Monday, May 31, 2010

St. Petersburg Fashion

Oh man, Russian students - Russian girls in general! - set totally different standards in fashion. Walk down Nevski Prospekt -which takes like an hour! It's freaking long!- and you will see 80% of Russian girls in high heels (you need to skillfully take away tourists, as well as they are masqueraded) and around 50% of them in hotpants or skirts that end well before the knee. And they are skinny. Mostly though, they need to hold on to a strong arm of their guy in order to even keep balance, which sort of sadly destroys the image of the fierce and independent woman. Nevertheless, St. Petersburg makes me feel perpetually under/wrongly dressed. Case in point: Today. The weather - blue sky in the morning (but it won't fool me again! That was the case on Saturday too and it rained throughout the day!). The wear - skirt with tights (babushka approved) and a shirt, but towing the rain jacket and umbrella along, cuz you never know. What would I have needed? A bikini, since after our first class, we discovered a beach where an astonishing amount of St. Petersburgians were exhibiting an astonishing amount of naked skin trying to reap the sun rays as long as the sun shone. Did it rain? Of course not. I mean, I had my umbrella with me.

Friday, May 28, 2010

From Berlin to St. Petersburg

So, why does the Berlin ground personnel have to strike exactly - exactly - the one morning I need them to do their job? Why? After spending a sleepless night imagining me stranded in various locations with various means of getting to St. Petersburg (catching the train from Moscow? Flying over Riga? Taking a cruise up? Okay, that would be fun), I then did take off and arrive in time, probably because all the Easy-jet flights were simply cancelled. Oh no, though benefitting from it, I found the solution to be quite acceptable.

Now just a few first impressions cause my time is running out:

1. If you smile without reason on the street, you are taken for an idiot. Do not smile.
2. Hotpants and stilettos are perfectly acceptable for 12 degree Celsius rainy weather.
3. Follow, always, the advice (strict advice) of your Russian babushka host mom, and you'll be fine.
4. If you smile and don't talk in the admissions office, you are taken for an idiot as well, but one who cannot communicate either. Avoid that.
5. Taking an admissions test of 170 questions and 1 hour length, just to be put in the class that you were supposed to be in anyways, is perfectly acceptable. Don't question.
6. If you are yelled at in Russian, just get up/out of the way/stop whatever you are doing and say a doe-eyed 'Izvinite'. Don't question.

Following these tips, you should be fine in Russia as of my latest experiences. It basically runs down to - do not smile without reason and do not question the system. Pretty basic, if you think it over.


Day 11 - Still Budapest

How better to start a day in the Hungarian capital than with a thermal bath in the hot springs that it sits on? I got up early extra to spend another 2 hours lazing around in the 36 to 39 degree Celsius water, and let me tell you, it is so. worth. it. I decided to go to the Gellert bath, which is one of the better-known baths and was on my way into the city, and man, you have the impression of swimming in an aristocratic mansion or so, what with the columns surrounding the pool and the mosaics of the hot-water tubs. Another great thing about coming early in the morning ist that the baths are completely free of tourists, and instead, you can do the best people-watching of old Hungarian grannies plunging into the water, careful to keep their hairdoes dry, and dignified retirees discussing world matters over at the bubbly end.
From there, I took another walking tour of the city, which ended up visiting most of the same places I had seen the days before, but offering interesting insights in Hungarian history (they were occupied so often I lost track), technology (they are super proud of many many inventions) and culture. In the afternoon, having foregone the chance of visiting the parliament because apparently you have to be there at 8 am sharp to get tickets, I decided to visit the market hall instead and was rewarded with another astonishing view of produce, meat and cheese stands without end, while the upper levels have an overwhelming assortiment of souvenirs, especially table-cloths and the like which are obviously all hand-made by Hungarians. Yeah... And then was already the night train to catch (I was so nervous I'd miss it with unexpected traffic on the streets of Budapest and a nightmarish downpour) and onward the journey went. I'll be back, Budapest! I promise!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 10 - Budapest

