots to bungee jump a hour away from Queesntown. The first is Kawarau Bridge, a 43 meter (~141 ft) jump into the river below. It is one of the most popular bungee sites, attrackting thousands of thrill seekers every year. For the more daring there is the Nevis Bungy which is New Zealand’s biggest at 134m (~440 ft) above the Nevis River. There are age, weight and medical restrictions for many of these activities. Unfortunately, I ran into this problem at the Nevis jump, I was a few pounds short for their weight limit. At least I was allowed to travel to the jumping site that is held above the river by two wires to watch.

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Mount Cook is the highest mountain and longest glaciers in New Zealand. There is a lovely day hike (more like 4 hours) to a small lake at the base of the mountain. The hike is pretty flat and has several suspended bridges that are fun to bounce around on. The scenery is amazing, mountains, a river, and flora that were unlike anything I’ve seen. The flora actually somewhat reminded me or a Dr. Seuss book, there were rolling grass areas with these
spiky looking plants that shoot straight up in the air. The trail ends at the small lake which was the chalky white color with small ice blocks. There was a small rocky beach you can walk down to to get to the lake from the picnic area. I have to say, the hike to the lake was more enjoyable than the ending destination.

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Kaikoura is a very cute, small town that is on the ocean and has rocky beaches. Kaikoura itself wasn’t that outstanding as a town but it too had amazing views and was home to many Maori people, the indigenous people of NZ, consisting of 3% of the population. There is a Maori tour ran by a Maori that I thought was worth doing, to learn about their history and culture. Kaikoura is also a popular spot to go whale watching and swim with the dolphins. I was fortunate enough to swim with the dolphins and it is something that I will always remember. As I have never been snorkeling I really got the full experience in this activity. Everyone had to wear a head to toe wetsuits with goggles and snorkel. Since the suits were so buoyant there was no need for life jackets. This was an activity I highly recommend. You are delivered as close as possible to a pod of dolphins. The time I went there were 30 or more dolphins swimming around you,  it was awesome! If you are somewhat claustrophobic this might not be for you. Being encased in a wesuit add in being in the ocean you feel alone and closed in. Even I had a tiny anxiety attack. Also don’t worry if the dolphins move away you get back into the boat to follow them. The time I went we were on and off the boat 5 times before we headed back. And like many similar businesses if the weather is bad or no dolphins are to be found you get a refund and are able to reschedule.

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Christchuch is the largest city on the South Island. In 2010-12 Christcurch experienced devistating earthquakes which forever changed the city. When I visited the destruction from the earthquakes could still be seen around the entire city. This was eye-opening to see since in Montana earthquakes are almost nonexistent.  It was definitely surprising and heartbreaking to see all the damage left. But what surprised me the most was what the city did after the earthquakes. They turned a horrible natural disaster into a new beginning. All around the city there were little innovated places. One was an area of temporary trailer sized businesses, another a musical park made out of recycled material. There was an area testing out 3D printed designs to grow plant and shops made out of train cars. The street art all over the city was outstanding. I just happened to be there during the Spectrum Street Art Festival that consisted of street art, graffiti, video etc. all around the city.

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Abel Tasman is a coastal National Park that has several beaches and has a wide variety of Flora and fur seal rookeries and little blue penguin populations. It is usually recommended to plan a whole day just for this. There is a very easy trail that stretches along the coast that leads to several different beaches, depending on how long you want to walk. If wanting to stay overnight there are a couple of lodges and campsites throughout the park. I would recommend kayaking one way and walking back the other. By kayaking you get a better view of the seal rookeries and maybe a little blue penguin. You also get a better view of the smaller islands just off the coast. I kayaked to this small, somewhat secluded beach for lunch and relaxing and then walked back. If plan to go all day take water, sunscreen and a swimsuit. The burning time this far south is 10 minutes, yikes! There are water faucets available at some areas but they are more for washing and rinsing, not drinking. The water is so beautiful and clear it would be hard to stay away, hence the swimsuit. Warning the one bathroom that was at the beach I was at was awful, it stank to high heaven. Not sure this applies to all but approach with caution!

