Preparing for my big Australian adventure!

Some of you may know that I will be spending most of 2016 in Australia. I’ve had this planned for a while, but it’s getting close to actually happening! I thought I’d explain why and how I’m moving, since a lot of people have asked. When I moved to London in late 2013, I had the easy explanation of “for work”, as my company got me the visa and helped with moving expenses and everything. But this case is different, as this move is not through work at all. There is a possibility of working for my company remotely, but I’m not counting on that, and they’re not supporting this move at all.

The simple answer to the question of “Why are you doing this?” is “Because I want to.” Just me! I am young and unattached, and I’ve been wanting another big adventure since before I even returned to Indiana from London. Based on everything I’ve heard over the years from fellow travelers, Australia seemed like the best option. They have a Work and Holiday visa for people 30 and under that is super easy and quick to get that allows you to travel around the country for up to a year and work at one place for up to 6 months at a time. It is a huge and diverse place, and even people who’ve lived there a long time usually haven’t seen everything the country has to offer. I also heard about a program called BUNAC that helps international travelers with local support on jobs, accommodation, and paperwork, so I am using that program as well.

Melbourne-Australia

Melbourne – one of Australia’s biggest cities, and where I’d like to live for part of my time there.

As for the logistics, which I’ve gotten a lot of questions about:

  • My move date is based on when the lease to my apartment is up, February 7th – that way I don’t have to worry about finding a sub-leaser or buying out my lease.
  • My precious kitty cat is staying with a trusted friend who loves her and who I know will take good care of her while I’m gone (otherwise this would not be happening at all – I will miss her more than anything else, but it is simply not feasible to fly her to the other side of the world and quarantine her on my budget and with her and my anxiety).
  • After doing a bit of purging (I’ve already started giving some non-necessities away) most of my belongings will be stored at my mom’s, since she lives on a farm and they have a good amount of extra space. I am planning on taking one large suitcase and one small one with me, or possibly a backpack instead of the small suitcase, haven’t fully decided on that yet. This will be mostly just clothes, my laptop, and a book or two. I asked for people to give me donations or small/consumable goods for the holidays, and I have mostly stopped buying things for myself the last few months – the less I have to pack up and store, the better. The good news is that I will be arriving during Australia’s summer, so I don’t need to take a lot of bulky clothes with me, and I can buy additional things as needed.
  • My uncle offered to store my car, so I’ll be leaving it at his place. I’m not the biggest car person, but would prefer not to have to buy a new one when I come back.
  • After moving my stuff to storage and leaving my apartment, I’m going to make a couple of stops to visit family for a week, fly from Chicago to Portland, OR, spend another week with good friends there, and then fly from there to Los Angeles to Sydney, arriving February 21st.
  • I’ve had my one-way plane ticket to Sydney since last summer, as those only get more expensive closer to the date. I’ve already got hostel accommodation booked for the first week upon arrival, and I will be doing pre-planned activities with other BUNAC travelers during that week as well.
  • I will be starting off in Sydney for at least a week or two, but I’m not sure yet if I’ll be staying there for a few months or heading straight to Melbourne; it all depends on the job opportunities. I do know that I’d like to live in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth for a while each, and I have a long list of other places to visit. I will be going with the flow on all this. Most of the time, I’m planning on living in an apartment either by myself or with a roommate or two, just depending on jobs and funds and availability of accommodation.
  • I’ve already bought health Australian insurance for the full year to make sure I’m covered should something happen.
  • If my current job doesn’t end up being doable from Australia, I’m confident I’ll find some sort of work once I get there, whether it be fruit picking or working as a waitress, I just need to make enough money to keep me going for the year. I’ve got enough savings to get me started until I find a job and longer term accommodation as well as enough to get a plane ticket back, whenever that may be.
  • My visa is for a year, so that is how long I’m currently planning on staying, but it could be shorter or longer, depending on what happens during my time there. Due to the expensiveness and distance of air travel to/from Australia, I’m not planning on coming back to the US to visit during that year.
  • I don’t yet know what I’ll be doing after Australia or after that 1-year visa is up. If I love it, I could find a way to get another visa and stay longer. I could continue my travels to another country. I may come back to the US, and if I do, I may come back to my home state of Indiana for a while or move right away to Portland, Oregon, where I’d like to live at some point. I’ll decide this toward the end of my time there, because a lot can change in a year and I’m purposely leaving my possibilities open at this point.
  • Nope, I don’t have any friends in Oz! I have a couple of acquaintances I met while in London that I will probably connect with, and a couple of friends of friends, but I will be making an active effort to make friends locally and be social with other travelers. I do like travelling solo, but living somewhere long term is a whole different thing. Being outgoing doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s a challenge I’m prepared for. Walking up and striking up conversations in hostels, going to meetups, joining clubs. It’s happening, because I’ve always had automatic friends wherever I’ve lived before and I don’t think it’ll be that easy this time! Flirting is possible as well, because like I said, I am currently unattached. ;)