Budapest has so so much to offer that you have to make concessions. So I decided to follow my interests and take the 'Hammer and Sickle' walking tour that brought me and an Australian girl with a personal guide (lol) to the Memento Statue Park, where Socialist statues that were removed from the city centre were brought after 1989 to act for informational and commemorative purposes. Though it was advertized as a 'Socialist theme park', it was actually less touristy than I had feared, except for the baby blue Trabant that stood in the corner for people to sit in and the (rather small) 'Red Star' souvenir shop which sold all kinds of paraphenelia. On one hand, I felt that people taking ridiculous pictures with these statues was a little tasteless, since each of these statues offered memories of hardships suffered, or at least of a certain historical event. On the other hand, maybe that at last shows that people have overcome the taboo-ish aspect of the Socialist past and can now see the comicality in it? Already in Socialist times, the allegorical statues received really funny nicknames like 'the Spa warden' about a guy who looks as if he was running behind somebody who had forgotten their towel, or 'Another beer!' about a guy that stretches his hand into the air energetically (Fotos to follow!).

After this interesting tour, I walked up the Andrassy avenue (the Champs-Elysee of Budapest) and found the city park - and apparently all the city's inhabitants. It was a holiday and everybody was hanging out in the sun, playing ball games, and just having the time of their lives. So I just joined in with gusto! In the evening, after a quick trip up the Castle Hill (the picturesque little streets were nice, but I had already seen similar ones so often.. But the Fishermen's Bastion with its little turrets was great!), I had a snack and chat with an interesting Jordanian guy before returning back to the hostel and watching most of 'Into the Wild'... which gives a whole other direction to the term of backpacking...

Days 8 and 9 - Pecs and Budapest

Wow, the last few days didn't leave me a lot of time at a computer! I'll keep these posts short and sweet and expand once I have better access.
After arriving in Pecs, I just discovered the city with a Hungarian girl a little that taught me a little of the language and a lot about the typical (I hear, at least the dude at my hostel told me so) Hungarian pessimism. Despite studying in Budapest and going on study trips to Greece and the lot, she seemed to think that she didn't have any possibilities to work in her field, and talked longingly of the time she spent jobbing in London. I wondered later on whether the situation in the country is that hopeless or whether her mindset was responsible for her feelings. A bit of both, I'm sure.
Pecs is sweet and has a beautifully done-up city center. However, although it is one of the three 2010 European Culture Capitals, half of the museums were closed due to renovations. Apparently they were extremely behind schedule, and a lot of the EU money just disappeared without a trace. According to Hunor, the extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff member at the Big Fish hostel I talked with a looong time about Hungarian politics and everything else, corruption is still widespread and politics is especially marred in this pessimistic feeling of 'we can't do anything anyway'. And that with extremist groups gaining power...
I jogged up to the TV tower which offered a stunning view of Pecs and the Hungarian countryside, then came down and walked round the city a bit until a thunderstorm made me seek refuge in a museum and then in the hostel. A sold-out folk concert meant that I spent my evening at the hostel as well (other than a reaggae festival, there wasn't that much going on..), but it was really fun times talking to fellow travellers and exchanging views over some home-brewed wine which the hostel owner brought over in the course of the evening...

The next day, I left for Budapest and spent my time in the train dozing (the night had been short) and occasionally snatching glimpses of gorgeous stretches of nature. Budapest was big, confusing, exhilarating after these few small-town days, but after finding my hippie-esque hostel in the Buda section of town, I set out exploring, climbed up to the Citadel for yet another great view (I'm really getting into hiking here!) and slowly made my way over the chain bridge and by the St. Istvan Cathedral to the Opera, where for 900 Forint (about 3 Euros) I experienced a great performance of the 'Barber of Sevilla'. I mean, it would've helped if I had read the story in beforehand, or if the subtitles hadn't been in Hungarian... But who wants to complain...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 7 - How Janina got stranded in Hungary...

You know how my blog wasn't the funniest upto now, filled with "blah blah and then I went to see blah blah"? Well, this is going to change it up. Cuz today, pretty much all I saw were random Hungarian train station stops in the middle of the pampa.

