Eastern Europe by Car

Update on my travel life:

While planning my trip, I realized train travel through Eastern Europe (at least on the route that I had planned) is damn near impossible. Just to get from Bratislava to Budapest, you either have to take a 3-hour bus (bear in mind, I hate taking buses long distances. I get car sick 😩), or: take a train all the way back to Vienna, then from Vienna to Budapest, totaling in about 10hrs traveling. Needless to say, I needed another plan. 
And thats where my parents came in. We rented a car in Vienna, and drove from Vienna to Bratislava, Bratislava to Budapest, Budapest to Zagreb, Zagreb to Ljubjana, and Ljubjana to Trieste. Along the way we got to stop in a ton of cool places like Plitvice Lakes, Postojna Caves, and Miramare Castle near Trieste. 
I think my favorite part of this experience, though, was attempting to navigate the way between all these places. My mother was driving, and she insisted on paying attention to the road – completely ignoring the GPS. So what was my job? Acting as her own personal verbal GPS guide. At one point, between Plitvice Lakes and Ljubjana, on a tiny ‘two lane road’ that was only big enough for one car, I was basically a broken record – “Up next: hairpin turn; watch out there is a truck! Hairpin turn again! FUCK, another truck!!” And this continued for a good 20km. Needless to say, I am a bit mentally scared from driving on the back roads between Croatia and Slovenia. But at the exact same time, the memory will (eventually) become one of my regularly told hilarious travel stories.
Now we are in Trieste, on the beautiful coast of Italy. Trieste is basically the Italian version of Crete, Greece (a place I have always wanted to visit butstill haven’t gotten a chance to see). Advice for any of my friends interested in visiting: totally worth it. Absolutely beautiful. But come when you can actually go swimming (it is currently 8C/48F outside). 
Cool fact about Trieste: it was owned by the Hapsburg’s Austro-Hungarian empire until the empire’s collapse after WWII, when it became part of Italy through the redistribution of the AH territories at the end of the war. Because its only been less than 100years since Italy gained control of the region, all the signs are in both Italian and Slovenian, and you can find the traditional food of both regions all over the city. And the famous castle – Miramare Castle – was built by Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico and brother of the last AH emperor Franz Joseph, but never used by Maximilian because he was killed in Mexico before its completion. So members of the royal family visited it (probably because it is on a gorgeous point overlooking the Sea), until Italy gained control of it and renovated the castle for the Duke of Aosta to live in with his family. Other fun fact: the Duke personally appealed to Mussolini not to join WWII, and ended up dying as a result of complications with TB and Malaria (both of which he contracted because of the war). 
Cool right? Well, maybe not, but for a history/international relations nerd it is awesome! 😬


The Epic Struggle with the Lion’s Mane

During my trip, there are two things I have struggled with: my backpack, and my hair – aptly named ‘the Lion’s Mane’ because of its resemblance to Simba. 

As most people know, I have always struggled with my hair. When I was about 11 years old (6th grade), I got so tired of the tangly mess that I came home after school and cut my mid-back-length hair to my shoulders instead of attempting to comb out the baseball-sized knot that had formed in it. All without warning anyone. (My father didn’t talk to me for a week, and my mom collected the cut hair and put it in a plastic bag. One which she still has, for some godforesaken reason. And my best friend, Kesha, hit me in the shoulder for it when I saw her the next morning.) It didn’t really work, though, because my hair just turned into a mini-afro after this. The lack of weight from the hair I cut caused the remaining hair to go out – not down. But at least as an afro it didn’t knot, so I kept my hair short for a few years.

When I was about 16 years old, I got my hair chemically straightened for the first time, and I’ve never turned back (shout out to my amazing hairstylist, Heather! I’ve been going to her ever since. She is a miracle worker!) I was finally able to have my hair be long and not worry about all the knots that used to form. Until I travel for long periods of time.

When you travel, it is really hard to take care of your hair. You can’t take a shower every day; half the time you don’t bother combing your hair every day; if you do take a shower, you often take it at night and end up sleeping with a wet head (because if you take one in the morning, you waste daylight); and if you are traveling for a long period of time, there is not hope for regular haircuts. My hair has always been fairly neglected since I am extremely lazy, but it is outrageously neglected when I’m traveling. And it retailiates. Hard.


About a week after my parents got here, the Lion’s Mane and I got into a huge argument. I argued that the tangles needed to be removed by a brush, it argued that the tangles are its friend. And it retailiated by having the brush pull out GIANT chucks of hair – which, for those with short hair who don’t know this pain, HURTS SO BAD!!! It literally gave me a headache. 