I’m so excited – let the adventure begin!!

Bethany’s 2015 Travel Awards

2014 was a more dramatic year for me of traveling around Europe while I lived in London, but I did a decent amount of traveling again in 2015. It was mostly domestic and in the Midwest, because I cannot stop traveling and checking out new places while trying to conserve on the travel expenses for my trip to Australia in 2016. It’s worked reasonably well to keep me busy and happy. All but a few of these were within a 5-hour drive of my abode near Indianapolis, perfect for a weekend or long weekend of exploring.

New places:

  • Louisville, KY
  • Nashville, TN
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Marshall, MI
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Toronto, ON
  • Chattahoochee Hills, GA
  • Indiana:
    • Madison
    • New Harmony
    • Parke County
    • Turkey Run State Park

Returned to and explored more:

  • Detroit, MI
  • Chicago, IL (several times)
  • New York, NY
  • Shipshewana, IN
  • Pokagon State Park, IN

Favorite new things in a familiar-to-me city

Chicago food tour and architecture cruise. My dad lives near Chicago, and the last few years I’ve been discovering a new appreciation for this city and checking out places I’ve never been. This year, I toured the city for a couple days with my friend Steph, who was visiting from England, and we did two things I loved. The first was a food tour, and Chicago has amazing food and unique neighborhoods I hadn’t seen before, so I LOVED that. The second was an architecture river cruise. I learned a whole lot about architecture I didn’t know before, only some of which I’ve retained, but I did gain a new appreciation for the uniqueness of the city’s buildings.

Chicago food tour, among other fun things today! #chicagoisdelicious #yum

A photo posted by @bsweetnsour on

9/11 Memorial and Museum. I also was able to go on a brief work trip to New York City, which I’ve spent a few days in before, but this time went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and was blown away by it. The museum is thorough and immerses you in all the details of what happened that happened that day. I ended up spending most of a day there and still didn’t quite get to see everything!

What a beautiful symbol of resilience. #nyc #911memorial

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Favorite new-to-me town in my state:

Madison. Indiana has a lot of small, historical towns, and I visited (and re-visited) several of them this year. They all have an interesting tidbit to offer, but I think I was most struck by the lovely little town of Madison, on the southern border of Indiana not far from Louisville, KY. My cousin Emily and I took a day trip there in March, when there’s not a whole lot going on, but we walked around a neighborhood with a lot of historic houses, ate some homestyle midwestern food, checked out the flooded river, and did some shopping in the adorable shops on the main street. It’s just a charming tiny town in the corner of the state for a nice day out.

The Ohio River is really high in Madison today! #Indiana

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Most surprising cities to me:

Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY. Up until recently, I had a pretty strong bias against the South. I probably still do a little bit, but after having visited Louisville and Nashville, I’m past a lot of that.

Even a couple of years ago, when someone recommended Nashville as a place to visit, I balked at the idea, because I associate the city with country music and the Grand Ole Opry, both of which make me cringe. However, after people kept suggesting it, I did some research, and there’s quite a lot to the city besides the country music scene. It’s a music city of all genres, has fantastic food, and is very bike-friendly. So I drove the 4.5 hours from Indy to Nashville (surprisingly shorter than I had realized) and spent a long weekend there, eating, taking a bike tour, and exploring a couple of historic former plantations. Even the drive though Tennessee and Kentucky is full of beautiful, rolling, tree-covered hills!