How to be stranded in Hungary for Dummies

1. Pick a travel route that requires you to change regional trains at least twice and at the smallest train stations possible.
2. Make sure that your first train is delayed just enough to make you miss your connection.
3. Get off at the random train station anyway because you don't have another plan and your ticket doesn't take you to Budapest.
3b) Optional: for maximum enjoyment, try getting off the train before the Hungarian border guards have checked your passport, causing the control person to bellow "What are you doing? Sit down again!"
4. Realize that nobody at the random train station speaks any other language but Hungarian.
5. Realize that you don't have any of the local currency on you.
6. Take it as an adventure.

I had assumed that since I was taking a regional train, even if I missed the connection it would be fine because those trains run hourly or something. Well, no. Fortunately enough, there was another train to my final destination (Pecs), but it left a good three and a half hours later. So, time to explore the city! Um, town. Village really. Wait, do five houses count as a village? After I had tried to find the city centre and walked along a road of never-changing basic grey concrete houses in diverse states of dilapidation, I realized that the little square in front of the train station was the city centre! Yeah, Gyekenyes is that hardcore. Looking it up, I can't believe I missed the famed attractions of chapel and mine lake! Apparently, "The former closed border station has become an open-minded village by now aiming to focus on the development of tourism in the future." LOL. I ended up giving my survival apples to really sweet kids excited to see an alien backpacker in their environment, though our communication was limited to "hi" and "bye". The rest of the three hours had me sitting in the square, in front, in, and behind the train station, althewhile trying to dodge the looks of "what a weirdo with a backpack is that" that I got from diverse Gyekenyesers. Seriously, I felt like I was the first tourist they ever saw. That focus on tourism might have to be a touch better developed.

Finally, the train pulled in (it was the longest three hours ever, I was really tired but terrified of sleeping through the train and having to sleep in Gyekenyes), and after bording it the next adventure begun. Don't get me wrong - the Hungarian countryside was crazily beautiful, a lot flatter than Slovenia but with the same charm, but the adventure was rather how the train sometimes slowed down to probably around 5 km/h and followed the railroad tracks that seemingly went across a lake! It must have been raining like crazy the last couple of weeks, because the whole area seemed inundated and the train seriously was maybe half a meter above the water's edge. Wildlife sightings included water snakes and various kinds of birds; it sometimes felt like the train was slowing down in order to give us a scenic tour instead of just trying to snake along the tracks.

Finally, finally arriving in Pecs around 6.15pm, I was impressed by the beautiful old town centre (I know, same old, same old) and am looking forward to explore it in more detail tomorrow. Knock on wood that it won't rain too hard!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 6 - Zagreb

This day was supposed to be a stop-over and half travel, half-explore day, but was actually one of the neatest surprises on my trip so far. Zagreb is so nice! I don't really know what I had expected, or why exactly there seems to be little hype around Zagreb compared to Prague or even Ljubljana, but it is a really nice town with loads to see and do - I nearly regret that I am not staying a little longer.
Firstly, the train ride was fine, I got my first stamp on the trip (exiting the Schengen-zone) and there was a funny man walking around the train, advertizing (I think) for the restaurant and giving out (or selling??) little cups of coffee. I didn't take any because frankly, I didn't quite understand what was going on. Arriving in Zagreb meant that I had to switch currency for the first time, getting Croatian kuna out of the Bancomat which worked fine with Mastercard - I was worried because in Italy, most bancomats only accepted Eurocard Mastercards with a chip in there like a debit card.. I didn't want to be stranded somewhere in Eastern Europe without any cash!
Stepping out of the trainstation, you just see one massive park with a museum or two scattered about and lined by more or less renovated, but still gorgeous old buildings from the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire and after. The main square was filled with stands, I literally wandered right into a folclore festival or something similar, because all sorts of traditional crafts were presented and sold on the spot. It was a nice introduction to the Croatian culture, which Croatians are immensely proud of. The city itself is divided in the Upper, older town with many narrow, crooked streets as well as the parliament and the seats of power, and the Lower town which is less cute and more majestic with long, straight alleys and many parts. There is an area called the Green Horseshoe because the parks are so close that you can nearly walk from one into the other in a giant C. I visited specifically the Botanical Gardens, which are free and small, but very well-kept and beautifully put together. After coming back to my hostel and successfully uploading some pictures (free internet, yay!), I went to dinner with some of the fellow travellers in an actually kind of fancy place (think linen napkins and candelabras) and paid 50 kunas for a pasta dish (around 7 Euros). Ah, the joy of Eastern Europe...