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Milford sound is within Fiordland National Park. This too is an all day trip. Even though from Queenstown it is located an hour away, straight across, due to road regulations in NZ getting there was more like a 4 hour trip. If you do a bus tour you pass through stunning landscapes including mountain ranges, glacier-carved valleys, crystal clear lakes and native rainforest. There are several things to do at Milford Sound such as, hiking, kayaking and cruises. The cruise was an ideal way to see Milford Sound. It is just over two hours, you get to see wildlife as well as the stunning waterfalls and steep mountain sides. The sights rival that of Glacier National Park, daresay, maybe even surpass those of Glacier.

 

8 ways my rescue dog rescued me

Driving home from Moab late at night in the spring of 2014, I was doing what we all do on long road trips: thinking. Something was missing in my life. I had just spent a week backpacking around the desert and had an unbelievable trip, but all I could think the entire time was how it would have been better with a companion. The next morning I took a trip to Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter in Bozeman, MT to “just look”. I don’t know much, but as soon as we caught each other’s eye I knew I had just met my soul hound. Waker has inflicted monumental impact on my every day life and this canine has made me a better human. I like to say I rescued my dog, but really, he rescued me. Or maybe, we rescued each other. The list of the ways he’s shaped my life is limitless, but here are eight lessons that only Wake dog could have taught me.

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  1. “We” is so much better than “I”.
    Waker is an every day constant now and no matter what it is, it’s about us, not just me anymore. Every decision I make is fueled by what’s best for him and he’s taught me that when you have a teammate in life, you must be considerate, selfless and mindful.

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  1. Dog really is the best co-pilot.
    Waker drastically changed my road trip game. We stop for lots of pee breaks and critter hunting in places I never would have explored alone. We have crossed state lines and time zones together, have witnessed the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I have seen so much more beauty because of him and for that I am fur-ever grateful.

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  1. It’s okay to put your head in a hole sometimes.
    Waker knows the best things in life aren’t always right in front of us nor are they easy to get. Sometimes we need to dig deep to find what we’re really looking for, just like catching critters.

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  1. You can get by with a little help from your best friend.
    Waker has seen my heart break, has watched me endure loss and has been there for significant life changes. I was on crutches for the better part of our first year together, but he didn’t let me sit around and think about it too much. He made me get up and get out to actually enjoy those days and suddenly, it wasn’t so bad.

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  1. It’s cool to be goofy.
    Waker is my little weirdo. He doesn’t do what other dogs do – he doesn’t play fetch, he doesn’t woof down his food at once and he only wants to cuddle on his terms. He walks to the wag of his own tail. He builds nests for himself all day long, he plays with his toys like they’re his actual friends and he catches more house mice than any cat on the block. He’s made me realize that the best thing to be is yourself, and its even better when you’re a little goofy.

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  1. Sharing your bed is a good thing to do.
    Waker likes to sleep like I do – in the middle of the bed with all the covers. We needed a few nights, but we finally agreed upon sleeping positions that accommodate both of us. That means he still gets the middle and I try not to fall off, but hey, it works for us and we’ve never slept better. He’s taught me that the greatest things, like sleep, are shared, and sharing is crucial for feeling fulfilled.

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  1. Take a look at the things around you.
    Waker wonders about everything he sees, listens to every sound he hears and takes his time to pee on everything he sniffs. Pausing to take a look at the things around me has enhanced my quality of life. Life is full of simple treasures and beauty is everywhere. Waker gets full credit for teaching me how important understanding this is.

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  1. Fall more in love every day.
    Waker makes me laugh, encourages me to remain patient and takes me on an unpredictable adventure every day. My heart is full of happiness because of him and each day I fall more and more in love with that boy.

5 Things to do in the South-West of Ireland During the Summer

(Yes, there is much more to Ireland than just Dublin)

#1 – Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co Kerry.

Whether you’re looking for a bargain on a few things for the household or you’re just out for the sesh after a normal day at the office, Puck Fair is an event to be attended if you’re down the South-West in August. When explaining our rationale to anyone who doesn’t live in Kerry we may seem crazy in hailing to a goat otherwise known to us as King Puck. Of course the story provides a reason for us to practice such a ritual annually but today we know and have come to love it as being a 3-day drinking session and no one can tell you you’re wrong. Whether you’re down in the O’Shea’s beer garden or you’re up with the live band in Kingston’s there’s quality banter to be had. Of course such an event can’t finish without a wrap up. On the final night at midnight in celebrating your “glorious” time, fireworks are set off to mark the occasion of yet another year gone in celebrating together the King of Puck Fair.

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#2 – Taking a stroll around Muckross on a grand day in the summer (with chance of rain).