Louisville was another surprising city that won me over, as well as my cousin Emily who went with me. It’s actually a college town, surprisingly liberal and artsy. I had some of the best vegan wings ever there! It’s also just over 2 hours from Indianapolis. I don’t know why the American South had seemed so far away before!

Most surprising to everyone else:

Detroit. This is the city that, whenever I say positive things about it, I tend to get some shock from others. It’s true, it is rough and not at all the same booming city it was 40 years ago, but it’s recovering, and there are a lot of cool things to see and do.

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View of the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, from inside the GM Renaissance Center.

The first time I went to Detroit, I ended up getting rescued from a malfunctioning jet ski by the Coast Guard and was harassed more than usual by some aggressive homeless people, but neither of those things happened this time (and I don’t hold them against the city at all!) This time, we did a walking tour of downtown, ate some great food, checked out the African American History Museum (possibly the best in the country). My mom especially loved the Motown museum, as did I. The city has a clear identity and soul, which is what really makes me love a place.

Favorite new activity:

Kayaking. I went on a weekend camping trip with a few friends to Turkey Run State Park and tried kayaking for the first time. I loved it! It got a little crazy when it thunderstormed and we had to stop in the middle of our kayaking cruise down Sugar Creek, but overall it was a fun trip down a fairly calm river, and I’d love to do it again with that same kind of stable kayak.

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Kayaking with my friends Alex, Corinna, and Ben

Favorite overall thing:

Niagara Falls. Emily and I did a trip to Toronto, Canada, the only time I left the country this year. While we were there, we just had to see Niagara Falls, only an hour and a half drive from the city. I try to not have my hopes too high for things this famous – I mean, I’ve seen a fair amount of big waterfalls. But the thing is, photos and videos, no matter how well shot, simply do not do Niagara Falls justice. It blew us away. Kind of literally. The boat tour where you get up close and personal with the falls, and pretty wet, is definitely recommended. We both want to go back again – it was incredible in the autumn, but next time maybe even in the winter in all its snowy and icy glory!

London Top 10: So much amazing, I can’t even.

You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

~ Samuel Johnson

The above quote is cliche, I know, but I find it so true. After having lived in London for a year, I’m just completely smitten with the city and will gladly talk the head off of anyone who wants to hear all about it and attempt to convince them they need to visit. I’ve been back in the States since late 2014, and this love for the city still hasn’t worn off! So I’ve decided to write down my favorite places I recommend in London for anyone who decides to go. I recommend taking a minimum of a few days in London and checking out at least one thing in each category, and use Google Maps to pinpoint and group them by location and save time. However, it is a massive city, I lived there for a year, and there were still things I didn’t see, so that gives you some idea! Just whatever you do, drink it all in and enjoy it!

1) View from up high: London Eye or The Shard

A view of London Bridge and East London from The Shard at sunset

These are two ways to see the city from above, and I enjoy different things about each of them. The Eye is very iconic to London, and is right across from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, so it’s a great area to walk around, but the Shard is a more recently added icon (just completed in 2013) that is also the tallest viewing platform in Europe! I recommend scheduling either one ahead of time around sunset, as the city is extra beautiful at dusk.

2) City Tours: Cruise or Walking Tour

Big Ben

Big Ben, part of the Westminster Walk tour

Usually for every city I visit briefly, I go on a guided tour of some sort to give me a big picture idea of what the city looks like, the history, and a general feel for the place that you would not get by exploring on your own. The only overall city tour I did in London was a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It was good, but I feel like London is too big for a short bus tour to do it much justice – it may just be overwhelming. A couple of visiting friends did a river cruise, which I think would be a great way to take in the skyline and most iconic sights and history. There are also a lot of walking tours you can do in central London, some free. For more independence, I love the free walking tours through Rick Steve’s Audio Europe app, which will show you parts of the city in a reasonable walking distance at your own pace. If you can only do one, I recommend the Westminster Walk, which is short but will show you several of the must-see sights of historic London!

