What I Learned This Time

I thought I should run down what I learned while traveling abroad by myself this time. It’s worth writing it down here in case anyone else here is a solo traveler or considering a solo trip. Because they’re the best and you should totally take one.

Really look at your accommodations. I can remember that after my trip to Scandinavia, I decided to really vet the hostels I was staying in, or not stay in hostels at all. I decided this time to stay in private rooms in hostels because a private room in a nice hostel is way better than a single room in a cheap, shitty hotel (probably located near the airport). I spent weeks (and I mean weeks) looking on hotels.com and hostelworld.com at different accommodations. It paid off because I stayed in a great hostel and an amazing hostel in Krakow and Warsaw, respectively. Unfortunately, my painstaking vetting fell short when it came to Gdansk. The room was very nice but the build itself was located in an area that I wasn’t really keen on. Or maybe it was just the time of day I arrived? That leads to the next thing I learned….

Arrive during the day. Don’t arrive in a new (especially foreign) city after dark. Check the time for sunset and arrive an hour before. On my walk back from the Solidarity Monument in Gdansk, I ended up walking past the hostel that I’d abandoned 30 minutes after arriving and saw that the area actually wasn’t too far from the Old Town. It was actually quite close to the old town but in the dark, it just looked scary. To my credit, there was a lot of construction around the doorway, reception only until 8pm, and little light near the doorway, hello, rapist?

Don’t schedule to the minute. I’d started planning my days out last year in Scandinavia a month before I got there based on when my travel book said things were open. These travel, regardless of when they were published, will almost always be wrong. My Poland travel book this year said Schindler’s Factory was only open on Saturdays. This was not true. At all. Don’t plan your days before you arrive. You never know what will happen and then you’ll be frustrated. Just go with the flow.

Hello and Thank You. Learn a few phrases in the native language of the country you’re going to. Don’t be a typical fucking American who expects that everyone speaks English because We’re #1 (if you’re one of those who believes that). I tried teaching myself Polish using the Duolingo app, but I retained almost none of it. I did retain the words for cat, cookie, milk, and apple, though (you know, the important words to know). Upon arriving in Poland, I was alerted to the fact that Polish is the 2nd or 3rd hardest language to learn in the world, so I didn’t make myself feel too bad about it. But while I was there, I picked up the words for hello/good morning, thank you, you’re welcome, fine, yes, and no. Not much, but I was told they always appreciate it when the Stupid Americans ™ at least try.  

These are, at least, the most important things I learned while abroad in a country that is very, very different from the United States. Everyone should definitely travel by themselves, at least once in their life. You learn so much about yourself and the world in the process. Any questions? 

Photo is of a picturesque street in the Old Town in Gdansk, Poland.

Game On.

Long time, no post! Apologies if you’ve noticed; I’ve been abroad. I knew that when I was in Poland for 10 days that my meditation practice would pause. It did when I went to Scandinavia last year and I made the decision to change my expectations and not to beat myself up over it. The last time I meditated was the morning was on the flight from Frankfurt to Krakow and I was OK with that. I was a little anxious that I would have trouble sleeping without meditation. But aside from that one day when I drank three cappuccinos (damn you, caffeine), I had zero trouble sleeping thanks to walking 12 hours a day (and the mulled wine, and pierogi, etc).

I started meditating again yesterday morning and it feels totally easy to slip back into my two 20 minute meditations a day. Six to seven AM are my time to meditate, check my email, and pet my cat again.

I’ll get more posts and photos up about my travels, but if you need to see photos in the meantime, you can head over to my Instagram

(Photo is of a church in Gdansk, Poland.)

Laughing Into 2016

This picture is from last night. My boyfriend and I went to dinner at The Cellar for amazing mac’n’cheese and champagne before going to his best friend’s apartment for his annual New Year’s Eve party. I think in this photo I’m laughing because I just finished drinking all of the champagne (just kidding, but probably). 

There were lots of ups and downs, but it turns out that 2015 was lots of fun. I traveled to New Orleans, Chicago, as well as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. 