Day 5 - Ljubljana

Fortunately enough, I booked two nights in Ljubljana, so that I could enjoy my bed in a (most probably) former room of a prison warden one night more. The breakfast was great, we had a buffet with eggs, cereal, juice, yogurt... It was nearly hotel-style! The coffee was disgusting though, and that in a country where good cappuccino comes to prices of 1.20 Euro or so.. In the morning, I decided to take the hike up to the 'mountain' and castle of Ljubljana. There is also a funiculaire, but why not at least pretend to be a little sporty. The view once up at the castle is gorgeous, especially from the tower, where you can see the Alps in the distance, the squares and buildings of Ljubljana laid out clearly before you and the Ljubljanica river snaking its way into the distance. The castle itself is extremely well renovated and updated with glass elevators and steel walkways, and even has a 3-D virtual tour of the city's history for just about 2 Euros. Oooh... The 'tour' was a little dizzying, but pulled together many strings of Ljubljana's history that I had vague ideas about. Like being included in various empires, being named the capital of Napoleon's Illyrian Provinces, upto the point where Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia and had to defend its decision in a 10-day mini-war. It is astonishing, how much perseverance and energy the Slovenian people had to define and re-define their country and their city.
Later, while wandering towards the Prešeren Square (Prešeren is the national poet of the Slovenes), there was a subtle noise that grew louder and louder until I stood in the middle of the square and of a student protest! The local student union had chosen that day to protest against what I now understand are new government reforms that would restrict students' working hours and maximum pay. The language barrier made and makes it tough to communicate with people, read their message or understand what they are concerned or worried about, though Slovenes seem to be rather multilingual.
After lunch at the hostel, I wanted to take the tour of all prison cells that were renovated, but apparently, since there were no other people interested, the guide had nixed the tour for the day. Nevertheless, the reception gave me access to the unoccupied rooms and I have to say, they are truly amazing, each in their own way. One had a round bed that was set on a second level so that there was a hang-out area underneath it, others had fireplaces or other accessories. It was interesting to see how, with the same amount of space, so many different ideas were realized. The afternoon, still with great sunny weather, I decided to enjoy the Tivoli Park at the Western border of downtown, and just read a little further and have vacations. Travelling around is soo exhausting! (I know, I know. There is some irony in there, don't worry). And in the evening, I got to enjoy some authentic Slovene cuisine and atmosphere in a really nice place in the Old Town... as in 'yes, yes, I will make you something special. Just sit down, sit down. Another beer? Oh, we bring you a little schnaps for the digestion. Do you want anything more?' I rolled back to the hostel, I was so stuffed. But oh, was it good.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Days 3 and 4... From Venice to Ljubljana