My plan of attack? Braid the hair so it can’t get tangled. 


Lion’s Mane’s plan of attack? Mini-afro the second I take it out of the braid. 

My realization – first: it is really hard to braid your hair behind your back. So I tried getting dad to do it:




That failed. Epically.


Second: throughout the day, the lion’s mane will get super frizzy so the braid looks bad. And so the hair that becomes free can become tangled… 

Ultimate decision: Dear god I need a haircut! Heather – I’m totally going to come visit you as soon as I get back state-side!

Giant – The Bane of my Traveling Existance

A few weeks ago I alluded to my struggle with my backpack. Its a 65L+15 (aka its 65L and can expand to 80L, only really it is 70L) that is basically as big as I am. 



Over the course of the past 40 days, the backpack and I have struggled with each other. Not only is it 70L, but it was also 22kilos (around 45lbs). And I have a daypack that I have been carrying on my front. So it total I’ve been carrying around 70lbs every time I change cities – not fun.

It is especially difficult to deal with on trains. Numerous times I have struggled to throw it underneath the seats, between them, or even on the luggage rack. I never dare put the backpack above the seats – it is near impossible to lift it. Finally, during my adventure between Nuremberg and Munich, the backpack and I reached a standoff:

(Giant McFucker after Jon Stewart’s rant about Donald Trump – if you haven’t seen it, you should totally watch it.)

Since then, Giant has gotten liposuction: half the stuff is being sent back to America. But should you ever hear me refer to ‘giant’ (or start cursing about giant), I’m referring to the devilish backpack that is as big as I am. 

The Bombshell That is Life

A few weeks ago, while sitting in a hostel room with my new friends Daisy and Jess, I received an email that blew up my life plan for the next year and a half. My new unfortunate reality: the teaching program I was set to participate in while in Colombia has been cancelled for this year.
As I am sure many other people have experienced, life likes to throw curveballs at times when you really can’t do anything about them, just to mess with your mind a little more. And since I really couldn’t do anything at 8pm on Halloween night, despite being fairly devastated and in complete shock, my new friends and I went out for drinks and I put off figuring out my life for a few days.
After 23 years on this earth, I pretty much view life and the world as a giant maze. And I am wondering around, trying to find the way out to the riches on the other side (history lesson: in greek mythology, those who made it out of the minotaur’s maze were rewarded by becoming the hero of the castle; in my maze, the other side is having a career I like, money and time to travel, and general happiness). Only, this maze is like a 21st century, high-tech, crazy-ass one with booby traps around every corner. In my imagination, this looks like the arenas in the Hunger Games where the game maker – eg Life – throws challenges at the ‘contestant’ – eg me – to make it more ‘fun.’ All while the greek gods sit in their leather reclining chairs up above, watching intently (I imagine they laugh at my [many] misadventures.) And as I was following the path labeled ‘Fun Year Teaching English In Colombia,’ life decided to set off a giant bomb, destroying the pathway and sending me running for my life Katniss-style, back to where I started.
So here I am, finally away from the detonation zone, sitting in a crossroads, treating my wounds and trying to figure out what I should do now. I could go back towards working in Colombia (avoiding the detonation zone by going through a different company and program this time. Downside – no matter what, I can’t start until March.) I could also possibly go with the same company on a different program to privately tutor students, but that just feels too close to the denotation zone for comfort…

 

As I am looking into how to travel down the Colombia path again, while circumnavigating the detonation zone,  I see there is another, overgrown doorway leading to a pathway with an old and aged sign saying ‘Colombian Adventure Minus a Job.’ What would I do if I take this path? Take one or two months ‘living’ in Colombia, hanging out with my best friend in Bogota, exploring South America and perfecting my Spanish – only without having a job there….my wallet is screaming ‘Whhyyyyy?!?!?’ but the blown up bushes down the other path definitely have my brain thinking ‘hmmm…. Better plan? Maybe.’
And then one of the patron gifts comes flying down from the sky. While in Luxembourg, completely stressed out and attempting to figure out my life, I ran into a group of graduate students – half from King’s College in London, and the other half from the London School of Economics. As it turns out, the girls at King’s are studying exactly the type of thing I want to study in graduate school. And, unlike the other grad schools I had been looking at, King’s is only a one-year commitment with a very reasonable price tag.