I dated lots of questionable guys and then went on a date with someone who wasn’t my usual type (this was a plus as my type was usually a flaky loser disguised as ‘artsy’) and he ended up being a wonderful guy and I was so, so happy to be able to ring in a new year with him last night. 

I left a job that I loved because I felt like I was stagnating and i took a job that was presented to me with a higher salary and more opportunity only to be disappointed when it didn’t work out. But shit happens.

I threw a couple of successful parties during my first year in my apartment.

I strengthened some of my friendships and ended a couple of others that no longer served me.

I read 25 books. I saw tons of theatre. I went to a bunch of stellar concerts. I kept on meditating daily and took a meditation master class. I renovated my kitchen (with lots of help from my family, of course) and afterward I cooked a ton. I also de-cluttered, which was awesome. I watched all three Star Wars and saw the new one. I watched too many TV shows on Netflix and not enough movies in theatres. 

In 2016, I’m going to concentrate on really sorting out what I want to do professionally. I excel at everything that I’m super passionate about and if I can find myself in the practically-perfect job, I’ll fly. 

Being happy is also a top priority. Fitness is next. I will keep going to the gym more mornings than not, maybe finally do a handstand on my own, and tone my arms because I hate my arms. I’m going to keep de-cluttering my apartment. I want to play more guitar and journal more. I’m going to read another 25 books. I’m going to keep making time to see my friends, including trying to see those that I don’t get to see regularly. 

2015 was great, but 2016 will be even better. Onwards/Upwards.

Den little Havrue (aka The Little Mermaid): Copenhagen, Denmark

On my second day in Copenhagen, I took the metro up north to see The Little Mermaid, supposedly the most photographed sight in the world. It’s amazing to think that a story by Hans Christian Andersen and a movie by Disney could lead to such a thing.  I only took a few pictures because how many photos can you really take of a statue? But I’m really happy I saw it. To be honest, it was one of my Must Sees on my list of things to do in Copenhagen because The Little Mermaid is my favorite Disney movie.

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Pro-tip for mermaid fans: There is another statue of The Little Mermaid outside of The Black Diamond (aka The Royal Library) that I was excited to find:

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Needless to say, this Little Mermaid fan was happy. 

The Vasa Museum: Stockholm, Sweden

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The Vasa Museum, in Stockholm, Sweden, was recently put on a list as one of the top 10 or 15 museums that you Must Visit in your lifetime and I’m so glad I didn’t skip it (because I almost did). The Vasa was built in 1626 and it never made it out of the harbor on it’s maiden voyage. It sunk to the bottom of the sea right there in the harbor and remained there until it was successfully raised in 1961. It remained so intact for 333 years underwater because the water in the harbor was so polluted. 

The museet was built around the ship and it’s pretty cool (although the ticket is pricey but it’s totally worth it).

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Stockholm has since cleaned up their harbor and now people fish in it! Kind of cool. The Vasa is a MUST SEE in Stockholm. 

Suomenlinna: Helsinki, Finland

So, Helsinki is a really small city with not a lot to do, to be quite honest. But it was actually the perfect place to end my trip because it was less running around and more relaxing. Smaller cities will do that to you, I guess. But my favorite thing about Helsinki was taking a ferry out off the coast to visit Suomenlinna, a giant sea fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site, that was built by Sweden in 1748 when Helsinki was still Swedish. It’s Swedish name was Sveaborg (pronounced seh-vay-eh-bore-ay). It was just a quick ferry ride from Helsinki early in the morning through a handful of other tiny islands to get there. 

It’s ownership was then passed onto Russia and then back to Finland finally when they declared their independence from Russia in 1917. Sweden put a mass amount of resources into it and it was incredibly fortified. It wasn’t until the Crimean War in 1856 that Suomenlinna really sustained any damage from an attack (they were attacked in that war for 46 hours straight, that’s understandable). 

It was decided in the 1960′s that they’d make Suomenlinna a live-able place and today around 900 people live on the island. It’s hard to believe people actually live there. They opened a school, a medical center, and a few other things to make it inhabitable. 

I visited the museum first, which included a very informational video and a lot of artifacts from Suomenlinna’s past lives and then I walked around the island for around two hours. It was very, very cool. Probably the coolest thing in Helsinki.