As much as we enjoy heading out to the pub with the lads on a Saturday night we do offer some activities for tourists in the area. If you’re looking for a family picnic, if you’re in the mood for a dip down in our Dundag “beach” or if you’re just looking to stroll around and absorb some sunshine (assuming we’re blessed with some) you should make tracks down to Muckross House and Gardens. For any Irish cultural lovers, Muckross House still has its own Traditional Farms in operations and if you’re still intrigued, give a walk around to see the old cottages and dwellings that still stand to this day. Most definitely a good way to spend some time with the family even in the gardens for the kids to play a quick game of catch while the parents can relax with a cup of tea or coffee at the Garden’s Restaurant.

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#3 – The Ring of Kerry

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Probably one of the most widely known tourist attractions for County Kerry. If you’re in a bit of a rush for time just hop in the car and give a quick tour around and absorb the beauty the coastline can offer. If you’re looking to make a memory of it check yourself in to one of the many hotels along to way to make sure you see everything it has to offer. If you’re looking for more of a communal participation by about a 12 thousand people you can always participate in the Ring of Kerry Cycle that occurs every year on the first weekend of July. Probably the most rewarding challenge you can set yourself, not that I’m speaking from a personal experience but what I can speak personally about is the Post-Cycle session that happens all the way up through the town where you’re bound to have a good time. And also, for all you Star Wars enthusiasts, make sure you drop down to the Skellig Islands for a real-life view of where the climactic ending to Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shot.

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P.S. Word is, they’ll be returning for the next 2 movies!

 #4 – Live Entertainment

Summertime in Killarney provides probably the best and most vibrant atmosphere you’ll ever experience in your life. Almost every bar throughout the town provides a live band performance to get the crowd on their feet and absorb in the energy coming from the speakers to have one hell of a night. Whether you’re at the top of the town in Scott’s Bar and Beer garden or you’re listening to the local musicians down in Charlie Foley’s, there’s live music to be heard from a variety of different musicians. If you’re for traditional, rock possibly even some chart toppers there’s something for everyone.

#5 – What’s summertime in Killarney without a day at the Races

killarney-racecourseHands down this is an event that should be attended at least once in your life time. This annual experience allows for people of all ages, guys and girls, to get suited and booted and head to the race track with the lads for a couple of hours to make a couple of bets while also enjoying an “occasional” drink or two. The feeling of going out in the town looking dapper is a feeling that is encouraged. And for the ladies, if you’re the competitive type, you could be up for Best Dressed / Ladies Day Competition. Assuming we’re in the clear of rain, it’s guaranteed to be a mighty time.

(And if you’re looking for proposal ideas it’s not a bad spot for it. Just ask any of the previous couples who got engaged on their day out here)

 

How to travel the air with comfort and style

Have you ever wondered while being on board of the plane how to make it more comfortable for you? Or maybe after the flight?
Thanksgiving break and Christmas holidays are quickly approaching and a lot of people will travel somewhere, probably home, on a trip, visit families and friends. As somebody who have traveled and flew quite a lot across the Europe and US and also overseas from Europe to US and Africa for several times I feel I am at least a little competent to talk about “how to” now. Although I don’t feel like I know everything and I think nobody does. There is still a lot of things I can learn and observe about flying. But experiences and mistakes teach us the most. And thanks to them we can find a lot of hacks for our own good, comfort and wellbeing. Some of them are very small things but especially on long flights or when there is a delay on your flight they can save you a lot of stress, money and time. As I learned a lot during that hours on plane or at the airport when I was cold, thirsty, hungry or bored, felt dried and my skin looked grayish I will share some hacks, observations and experiences with you so that you can think about it and enjoy your next flight in comfort and style. So sit back, relax and enjoy this article.

You can see spectacular things from the air
You can see spectacular things from the air

1. Stay hydrated!
It is more then essential to stay hydrated and it’s not always easy on board. My biggest hacks here? Thermal water in spray and empty bottle for water. It is essential to stay hydrated and it’s not very easy in an on board air and aircondition. Do you sometimes feel on a flight like your face is made of rubber? This is why, the air is very dry there. And this is what thermal water in spray will help you with. It’s very refreshing and it keeps your face “watered”. Also having an empty bottle for water, nobody will tell you anything and you can fill it almost everywhere. Remember you can always ask for a water on board anytime during the flight (probably not during takeoff and landing though) they don’t wanna faint you either. Also having a hydrating cream for face and hands is handy.