3) Markets: Old Spitalfields, Borough, or Camden

Delicious German pastries at Borough Market

One of my favorite things is a good market, whether it’s food, goods, art, or all of the above. I usually just walk around and absorb each markets’ feast for the eyes, only occasionally buying an item or two. And so I checked out all of London’s major weekly markets. Old Spitalfields is actually more modern than it sounds – is my favorite and mostly focuses on quality handmade crafts and goods. I bought a shirt, a scratch map of the UK & Ireland, and a handmade card holder from a map (for my transport cards, mainly, and yeah, I like maps). They also have some great food stands and restaurants there at the market.

Borough Market, right next to the original London Bridge, is a big and crowded, but fantastic, food market every Saturday morning. Fresh produce, seafood, cheeses, baked goods, sandwiches, jams, fudge… if you’re a foodie, just go check it out. And come hungry.

Finally, Camden Market, not far from where I lived for about 8 months, is a collection of several markets next to each other – funkier kinds of markets with both food and goods (handmade and not). A great place to find a gift, get yourself a corset or steampunk necklace, or eat a fresh, hot doughnut. Depending on what you’re most interested in, I recommend checking out at least one of these to get the full London experience. And check ahead of time to make sure your market will be open when you want to go, as they all have seasonal hours.

4) Well-groomed Nature: Regent’s Park or Hyde Park

Regent's Park

A peaceful springtime evening in Regent’s Park

London is one of the most green cities per capita in the world. This may not be immediately obvious when you’re just seeing the most famous sites, but there are several huge parks in the city, and I made a point to visit all of them. My favorite (though I love them all) is Regent’s Park. It has everything for a park: a blooming, statue-filled, manicured English garden, a beautiful pond, mini-forests of trees, huge fields full of running, laughing crowds in the summer, wide paths to stroll or bike along, the Queen’s garden with couple little waterfalls, a big hill to overlook the rest of the park… it’s easy to spend hours just walking around here. There’s a zoo there as well, but it’s tiny and sad and not worth the time and expense, in my opinion, so I tend to ignore its existence – there’s much more to enjoy elsewhere in the park.

Hyde Park, another great option, has many of these amenities, but also is more iconic and a bit more central to the sites. It’s next to Kensington Gardens and Palace, has the Serpentine pond, and modern Princess Diane memorial fountain. It’s so central that there are a lot of other sights you might want to see right nearby, as well!

5) History: Tower of London and Tower Bridge

A Yeoman Warder guard during a tour at the Tower of London with a bit of the Tower Bridge in the background)

The Tower of London is one of the oldest buildings in the city, a royal palace, and the heart of the history of London. There is plenty to see for all ages, including the actual Crown Jewels, the ravens that guard the Tower, statues representing the wild animals once chained in various areas for the entertainment of the king, a chapel built on the graves of thousands of executed assumed traitors, and the spot where Ann Boleyn was decapitated. A short stroll away is the beautiful Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge as many think – that bridge is much older but not as striking), which is at least worth a photograph or two, as one of the most recognizable London landmarks.

6) Art: V&A or Tate Britain

Sculptures at the V&A

London is one of the best cities in the world for art, and the most amazing part is that almost all the museums are free! There’s really something for every art lover, but my personal favorites are the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) and the Tate Britain. The V&A was founded by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, and its collections span two thousand years of art in virtually every medium: paintings, sculpture, photography, glass, furniture, clothes, ironwork, everything! It’s a beautiful museum to stroll around casually, take a free tour, or head straight to your favorite medium’s section and drink it in.

Tate Britain is a much more traditional kind of museum, dedicated to paintings by British artists, but it is so well planned and curated that it bounded above my expectations. I used their free mobile walking tour with my phone and headphones, and spent most of a day here. But even with more limited time, Tate Britain is a worthwhile stop for art lovers.

7) Entertainment: A West End or Globe Theatre Show

Lion King on the West End in London

The Lion King on the West End (so I’d already seen it in two other cities, sure, but it’s my favorite show)

London is one of the world’s top cities for live theatre, I dare say, and I saw a bunch of shows while I was there in London’s theatre district, the West End. My very favorite West End show was Billy Elliot, which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it! Whatever you’re interested in, buy a ticket ahead of time online – and on a limited budget, you can get cheap tickets for terrible seats. I’ve done this a few times, but enjoy a show much more in better seats. Completely up to you, but if you like theatre, make sure to see a show while you’re in the city.