The building where the museum is. 

Inside some of the fortresses.

Parks where built for inhabitants. 

The glass blowing plant that is on the island.

Vesikko Submarine: Built for Germany in 1933. 

The dry shipyard where ships were built for wars when the island was still in use and I believe ships are still built and repaired there today.

One of the handful of apartment buildings on the island.

This was worth the early wake-up and ferry ride over. If you’re ever in Helsinki, make sure you make it over to Suomenlinna

Getting Back On It

One of my meditation teachers once told a group of us that part of our practice was completely losing our practice and then finding it again. She had just completed a film she was working on and that meant she’d been working 16 hour days 6 days a week. She’d completely lost focus of anything but work and meditation took a back seat. But that was OK. And she’s a meditation teacher.

Hearing that a few weeks (months?) prior to leaving for Europe prepared me for my 12 day trip to Scandinavia and completely forgetting to and/or being too tired to meditate. I did do pranayama nightly, I suppose, when I was trying to fall asleep (it’s never just as quick as Close-Your-Eyes-And-Sleep for me), inhaling and exhaling for four counts. I guess that counts? But not really when you’re used to meditating at least twice a day for 3+ years.

I didn’t meditate until the day or two after I got back (I was, unsurprisingly, exhausted), but now I’ve finally gotten back into it. i started easy with 5 minute meditations when I woke up and before I went to bed, and eventually increased to 10-15 minutes before bed. Last week’s meeting of The BE Society really kicked my ass back into gear. Group meditation is the best and when we were all back together again, one of my friends said, “Dude, I felt it this summer when we didn’t meet and it was not good.” In other words, she’d lost her practice, but that was okay: she was re-starting.

At my last job, I lead daily meditation breaks (just a quick but totally effective) and it was pretty awesome. Everyone loved it. I’ve been toying with the idea of deepening my practice and understanding of meditation, so one of my friends, who’s a trained yoga and meditation teacher, suggested Alan Finger’s meditation classes at ISHTA Yoga. Today I registered for the next master class with Alan Finger on Saturday, November 7th and if I enjoy his method, I’ll probably register for his 3-day meditation teacher training in December (if I can take a half-day off).

So, despite the fact that I lost my practice for almost two weeks, I am getting back on my bike, so to speak, and taking myself even further. I’m not broke (surprisingly, after a trip around Scandinavia), the price isn’t too steep, and I think I’ll get a hell of a lot out of it. So, why not? Like with every practice, if it’s really beneficial to you, you’ll find your way back to it.  

Something Sparkly from Stockholm

I walked into an antique shop near the main palace in Stockholm and fell in love with this ring. My jaw dropped when the man working there said it was 850 sek (which is really about $100) and then he quickly dropped the price to 650 sek. I shook my head, thinking I shouldn’t spend $80 on a ring when I have a ton of rings already.

As I was walking around, I couldn’t stop thinking about the ring (which is sterling silver, at least 50 years old, and from England or France). Then I realized I had no idea where the store was and the Old Town in Stockholm is a MAZE. 

Luckily though I found it quite easily and offered him 550 sek for it and we came to an agreement at 600 sek (about $71). It’s a little too big for my ring finger so I’m wearing it on my middle finger. 

It was my one big splurge in Scandinavia. Worth it.

Apps You Must Download If You’re Traveling

Without a few apps on my iPhone, the trip definitely would’ve been a lot harder. (Thanks, Kristen, for telling me to download two of these, btw.)

Triposo: This app was awesome because it let you pick your destinations and suggested popular things to see and tours and places to stay and basically everything you could ever need to know. The maps also work offline.

Tripomatic: This did basically the same thing as Triposo except it looked a little cleaner. The reason for downloading Triposo was for the purposes of using the offline maps. It helped me plan out my journey day by day.

Currency Exchange: Any old currency exchange app will do. This helped me not freak out when something in Stockholm cost, say, 650 kroner. I would’ve died without this. 

Yelp: Duh. You know this is the best for finding all of the best places to eating and other random things too. This helped me find places to eat often.

With these four apps, you should be good to travel solo in a country where the language looks like a Scrabble board threw up and your breakfast costs 300 krone.