Whoosh. A piece of the green wall in front of me goes flying down, revealing another pathway in my maze – “Masters in London.” And with this pathway, I can take a side route down to Colombia, while also getting to visit some friends around North America. My wallet and my savings are both now screaming ‘WHHHYYYYYY???? Nooooooooooooooooooo. Moonnneeeyyyyy.’ But my brain is thinking ‘You know, that really might be the best option.’
To be perfectly honest, I am still sitting at that crossroad. My wallet and savings are fighting with my brain, while my phone-a-friend style advisors (family, friends, random new friends I have met on my adventures) are leaning me more towards graduate school. And I keep getting patron gifts flying down from the sky that open little excursions along the different pathways. Plus: the situation in my home nation definitely doesn’t help (my heart is throwing its hat in the ring, arguing I should stay in the states and help with the rebellion against the racist/sexist/xenophobic policies sure to come out of our newly appointed white supremacy government).
So at this current point I really can’t say where I will be in 3 months. But the one thing I would like to announce is, since I now have no commitments until at least mid-march, my dear friends in Vancouver will get to see me for longer than originally planned. And I may need a job in Vancouver for January to May, if anyone knows of one! (I am sorry y’all, but there is absolutely no way in hell I’ll spend another summer in Vancouver. It is too damn cold there☃️😑 I’m not sure where yet, but I’m 100% sure I am flying south for the summer. It’s better for [what is left of] my sanity.)
Also, friends in NYC and DC, I am planning on visiting in early January! Before heading back to Vancouver. So message me if you would like to meet up!

Budapest is BEA-U-TI-FUL

Budapest. Definitely one of my favorites. I convinced my parents to go on a BigBus tour around the city, complete with an audio guide detailing hundreds of interesting facts about the historical buildings around the city.
My favorite? The city was the location of one of the bloodiest sieges in World War II, culminating in the destruction of the majority of the city (and the death of 25,000 civilians). This included the Nazis blowing up each and every bridge that separates the Buda side of the city from the Pest (the two are separated by the Danube river). But still, somehow, after the war the city has been able to rebuild to an absolutely astounding level. And each of the bridges in the city (I think it is 7 of them? But at least 5 that are GORGEOUS) were rebuilt almost immediately after the war – with the exception of one, the Elizabeth Bridge, which took until the 1960s to be rebuilt.
Needless to say, I really like this city. I also got the chance to take a river tour and got some amazing views of Parliament. This is by far the most elaborate Parliament building I have seen so far, and there is an equally as beautiful castle across the river from the Parliament. Even Vienna, the home place of the Hapsburg royal family (one of the largest royal families in Europe), did not have a Parliament or castle nearly as elaborate as Budapest has. I am not 100% sure about the history behind the two buildings, but I am completely interested in finding out more about the motivation behind building them!
Budapest – a definite must see!

There is an Argument to Be Made for ‘Come With Nothing’ Traveling

If you saw my last post, you know that I was freezing in the last city my family and I traveled to (Bratislava). It was cold, rainy, and equally as grey as Vancouver likes to be – also known as the weather that caused me to leave Vancouver. Needless to say, I was not the happiest person in Bratislava (plus the city is pretty run down; we could have been looking in the wrong places, but my parents and I couldn’t find much to do unfortunately).

 

In my abundant downtime, I gave in to the realization that if I am not going to freeze to death this trip, I need to upgrade my warm clothes wardrobe. Now, this is something I am very weary of. I am always afraid to buy things in a foreign country mainly because the cheapest brands are normally the brands that I do not know and therefore cannot say if they are good or not (aka will they rip during my trip, because I do not want to have to go shopping more than once for clothes when I’d rather be sightseeing). But since Bratislava was uninspiring, and we had 2.5 days for what we did in 1 day, I figured why not drag my parents to the department store.

 

I should explain something – there is a type of travel called ‘Come With Nothing’ where the travelers take only what they can carry in their day packs and buy the rest of what they need in the places they are traveling. I am not the type of person to find this type of travel fun – if I am traveling somewhere, the last place I want to visit in the shopping mall.  But I do have many acquaintances who have done this – including one couple I met on this trip who saved so much on their plane tickets that they bought all the clothes they would need in Europe, once they landed, rather than pay for checked bags. BUT! Now that I have tried buying clothes in the countries I need them – I can really see the appeal! For less than 100euro, I bought two new pairs of gloves, a new scarf, a new hat, a super fluffy jacket, a new belt, and a new sweater to layer under the jacket. 100 euro!!! That is about 100USD, or 130CAD. And the cost for all of that in the Americas? Much more than 100USD/130CAD.

 

My new clothes still need to pass the test of time – will they last the next month? Will I need to buy more clothes so I don’t freeze to death in Norway in December? Or will they be enough? But for now, my first attempt at buying a whole new warm-wardrobe seems like a success!

 

Now to see if I freeze to death in Budapest tomorrow….

 

P.S. For anyone who wants to try ‘Come With Nothing’ traveling, comment below and I’ll explain more about how it works!