Besides the dozens of West End shows at any given time, there’s also Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, a recreation of the original in the same spot! They run a series of shows throughout the spring-autumn, so check out which show is playing during your trip; tickets sell out quickly. I was lucky enough to see the Comedy of Errors, and it was brilliant! Globe actors are clearly talented and passionate. I also recommend taking the informative tour of the theatre, giving you its background and history, which you can do whether you have tickets to a play or not.

8) Royalty: Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Park

changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s workplace and residence during the week, is a British icon. It’s beautiful to visit the outside of any time, and you’ll see a couple of fuzzy-hatted guards in front of the palace, but depending on the time of year, there are a couple other things you can do. For about two months in late July-September (when Her Majesty is on holiday), you can tour the State Rooms inside the palace, which are very extravagant; everything is ornate and gilded. Or, during the off-season, you could see the changing of the guard, with lots of pomp, horses, and official looking Brits in a marching band. Check on the guard-changing times ahead of time, as they are seasonal. It’s pretty exciting, but I went in April, and it was super crowded and involved a lot of waiting around even after I showed up and got a decent spot – I’m sure it’s really crazy in the middle of the summer, when most of the tourists come, and you may not be able to see much. Tip: Many people crowd up to the fence of Buckingham Palace, but most of the marching happens in the roads in front of the palace, so I recommend picking a spot there – you won’t see much peeking through that big black fence. While you’re there, walk around the lovely and relaxing St. James’s Park in front of the palace. It’s especially beautiful in the springtime, when the many trees and flowers are in bloom!

8) Grand Churches: Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral

London, and England in general, has countless huge, beautiful cathedrals and churches. These are the two most famous and iconic in London, but they’re very different. St. Paul’s Cathedral has one of the best views of the city from the top of its tallest tower, but be prepared to walk up the 550 exhausting steps to the top if you want to see that (and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re short on time – instead do the Shard or Eye for other great views). It was designed by the famous architect Christopher Wren, and famously survived the Blitz of WWII that devastated so much of the city.

Westminster Abbey is older and holds tons of history, including the last 1000 years or so of royal coronations. Crowded with hundreds of graves of royalty and historically significant Brits, the church is not technically a cathedral (a different nearby church has the title of Westminster Cathedral), but is certainly as grand as one. I recommend taking a tour if you go to either church, as you will learn a lot about the history and significance that you wouldn’t get otherwise from just looking around.

10) Historic London Underground: The Tube

 Historic Baker Street Underground Station

Historic Baker Street Underground Station

Whatever you do, make sure to ride the Tube (Londoners’ nickname for the London Underground, the under- AND over-ground city transit system) at some point to get from place to place. It was the first underground train in the world, and for some inexplicable reason I fell in love with it, and stayed in love even when commuting to/from work on it every day! To me it’s very easy to navigate, especially considering the number of lines and size of the city. I found that you can get anywhere within central London within 30 minutes. Get an Oyster Card for easy travel by both tube and bus, either online beforehand or from a London tube station when you arrive. The downside of the tube is that you don’t see any of the city while you’re down there, it’s a different world! So I recommend taking the tube at least once or twice, especially for any longer distance trips, and walking or taking the bus the rest of the time. If you’re as fascinated by the history of the tube as I am (or transportation in general), I highly recommend the Transport Museum in the Covent Garden neighborhood if you have time!

And that wraps up my Top 10 list of things to do in London! I have a few other tips that I’ll elaborate on in a second post, as well as an upcoming post on day trips from London. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or feedback! I shall leave you with this…

I like the spirit of this great London which I feel around me. Who but a coward would pass his whole life in hamlets; and for ever abandon his faculties to the eating rust of obscurity?
~ Charlotte Brontë

Top 5 Things to Do in Breathtaking Barcelona

I’ve just spent three full days in Barcelona, Spain, and absolutely loved it. Vibrant, sunny, relaxed, happy, and delicious. Out of all I did, these were my five favorites:

1. La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

This is the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. Brits often call it “the cathedral” when talking about places to see in Barcelona, which is a bit confusing since there is an actual, quite pretty Barcelona Cathedral (only one cathedral per city allowed, and it’s older), and La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) is officially a basilica – so just keep that in mind, I had a bit of confusion when talking about where I went. :-)

The genius madman architect Gaudi designed it, and I spent hours inside it wandering around with an audio guide. I just couldn’t get over the colorful stained glass windows and the vast simplicity of the amazing space.

