While 2017 was my year of change (moving from Asia to Europe), it seems 2018 was the year to indulge in my travel addiction. I learned how to explore Europe cheaply, fell totally in love with Paris, and almost got peed on in Budapest. It was a year filled with incredible European exploration. So now, a few days into the new year, my mind drifts back to the more memorable travel moments of 2018 – the good, the bad, and the truly disgusting – and I count my blessings for all of the amazing experiences!
Here’s a brief look at 2018 travel in numbers:
Number of new countries visited: 4 (Slovakia, Hungary, Spain, Belgium)
Number of countries/cities revisited: 4 (Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Paris)
Number of house sits: 3 (Paris, Vienna, Lausanne)
Number of cheap hostels: 3 (Bruges, Barcelona, Budapest)
Number of flights that cost over $70: Zero
Worst Travel Moments of 2018
The Waterfall in Budapest
In a continuing effort to stretch my travel funds as far as possible, I spent six nights in a “boutique hostel” in Budapest the week prior to my Vienna house sit. This boutique hostel really wasn’t too bad, at least for the first 5 nights.
The first three nights I was in the “female only” dorm with just three other women and I survived by spending very little time in the room. The last three nights were in a co-ed dorm and suddenly I felt I’d regressed back to my early backpacker years. Especially the last night…
Is that a waterfall?
The co-ed dorm room is designed with two beds in an upper loft area to take advantage of the high ceilings. At about 2 am I hear the two upstairs residents stumble into the room, falling up the stairs to their loft beds. A few minutes later I hear what sounds like a waterfall streaming from the upstairs loft to the floor below where three of us are trying to sleep. We all jump out of our beds, turn on the light, and see a sea of urine in the middle of the floor. It quickly grows into Lake Superior as the stream continues to flow from the drunk upstairs.
We look at each other in shock and disbelief! Is this drunk guy actually peeing all over the room? His stream narrowly misses my bag and all my stuff neatly packed for my early morning departure.
I left early the next morning with the lake of urine still where it landed. We decided to just leave it there so the drunk could clean up his disgusting mess. With no one scheduled at the front desk until 8 am, I left my travel blogger business card and a note asking the manager to contact me regarding this “unfortunate incident”.
The following day the manager emailed me with a sincere apology and the news that the offensive drunk had been thrown out into the street that morning. She also offered a free stay in one of their private rooms on my next trip to Budapest.
Anthony Bourdain – the Loss of a Legend
In early June, I made the trek from Nice back to the US for my French visa appointment in Chicago. I arrive in Minneapolis and kill time on Facebook while waiting for my ride from the airport. As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I learn the stunning news of Anthony Bourdain’s death.
I was such a huge fan and, like most fans, was shocked and devastated at his seemingly pointless death. But his death also started conversations about taboo topics like hidden demons, mental health, and depression. It inspired me to share a behind-the-scenes look at the stress of becoming an expat and to dispel any myths that it’s an easy thing to do. I tried to shine a light on the illusions behind the sunny Instagram photos. Sharing my inside story was terrifying but necessary and I actually heard from quite a few people who appreciated my honesty.
Mugged in Nice!
When I travel, I’m usually really careful with my stuff and very aware of my surroundings. Unfortunately, when I’m just a few blocks from home I’m a bit more relaxed.
One beautiful October day I went for a long walk along the Nice Cape trail. I took some amazing photos of little yellow sailboats on the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea. It was a perfect day to capture the stunning colors of the Cote d’Azur. I listened to my music as I walked the trail and soaked in the beauty surrounding me.
The headphones I use are very large and bright red. The headphone cord is attached to my tablet in the front pocket of my bright turquoise blue backpack. On my way home, I stop at a local supermarket for some supplies and realize later that I was a walking target for thugs.
While going through the checkout, I take the headphones off my ears and let them rest around my neck with the cord still attached to my tablet. As I leave the store, a man bumps into me and mutters “Excuse me”, which I think is odd because he doesn’t say “Pardon moi”. As I exit to the sidewalk there’s some slight jostling and a bit of commotion. A few steps later I notice the cord of my headphones dangling in the wind.
It happened so fast! I’m numb with shock as I return to the supermarket to see if maybe I’d dropped my tablet on the way out. Sadly, there is no trace of it anywhere.
I had just been mugged two blocks from home!
It’s late on a Saturday afternoon and I’m leaving in a few days for Paris! I need to buy a new phone immediately so I head to the cell phone store with absolutely no time to research my options.
Randomly, I choose the Samsung S9 and find out later it’s one of the best camera phones on the market! It’s about a million times better than my old one! (I now see the unfortunate mugging as a blessing in disguise!)