The internet in Venice was so freaking expensive that I decided to post a double post today, I had to pay 2.50 Euros for 20 minutes!! Well, Venice prices. After spending the morning with this really cool German baker in Padua and ooh-ing and aah-ing over all the great Italian food on the market (I won't bore you with that, it's just amaaazing!! Photos to follow!!), I got to Venice without problems, with the regional train. First , I bought myself a map (wise decision, wise decision) and decided on where to go next. I still had an hour before check-in to my hostel. All of a sudden, this American lady comes up to me and says 'are you going to use the vaporetto within 20 minutes? Here, take my ticket!' So just like that, I was in the possession of a 6.50 Euro vaporetto (the ship-bus thingies) ticket. I decided to use it to the fullest and drive down to Piazza San Marco, over the whole Canale Grande (gorgeous!). Piazza San Marco was overcrowded and touristic like usual, but making my way back to the hostel (still with backpack), I discovered some really nice corners and ate my strawberries from the Padua market on a little bridge overlooking a quiet canal. Picturesque! Having gotten rid of my bag, I showered, changed, and explored that area in a little more depth, trying to find the real Venice behind all the shopping districts and souvenir shops. And I think I did, at least partially! I took little side-streets, followed signs to places I didn't know, got explained how the masks were made by an artisan and saw how the Murano-glass was brought into those pretty shapes in another shop, and on the whole went as little as possible to the touristic areas. It was perfect. The next day, I had to take the bus from Venezia Mestre to Villach in Austria, which was a great great trip through the mountains with gorgeous scenery (finding the bus terminal was another issue, why can't they just put up a sign??) and then from Villach, which I explored in 2 hours, onwards to Ljubljana. Slovenia is beautiful, so green, with pastures, lakes, .... It's like a miniature Switzerland, being only half of the size of Switzerland to begin with. And Ljubljana!! It feels like a small cutesy town, when it is really the capital of the country that got out of Yugoslavia best and the quickest and is now a full member of the EU - impressive! With this Argentinian guy that stayed in my hostel room (in the hostel that was formerly a prison! Awesome!), I explored a little the streets along the river and sat down at a little square for palatcinke - basically crepes with Nutella. Yum! Today will be a little more thorough exploration of Ljubljana and maybe a hike on the mountain to the castle =) Woohoo!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 2 - Verona & Padua

The night train from Paris to Verona was a great experience, though we didn't sleep much with one huge snorer (and not even me!) in our cabin. But I met a girl from near Verona who answered all my questions and gave me insider tips; she was super nice, and I hope to stay in touch. She even told us when we would pass Lake Garda, which offered a stunning view:

After being treated to the best Italian cappucchino and a croissant at the bus station we said good-bye and I wandered down to Verona. Please, pleeease stop here if you are anywhere near it, the city is amazingly beautiful and cute and you feel as if you stepped back in time. Juliet's house is one of the main attractions; I felt that the entrance fee to go inside was a little high for what was shown, but the feeling of standing on Juliet's balcony (from where she talked to Romeo!!) is simply amazing. Yes, yes, the accuracy is not accepted by all, but if you believe in it...

After lunch in a little cafe in a side street that just allowed the mid-day sun to shine down on the tables, I did a second round of tours and discovered the Piazza del'Erbe and the Piazza Populi, where street musicians began to play and I stretched out in the sun... Well, until this old Italian guy started talking to me and wanted to ask me out for a coffee. Kinda sweet... if creepy. I graciously refused and he kissed my hand when we parted ways. Old manners, old manners... In the afternoon I decided to skip the museum, buy myself gelato for that money and sit around a little more before taking the train to Padua. And in Padua, I first lost the way, then found the main cathedral (that I wasn't looking for), within the cathedral the dried tongue of Saint Anthony (a relique) and then finally found the hostel, which is good, if very business-like, and almost nobody is there. Might have to do with the fact that they have a curfew at 11.30... Which is why I'll see more from Padua now. Ttyl!!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 1 - Paris

Since I am pretending to be interested in the new Macbook to get internet for free, I'll keep it sweet and short:
Mission Impossible was possible! Me and my three pieces of luggage...

... that weighed at least as much as I did managed to fly to Paris altogether, enter my friend's appartment according to veery specific information and I am on the streets of Paris with only my backpack. Yay!! That was at least one of the biggest unknowns in this whole episode. Which made me realize: obviously, for longer distances my backpack is pretty heavy. Fortunately, today was one of the longer days for me to carry it; and that will also help to pace me if I go off on one of those 'I want to run around the city without break the whoooole day!' rants. With backpack, a break per hour is extremely necessary. But I have time, right?
So I had picknick (baguette!) in the Jardin de Luxembourg and took a mini-nap at the shore of the Seine after feeling pretty drowsy, probably due to jetlag.