Stained glass in La Sagrada Familia

There is a line perpetually wrapped halfway around the church for tickets, so to avoid it I highly recommend buying your tickets online ahead of time. You pick a time slot, and you can buy a live guided tour (more limited timeslots), a good audio guide (what I did, gives you plenty of time to see it on your own), and/or ride to the top of one of the bell towers (which I’m sure is lovely, but I didn’t do that). You don’t even have to print the tickets out – I bought mine the night before I went and showed the ticket from the email on my phone to get in.

2. Tapas

Barcelona Tapas Tour

On a recommendation from a fellow Barcelona traveler, I booked a tapas tour through Urban Adventures with a local Spanish guide, and I’m glad I did. A couple other people who were supposed to be on the tour cancelled, so I ended up getting the guide all to myself, and she was fantastic. When I told her I was vegetarian, she took the challenge and showed me several places with fantastic veg-friendly tapas. The first place pretty much blew my mind – crispy fried eggplant with a honey glazing, and well-crafted vermouth, a common Spanish drink before dinner. I did not expect these things to be so delicious. Then came several more rounds: crusty bread with Manchego cheese, sauteed mushrooms, chocolate mousse, Tempranillo wine (one of my favorites). My guide and I discussed the differences between American and Spanish culture, and she showed me some interesting landmarks along the way. All the restaurants were non-touristy, locally-popular spots. I went home stuffed, content, and culturally enlightened.

 

3. Magic Fountain

Magic Fountain of Montjuic

This amazing fountain puts on a glowing, dancing, colorful, musical show that goes from 9-11:30 pm Thursdays to Sundays in the summer, a bit earlier in the winter – check out the schedule for more details on dates/times. I got there at 9pm on a Sunday, the last thing I did before leaving, and I sat there and watched it for an hour, thoroughly fascinated. A highly recommended free show!

 

4. Guell Park (Parc Guell)

Guell Park

This cute park is another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The Gaudi part of the park, a colorful, quirky Hansel and Gretel-like village, has an entrance fee during the day, but if you wait around until about 8:30 pm, they close down the ticket-taking entrances, you can legally walk in for free, and the park is still open until 9 (summer hours – check out the hours for when you are visiting on the park’s website). When I did this, the sun was setting, and it was gorgeous.

Guell Park

The rest of the park is free, and there is a high-up area which has beautiful views of the city, if you want to check those out while waiting for your free entrance.

5. Mount Tibidabo

Mount Tibidabo

This is the mountain right next to Barcelona that you can see from many spots in the city, and if you love high views as I do, this is the place to go. Getting up Mount Tibidabo is a bit of a trek, but you can basically take the L7 on the Metro to Avenue Tibidabo (the last stop) and then follow the group of obvious tourists to the tram stop across the street. You’ll take this up to the Funicular at the bottom of the mountain, and this final cable car will take you to the top. There is a theme park at the top of the mountain, which is fun, but I went for the gorgeous views. For the most breathtaking view, go into the basilica and take the two-euro lift to the top!

Mount Tibidabo

mountains from the top of the church

These five things would make for a lovely couple of days, but if you have more time I would also highly recommend taking a tour of some sort through Barcelona to see more of it . Runner Bean Tours has a few excellent free walking tours, and my favorite was the tour of the Old City/Gothic Quarter, a beautiful area of the city with a lot of history. Free walking tours tend to be great because you pay whatever you think it was worth at the end – they have to be good to keep working! These are so popular that I recommend reserving a spot online ahead of time. You could also do a hop on/hop off bus tour or a bike tour – whatever your preferred type of tour, Barcelona is lovely however you see it!

Eating my way around the world

ImageThe image above may look like an incomplete coloring book page – and I seriously considered printing it out and coloring it, but I don’t have my markers with me. But it’s actually a map of all the places I’ve eaten food from, some in those countries themselves.

There may be some more I’ve eaten in the past, but I only filled in the countries for which I specifically remember eating one or more of their dishes. I love lists and maps, and this is like a list in the form of the map – what could be better?! It also gives me a chance to refresh my world geography skills!