Swiss Doom & Gloom
In mid-November I was browsing through the daily email I receive from Trusted Housesitters and I notice a house sit in Lausanne, Switzerland over Christmas. Lausanne had been on my mind since seeing a Rick Steves travel show a few months earlier. Since Swiss house sits are rarely offered, I jump on it!
The homeowner contacts me immediately and offers the gig – 2 weeks in the beautiful city of Lausanne over the Christmas holidays! I accept the house sit as images of a quaint Swiss lakeside village dance in my head. I fantasize about drinking hot chocolate in a charming Swiss chalet and walking through the Christmas market in the snow!
It looks so good on paper and is absolute perfection in my imagination!
After I bought the ticket for my flight to Geneva, I started to research a bit more. One blog post I read pointed out how ridiculously expensive Switzerland is. He recommended either packing your own food or, if you’re near a border, driving to another country just to eat. Sadly, Lausanne is located nowhere near a border.
And the snowy winter scene of my fantasy? Sadly, it doesn’t really get cold enough in Lausanne to snow but it does rain. It rained non-stop for the first four days I was there.
Finally, on Christmas Day it clears up! A Christmas miracle? A day later a thick fog rolls in and the sky turns a gloomy shade of gray.
I spend 14 days in Lausanne talking to no one but a cranky cat named Kira. The sun makes an appearance only 3 days. The realization that I could have been basking in the sunshine in Nice crushes my soul. I lose myself binge-watching Netflix (Outlander and Poldark) and drinking cheap wine.
The last two nights I dine on ramen noodles, determined not to over-spend and resent Switzerland even more.
Best Travel Moments of 2018
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia
I met a friend for a drink last night who had just visited Barcelona and she raved about how much she absolutely HATED Sagrada Familia! I agree the outside does look strangely disjointed like Gaudi was smoking something when he designed it. But then my friend confessed that she didn’t even bother to go inside.
Inside is where the magic is!
I paid $26 for a ticket to go inside Sagrada Familia and it took my breath away. The design is mind-blowing and unique and I spent time just sitting on a bench admiring all the details and the light from the stained-glass windows reflecting off the pillars.
It was one of the highlights of my trip to Barcelona, along with some amazing white chocolate croissants I discovered at a tiny bakery!
Falling in Love With Paris!
In October I had the opportunity to house sit for two sweet pugs in Paris. This was my third trip to Paris and my expectations were rather low. My first visit to Paris was so long ago I barely remember it. On my second visit, the man I met for a “romantic rendezvous” in this romantic city was too caught up in work so I spent most of my time wandering the streets alone.
But on my third visit to Paris, I finally felt the magic of this stunning city! I explored with my brand new Samsung S9 camera and tried to capture the magic of the city in photos. I spent evenings sitting along the Seine sipping French wine.
I’ve now decided I’ll move to Paris once I win the lottery.
Budapest, Bratislava, and Bruges
The new cities I visited this year sound a bit like a Jeopardy category: “Cities beginning with the letter B, Alex”. I loved all three of these new discoveries, each with their own unique beauty and charm.
Budapest’s history touched me in a way few other cities have. The Jewish Quarter Walking Tour really helps me understand the history of the Jewish people in Hungary and allows me to appreciate this fascinating city even more.
Bratislava is located so close to Vienna so it seemed silly not to explore it. I spent only a day in Bratislava but found it charming and relaxing when compared to stuffy Vienna. I found my happy place along the Danube River and sipped a cold beer while I watched the world pass by.
The Night Walking Tour of Bruges was another incredible experience! Our tour guide shared legends of the city and brought the past to life. Bruges is probably one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever visited, with medieval buildings reflecting off the many canals that run through the city.
The Swiss Silver Lining
My Switzerland house sit over Christmas could have been a total waste of two weeks of my life, but I have managed to find a silver lining. I discovered that one of the cheapest forms of entertainment in Switzerland is photography. So, on the rare sunny days, I went for long walks along Lake Geneva and tried to capture the beauty of Switzerland.
And a funny thing happened – the photos are actually quite stunning and I realize I don’t totally suck as a photographer! On the last day of 2018, I head to Montreux and spend the day exploring Chillon Castle. The light is perfect and the lake is like a mirror. Even the clouds decide to cooperate in the photo shoot and their reflection off the glassy lake adds to the beauty.
And I can’t stop shooting photos – boats and docks and flowers and mountains. The photo ops are everywhere!
I posted a few on Facebook and the comments were so kind and encouraging. As a result, I’ve expanded into travel photography and now have a new site where you can purchase photo products.
So, thankfully, my time in Switzerland wasn’t a total waste of two weeks. My year of European exploration ended on a positive note, opening new doors into 2019!
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