Make sure it is not over 50 ml / 1.76 OZ. This one is from Avene,but you can also buy Vichy, LaRoche or not branded one.
Make sure it is not over 50 ml / 1.76 OZ. This one is from Avene,but you can also buy Vichy, LaRoche or not branded one.

2. Don’t smell
Nobody wants to find out having a neighbour on a flight by bad smell. You know what I mean,some people sweat,some people sweat more and some people just smell a lot. Now,you can’t have big bottles, sprays or perfumes in your carry-on, so how to prevent from smell? Get small deodorant, either solid or spray. They have them in Target,Walgreens, everywhere for around $3. Also they fit everywhere, even a purse. If you really sweat a lot than having a spear t-shirt could help. Don’t wanna give up on your favorite perfume? Some brands have small perfume roll-on versions,if not buy perfume atomizer. Small thing you can fill up right from your perfume bottle,they have them in perfumeries or order online.

You can easily fill it with your favorite perfume and have it always by your side.
You can easily fill it with your favorite perfume and have it always by your side.

3. Freshness all over you
Maybe this applies just to women, but it’s important and nobody talks about it. Wet feminine wipes and maybe spare undergarment are life savers on long flights. When you fly from Europe to US and contrary you fly from 10 to 20 hours plus transfers. It is even worse on longer flights. You usually change your underwear at least once during 24 hours, right? This is the same time. Plus airport is usually not your final destination, you go to the hotel or straight downtown. Just think about it in advance…
4. Bacteria challenge
Do you know where on the plane is the biggest bacteria coverage? In recent article Business Insider revealed that places with biggest bacteria exposure are food trays, magazines and safety information in your seat pocket and WC handle aboard. It is very useful to have a small antibacterial gel or an antibacterial tissues on hand. Especially right before meal.
5. Cozy and warm
For staying cozy and warm have your own pillow, blanket or scarf and maybe pair of fluffy socks. You don’t wanna use airline’s pillow and blanket, because if you’re not first class they’re usually not very snug and clean. You can have inflatable pillow if you don’t wanna carry it around. For scarf you can easily style it with your outfit. And fluffy socks? Maybe also more feminine issue? They are great when you wanna take down your shoes, they will warm you and you can also walk in them around the plane, nobody cares there, plus it’s dark-ish there too.

Can serve as a scarf and a little blanket, 2 in 1.
Can serve as a scarf and a little blanket, 2 in 1.

6. Move it!
Don’t sit for over four hours. Sometimes you’re watching a movie or sleeping and really forget about time, but you should set an alarm and walk a bit, stretch and move your legs. It is not healthy for your muscles nor your veins to sit and not move too long. Doctors usually advise to set the alarm for every two hours. You’d also feel very stiff and even more tired after landing.
7. Entertain yourself
Especially on long flights it is very easy to get bored. You probably know that there is a free entertainment center or system provided by arline, you can even use Wi-Fi on board on most of the flights (pretty expensive one though). Any hacks here? Miss out some of your favorite show’s new episodes and catch on them on flight. Always have your earphones, it’s more hygienic to use them the one providing by airline and you don’t have to listen to every noise around. Don’t rely on the entertainment center and have your own book, iPod or whatever, it pays off when you find out there is nothing interesting on, it’s broken or you’ll eventually get bored of the center.

Find the perfect headphones for you and take them with you. Always.
Find the perfect headphones for you and take them with you. Always.

8. Where you going?
It is essential to think about your final destination. Especially about the weather and time difference. You can plan and layer your outfit according to it. Also you can try to plan your sleep a few days before your trip according to time difference and slightly adapt yourself to local time in advance.

You travel,you move from one place to another, think about your final destination.
You travel,you move from one place to another, think about your final destination.

Also don’t forget your camera, tablet with it or phone to capture the beautiful views from the plane.

Beautiful sunset somewhere over Utah
Beautiful sunset somewhere over Utah

Now, if you have any additional hacks or experiences feel free to write them in comments. They are appreciated. That’s the only way we can learn from each other and have more pleasant flights in the future. This is our final destination today, thank you for keeping with us.

The author is a university student from Czech Republic, currently on an exchange program at the University of Montana, USA. She likes traveling, exploring new places, skiing and going to the movies.