I’d like to get some more of these colored in before leaving the multi-cultural, food-happy city of London. I know I especially have a lot of South American and African foods to try. Which ones should be at the top of my list?

Cities I want to see

NYC

New York City, 2012

Big cities didn’t used to appeal to me, with all the crowding and pollution and noise and less friendly people, until I realized that they have a lot of amazing things to see all packed into a smaller area that usually has good public transportation. I love nature and parks as well, so I’ve found that staying in a city but taking day trips to places nearby is a fantastic way to get a mix of both in any given part of a country.

I was looking through some of my old lists on listgeeks.com and I realized that I’ve now been to a lot of the places I wanted to go just two years ago. Here’s my list for Cities I Want to See from July of 2011:

  • London
  • Salzburg
  • San Francisco
  • Athens (again)
  • Kyoto
  • Paris
  • Christchurch
  • Barcelona
  • Florence
  • Stockholm
  • New York
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Los Angeles
  • Toronto

I’ve been to five of them in the last two years. But I’ve added so many more to that list! Here’s my new one:

  • Saltzburg
  • Athens (again)
  • Kyoto
  • Christchurch
  • Barcelona
  • Florence
  • Stockholm
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Toronto
  • New Orleans
  • Hong Kong
  • Edinburgh
  • Dublin
  • Birmingham
  • Boston
  • Louisville
  • Austin
  • Prague
  • Seattle
  • Vancouver

We’ll see how many of those I can spend some time in within another two years. ;)

Traveling Alone

I love solo travel. The sheer freedom of being able to do whatever you want is great, because rarely will one find a travel partner who wants to go to all the exact same places you want to check out, even within the same city. Of course, there are downsides too – it can be nice to have some of the burden of logistics shared when you travel with another organized person, and also being able to share the experience with someone. But for an introvert like me, I like being able to really experience a place solitarily. And now, with social media, I can instantaneously share the beautiful vistas and unusual situations with my friends and family and not really feel alone anyway. The biggest drawback? The awkwardness of taking selfies and/or asking strangers to take my picture. But I’m working on getting that down.

I’ve been going on extended group trips since about middle school and never got homesick – an early indication of a future love of travel. I rode a plane on my own for the first time when I was 20 – a relatively short flight to Los Angeles on the way to meet my group for New Zealand, but I think that trip helped me get more familiar with airports and the process of flying. With a decent amount of travel experience under my belt, it seemed only natural to me to go on a trip alone. So in February of last year, during a seemingly random burst of wanderlust, one day I booked a round-trip March flight to London for a week.

Why not? I’d wanted to visit England for years and years, I’d saved up money to travel, and I knew no one would want to go with me. I had full control over what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. I didn’t even ask anyone if they wanted to join or request the time off work before I booked the flight. This was happening, and nothing was getting in my way.

So I was surprised when I talked about my trip and people asked me who I was going with. Really, you’re going alone?! Wow, how brave. (And I could tell by the looks on some faces that they were thinking, How strange.) This gave me some doubt about how well the trip would go or if it would end up horribly, but really I wasn’t too worried. It was an English speaking country and I had friends over there to meet up with, so perfect for traveling alone. And it was a wonderful trip! I fell in love with London and had a fantastic time in my friends’ English towns and Cardiff. There were of course some kinks, but I really didn’t mind being by myself.

Later last year, I took an even more spontaneous trip to New York City to meet Julie Andrews and experience the city for a few days, since I’d never been there before. That trip was fantastic too! Now people who know me seem less surprised/worried about my traveling alone, because clearly I can pull it off. But I’ve often wondered, why is this such a strange phenomenon to them? Plenty of people travel alone.

Upon exploration of various articles and blogs on the internets, it’s now my theory that it’s because I’m female, and also probably because I’m introverted and it just surprises people that I’d want to be so adventurous. Would you be surprised to find out that an outgoing guy went on a trip to London on his own? Is that because guys can obviously take care of themselves?