I also went to look at Sciences Po, which I couldn't quite find right away (the delight of non-symmetric streets!) and when I did, it was rather anti-climatic. It's located in a gorgeous area, but the main building at least which I found (there have to be more!) made a rather old-time charm but run-down impression, as though it hadn't been renovated in decades. That is France's pride and best-known polisci institute?? I reminded myself that I'm coming for the language, the classes and the teachers and not the greatest technology and architecture, but it did get me wondering, because Sciences Po has by God enough famous alumni... I guess it's the whole plunge in the unknown that is scary...
Nevertheless, I walked over to the Louvre and discovered a huge, brand-new shopping mall downstairs that starts at the glass pyramid (therefore the Apple store exploitation). Interesting, how culture and mass consumption are closer and closer linked...
Well, I might have dinner in a little street bistro before taking my night-train.. Il faut vivre à la parisienne quand on est ici!! (Update - I did find a cute little creperie. Yum!)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good bye Canada, see you soon!

My bags are packed, I sat on my suitcase to close it, and we’ll leave Trois-Rivieres in a little more than an hour and a half to get to the Montreal Airport.

Now that the volcano cloud seems to have hear my prayers (I’ve gotten terribly superstitious because you really can’t do anything but wait and see…), I think I can say truthfully that I’m on my way.

Though I just had to include this video for the wonderfully goofy nerdiness of it, and of course the music, the lyrics don’t really express my feelings that well, because I’m really not going “from misery to happiness”. I was really happy in Montreal, and will be when I come back after (at most) 15 months. But I wanted to experience something new, extraordinary, improve my skills through new experiences and live to the fullest. So maybe this Phil Collins song is more representative of my feelings right now (yes it is from a Disney movie. They’re cool, ok? =)":

Tell everybody I'm on my way
New friends and new places to see
With blue skies ahead yes
I'm on my way
And there's nowhere else
that I'd rather be
Tell everybody I'm on my way
And I'm loving every step I take
With the sun beating down yes
I'm on my way
And I can't keep this smile off my face…

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy travel updates

1. I can lift my backpack.

2. I didn’t go over the weight limit in either of my pieces of luggage.

3. I managed to pack Baking with Julia. Don’t be fooled, it is absolutely necessary for me spending a year in Paris close to all those fabulous but oh, so expensive bakeries.

4. The sun is shining here and will most probably also be shining when I arrive in Verona.


5. I have a host family in St. Petersburg!

6. Sciences Po didn’t send me a letter rejecting me… (though of course also no acceptance letter yet. It’s not as if we’re waiting for it or anything.)

7. Life is good. And I like the number 7. Which is why I’ll stop now with happy travel updates.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Paris, tu nous ouvre ton coeur!

Watching Anastasia today (because it was a rainy day and I didn’t have anything else to do on a rainy day except unpacking and repacking boxes) made me realize the funny similarities between my itinerary and hers. Coming from St. Petersburg, making my way through Western Europe, only to arrive in Paris hopefully like her:

Yeah. I mean, except for the fact that I’m not a Russian princess. Trying to find her long-lost family and on the way falling in love with her former servant. And I hopefully won’t have to jump off a burning train to avoid crossing a destroyed bridge and hitchhike my way to Paris. But, you know, the similarities are astonishing, right?

Also, just because I haven’t had anything to worry in about 37 minutes, that lovely volcano in Iceland had the lovely idea of spewing some more ashes over Europe, making my travel plans dangerously flexible… As in, oh, no, I don’t need to arrive in Europe before the 26th anyway! Thank god I purchased good travel insurance. You never know when your next plane will be delayed…

Friday, May 7, 2010

Imagine a room completely without furniture…

… bare a bed and even that will be gone by tomorrow. The floor is covered in half-packed boxes, different-sized stacks of papers, a couple of books here and a backpack there; this is how I am living right now. Thus:


The noise in the backyard (my landlord is digging a hole there for whatever reason) plus the sunshine outside are not very conducive to changing that situation right now; I think I’ll just go read my tour book outside and come back and pack tonight. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

My hostels are all booked now; there are some very cool places that I’ll be staying at, so stay tuned! I figure that 17 – 20 Euros per night including breakfast is something I can easily afford, especially with the rest of the work of my part-time job that I finished off this week during a near all-nighter until 4am. So much to the unstressful last week in Montreal…

But no, I did have that; especially yesterday night when we went to see TOTEM, the Cirque du Soleil performance! It was not allowed to take photographs, so I only have what I was able to scavenge from the internet to show a little bit of the amazing atmosphere and performance. TOTEM is supposed to be a non-chronological representation of different stages of manhood; and sure enough, there were frog-like amphibic creatures on the uneven bars, monkeys hopping around, Native American-inspired performances with wooden hoops that the artist brought into amazing forms, futuristic artists balancing on vibrating bars… it’s really hard to explain. But the trailer on the website does give a good insight, so check it out!