I AM SO COLD!!

When you think, ‘Lets travel Europe from Oct to Dec!’, the main reaction is – oh, that will be so pretty and fun! And maybe there will even be snow; I can get so many cool photos if there is snow. The thought you dont think about – holyshit, its going to be freaking freezing! Well. Now I am thinking that. And freezing my BUTT off in Bratislava….
Its about 35F/2C outside. And it is raining. When I was in Munich a few days ago (about a week and a half ago maybe? My days are mixing together), it was snowing.There is still snow left on the ground in Bratislava from what I assume was the snow that came down here that day. Prague was a bit warmer, Vienna at least had sun, but Bratislava? Its the definition of the weather I hate. Rain, grey, and bone-chilling cooollldddddddddddddd! 😭😭😭 


So my advice to everyone out there – do what I never remember to do, look up the weather report before you travel; at the very least, you will be able to prepare mentally for any weather that you dislike.
PS – I dont post every day now because I am often busy with human interaction between my parents and myself. Plus dad already knows I’m alive, so I have no one nagging me to post. NO – THIS IS NOT A REASON FOR MY FRIENDS TO NAG ME NOW ❤️ If ya’ll want more stories, I can tell them when I’m back home 😬

A Critical Political Analysis of Trump’s First 100-days Plan (PT. 1)

For those interested in the viability of Trump’s proposed plans (found here), here is a critical political analysis:

PART I:

  1. “Term limits on Congress.” While the idea of term limits on Congress is appealing, the process is daunting. In order impose term limits in Congress, a constitutional amendment must be passed (the process is outlined in Article V of the Constitution, or an explanation can be found here). For those who want a summary, here it is: A constitutional amendment can be called for in two ways – a 2/3rds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate; or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. (Note – all of the previous constitutional amendments have been called for with a vote in Congress).
    The president has no role in the Constitution Amendment process. Therefore – according to the Constitution – Trump is not able to do this. It is up to Congress and Congress alone to propose and later pass an amendment to the Constitution. Further, if your goal is to fix the corruption in Congress, do not allow private citizens or corporations to donate such large amounts of money to a politician’s campaign. If a politician isn’t attempting to fulfill a deal made for a monetary contribution, he/she is more likely to fulfill the commitments made to the people who actually elected him/her.
  2. “A Federal Workforce hiring freeze.” The Federal Workforce makes up three specific branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The Executive branch is split into two sectors, Civilian and Uniformed Military. The Civilian branch includes: Cabinet agencies, such as Agriculture, Commerce, Defence, Education, Energy, etc. (a complete list can be found on page 82 of this report released by the White House); and Other agencies – excluding postal service which functions as a quasi-federal program – such as Broadcasting Board of Governors, Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, etc. If you want more information on the composition of the federal workforce, I encourage you to read more of the above linked document.When reading said document, I found a disturbing statistic. The size of the Federal civilian workforce relative to the country’s population has decreased significantly over the past decades. If you look at the Historical Federal Workforce Tables, the most recent data from 2014 shows that the United States employed less federal employees than in 1962. In fact, the federal government only employs 56,000 more individuals in 2014 than the lowest number ever employed (in 2000).  Further, the employees of the Federal Workforce are twice as highly educated as comparable private firms – with a rate of growth less than half that of the private firms. Further, the Pay Agent Report found that  ‘in 2015 Federal jobs paid 35 percent less than comparable non-Federal jobs’.

    From a critical perspective – Trump has vowed to decrease an already decreasing sector of extremely intelligent individuals who have chosen to pursue a career to better our nation rather than making large amounts of money in private firms. This does not seem like a ‘job building’ measure (a point he campaigned on), but rather one to cripple the already overworked federal government. Further, how is this going to limit corruption? (A legitimate question, if you know how this would limit corruption please comment below.)