If you’ve ever wanted to go on a trip but couldn’t get anyone else to go with you, here’s my advice: just go. Don’t wait around, because usually things don’t just happen on their own, contrary to popular belief. Don’t let your significant other hold you back if they don’t want to go. Find a way to make it happen. Do your research, go somewhere safe, and in all likelihood you’ll be fine and have a great time!

Why I feel more American in Britain

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going somewhere and feeling the differences between yourself and the natives more keenly, realizing you’re more different than you previously thought. Whether it’s language, race, religion, politics, clothes, whatever. There are even differences within the US, from city to city, state to state. Well, that’s how I feel when I go to the UK, and I haven’t even spent that much time there yet. As many people do, I’ve spent a lot of my growing-up years trying to fit in, whether consciously or not, sometimes with more success than others. Wondering if I’d fit in better somewhere else.

I’ve often said I feel like I belong in Europe, or Canada, or somewhere else liberal, but that’s only while I’m in Indiana that I think that. I’m not the patriotic type. I said the pledge of allegiance in school and I watch parades and fireworks on Independence Day like anyone else, but I’m not of the belief that the USA is better than all other countries. Everywhere has it’s pros and cons. Everywhere has good and bad people. No one’s religion is “more right” than anyone else’s. And that is one big thing that makes me stick out around here. I don’t have the usual “God Bless America” license plate, because I think God should bless Canada and Morocco and Ecuador too.

In London, I feel much more like an American. Aside from the language differences I’ve been writing about, there are definite cultural differences. Despite its cultural inclusiveness, most of the people I came into contact with were British, and they have a certain way of doing things.

These are the main things I think would separate me from fitting in with the Brits.

1. I’m more casual

I’d wear jeans and a t-shirt or hoodie every day if it were left up to me. But in Britain, when you go to work, the guys wear suits, and the ladies wear jackets, skirts, and heels. You won’t see the stereotypical big, weird hats like Kate and the Queen wear, but dress is just more formal.

That butterfly hat is actually kind of fun with the dress.

My company’s office in Indiana is mostly casual when we’re not meeting clients, but in the UK it’s “smart” (I’ve taken this to mean business casual or slightly more formal) every day except Friday, and no one ever seems to wear khakis. I figure I can get away with walking around the city in flats instead of heels and rarely wearing a skirt because I’m American. No one has berated me yet.

2. I’m less polite

This actually goes along with the formality theme. I often say “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me,” and even the occasional “bless you,” but beyond that it’s not natural for me to be extra polite. I swear I don’t try to be rude, but I’m pretty sure I come off that way sometimes in the UK.

In our UK office, whenever someone leaves to get a drink from the “tea point”, they will ask if anyone else would like something to drink while they are there. Invariably, someone always wants coffee or some milk for their tea. But I’d rather get up myself and get my own drinks, so I’d rarely offer or ask. I like the break anyway. It just made me feel rude. But really, sometimes having manners like that just seems like a waste of time to me. Yep, there’s my Americanness again…

3. It’s dangerous for me to cross the road.

Ever since I started crossing roads, I was taught to look left, right, then left again before crossing the road. Always look in the direction a car could be coming from first. Right? Well, my brain is not so great at suddenly changing this direction. I am not even going to attempt to drive there.

Not as easy as you might think.

They write “look right” on every street for anyone who isn’t from one of the handful of countries with their strange road layout, but it doesn’t help me much. After several attempts at crossing the road and nearly getting hit, I decided I should just stick to the crosswalks and wait until the little man turns green. Much safer that way.

4. My accent

I almost didn’t include this one because it’s so obvious, but it’s true. I’ve heard a lot of people from Indiana say they “don’t have an accent”, but everyone has an accent! It’s just that most of Indiana has what I would call a standard Midwestern American accent (officially called a North Midland dialect), which is very similar to what most people in movies and on the news have, so it’s “normal” to us. But in the UK, I most certainly have an accent and I’m immediately pegged as an American. Annoying, but hey, what can you do – I really don’t want to go so far as to try to speak in a British accent on a regular basis. While it might be fun, it seems almost offensive.

Here’s an interesting article about different terms for the same things throughout the US. Did you know that in part of Wisconsin they call a drinking/water fountain a “bubbler”? I want to start calling it that.

So, I may never be just like the natives wherever I live, but I’m okay with that. It just makes other people more interesting.