UPDATE: After a last day in Montreal at the Botanical Gardens…




and at Patati Patata (go there! It’s really yummy!) my room is now fully empty and I am sitting at my parents’ place where I will stay for another week before departing on my adventures. Bye Montreal! Au revoir! I will be back!!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gear! And travel plans…

Now that I don’t have to worry about studying any more, I can finally concentrate on getting my travel plans together! This is exciting and slightly nerve-wrecking at the same time. As much as I want to be spontaneous and adventurous, even finding people that will host me as couchsurfer appears to be harder than expected. In the past couple of days I must’ve sent off about 30 requests in different cities and looked up different travel routes. By now, I am looking more favorably upon the youth hostel option; at least you have a bed for sure there, and they are not that expensive either. The nice thing is that other than my arrival in Verona and departure in Budapest, I have all liberty of deciding where to go. And what a good thing; I might not find a bed (either by couchsurfer or hostel) in Verona, since it seems to be a city for lovers and there are plenty of B&B’s with double rooms, but only one youth hostel that is already booked out. Sigh. Maybe I’ll sleep in Padua then… I have learned to be very flexible with my plans. Also because I just discovered that the only direct connection between Venice and Ljubljana arrives in Ljubljana at 1.14 in the morning! Not something I want to do as a single traveller…. So maybe I’ll take the convoluted way by Austria and just enjoy travelling that much longer (which would mean that I need to find a bed in Venice though…) I am just glad for the internet – I cannot even imagine finding all of this out on the road and having to adapt instantaneously…

But for the second part of the post – I got gear! After wandering around hours in Montreal I finally found the Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) and was so glad that I did! The staff is amazingly helpful and the prices are top. Look what I got:

brio70 The MEC Brio 60 backpack was the one I finally settled on with the help of the very friendly vendor. It is a very simple model, but online reviewers rave about the sturdiness and the value for money. The top is detachable and can be used as a pouch if you are going around the city; and it has a side-zipper that lets you access all of your belongings without taking everything out. Also, the couple of one of my favorite travel blogs, Sending Postcards, are using these backpacks on their round-the-world-trip, so I can’t really go wrong there, can I?

I also got some see-through pouches which will help me to organize my stuff; these were also widely advised by all travellers (yes, yes, I did my research). Also:

Money belt

A money belt was one of my obligatory purchases, I would just feel weird carrying around my passport and valuables in my backpack just like that.

First Aid Kit

in case I get sick…

Kewl water bottle

or thirsty. And best of all – it all added up to be just the value of the next most expensive backpack! Now I’m ready to explore the world… If I find a bed or two to nap in ;)

A Taste of Russia

School is finally done! Yesss! And to celebrate the completion of our last final, our Russian class went out to dinner to ‘La Caverne’ or Погребок in the Russian neighbourhood in Cote-des-Neiges. I’m telling you, if that is anything like what Petersburg will be like, I’m ecstatic to go! The food was really good, the people were nice, and after the table next to us downed a 1 litre bottle of vodka (they were 4 people; though the standard group size per bottle of vodka is apparently three…), they started to dance to the music of the live entertainer and made us dance as well! So much fun…


we tried to replicate the weird looks of the people in the ad that our teacher gave us… unfortunately it isn’t anywhere to be found on the internet… But Tim and Bradley are doing a great job, let me assure you.


please note the bear head at the wall. we also found an elk, some fox skins, and one or two stuffed weasels. I guess they are supposed to contribute to the cozy atmosphere.

Russian Dinner 2

This is when the Russian lady asked Tim to dance with her…

Russian Dinner 1

and dance they did. As much as we did…

Russian Dinner 3