  3. “For every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated” ….. How? How do you plan on implementing such an ignorant policy? Executive order? Law? This is basically saying that for every law that is passed, two more must be repealed. But more intricately, many laws have multiple regulations in them. So again – how? It makes me wonder if Trump even understands how our government actually works. Or what the extent of his Presidential powers actually are.
  4. “A 5-year ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service.” This is probably one of the only things I will agree with Trump on. It is unfortunately a common practice for politicians to pass unpopular laws, and when they are not re-elected (or chose to retire), they move to the private sector. But then again, with such a good idea, I decided to google to see if it had been done before. And it has. By Obama. In 2009. The only difference? Obama put a ban for 2 years, not 5 years. The executive order can be found here. Trump is simply calling to extend policies already put in place by the Obama administration.
  5. “A lifetime ban on White House Officials lobbying for a foreign government.” As far as I am aware – and as far as my research has found – no White House officials lobby on behalf of a foreign government currently. (If this is incorrect, please comment below with the link to the evidence that this does actually happen.) But okay, I understand this is to appease the tensions from the leaked Clinton campaign emails.Also, bear in mind – there is the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which is a “disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”
  6. “A complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.” Okay, yes. The leaked documents showing that the Clinton campaign may have accepted money from a lobbyist acting on the interest of a foreign nation is cause for concern. And yes, I also agree foreign nations should not have significant roles in our politics. So agreed – points 5 and 6 are important. They are also the only two I partially agree with.However, bear in mind – the changes Trump proposes will require congressional action – which the Washington Post’s Catherine Ho says is ‘unlikely’. Further, in her professional opinion as a journalist covering lobbying on Capital Hill, the “longer ‘cooling off’ period … would deter people from taking government positions in the first place, knowing that their post-government employment options would be limited.”

    According to GOP lobbyist Stewart Verdery – “What you’ll end up with is people serving in government who are wealthy or super ideological to advance a partisan cause because it’ll make it very hard for someone to cycle in and out to do public service for the good of the people.”

    This policy analysis intended on informing people as well as creating a discussion on the proposals made by Trump. If you have any comments, thoughts, or disagreements with the analysis or information provided, please comment below. 



    ~~~~~~~~~



    Edit: I intended on analyzing each of the points in Trump’s 100-day-plan. However, after attempting to go through each point, I got much too frustrated by how outrageous each point was (hence the part 1; I had intended on going through each section one-by-one)… And then, when I did publish the first 6 points, I realized it may be too soon for a real intellectual debate of Trump’s proposals – yet. So, I will continue this series, but I will continue it after some time has passed. 

The Election

When the US election results first rolled in, it was about 5am in Prague. I honestly couldn’t sleep that night, and my facebook/snapchat/whatsapp was filled with messages from friends around the globe commiserating at the election results. So when my dad said ‘Trump won’ all I could think is ‘….No.’ A few friends even messaged me to ask if I was okay, knowing how much I adore my nation and how completely devastated I am to see such hatred and fear fuel the largest miscarriage of justice we have seen since before the Civil Rights Movement.

 

That day will always be remembered by me as one of the worst days in American history, and in my lifetime (and trust me, I’ve had a ton of bad days, so this is really saying something). Why was it so bad? Because it was the day that I truly questioned why I have chosen to remain American. I have lived in Canada 5 years, I have a 3-year work visa there, I can become a resident and later a citizen. And to be perfectly honest, my first reaction was to do just that. And part of me still wants to. But then I saw something that I care about more than being ashamed of my nation – my facebook feed has been filled with detailed accounts of homophobic, racist, xenophobic and sexists attacks on my fellow citizens – some even to close friends, and not just within the borders of the United States. Anyone who knows me at all knows I am one of the most protective people on this earth – you hurt my friends, you hurt me. So this is one thing I cannot and will not stand by and watch idly, whether I know those being discriminated against or not.

 

No – I do not feel like this is my America. No – this is not the country I know and love. Yes – I am still ashamed to be American, and have still told those who ask where I am from that I am from Canada. But does that mean I am going to leave the US? No. Because another thing I saw – those who voted for Trump want the liberals to leave. They want the liberals and minorities to stay quiet and allow them to ‘cleanse’ our population. What I realized is – if we leave, if we pack up and say we are done, if we stay quiet and allow the horrific proposals of Trump to be passed, we will have failed those discriminated against a second time. And I, for one, am too ashamed that we failed them once to let it happen again.

 

So my conclusion – I still haven’t decided whether: a) I will stay in the US and volunteer with every organization possible to protect the rights of the US citizens, and the immigrants and refugees who came to our country hoping for a better future; or b) I will go abroad for more schooling (because the reason I didn’t this year is I can’t afford US graduate schools, but I can afford international graduate programs – another extremely big problem in our nation, which is absolutely deplorable: how can we expect to remain a world power if our citizens can’t afford a good education?) so I can come back and fight for the rights of my fellow citizens, immigrants, and the refugees who have feared so greatly for their lives that they risked everything to come to a nation which is treating them like the very people they were fleeing from. But one thing is for sure: I am an American liberal, and I will do everything in my power to fight for the rights of the the immigrants, refugees, and my fellow citizens – all of which do not deserve the hell we have put them through in this past week.

 

And for those following my blog – Yes I will still be posting about my travels, but I am also starting a series of political posts. It is up to you whether you wish to read them or not.