Jackie Steves Blog: Summer 2008
Read Jackie's adventures as she explored Europe for the first time without parents the summer of 2008.
Jackie gets a plane ticket to Europe for Christmas...wrapped in a Rick Steves moneybelt.
Last week, I marched across the quad with my class of 120 and up to the stage wearing a billowing black gown and a wreath of orchids to be handed my high school diploma.
I survived high school, but will I survive the next month? Tomorrow, I fly to Europe. This time will be different, however, from the past 18 summers of traveling to Europe because I will be traveling with no parents. It will be just me and my friend, Juliana.
I am following in the footsteps of both my dad, Rick, and my brother, Andy, who also went on trips to Europe right after they graduated from high school. Just like them, I have taught piano to fund my trip, I will use a Eurail Pass, and I will be on a tight budget. Unlike my dad when he was my age, I will have much more travel experience under my belt, visiting some cities for the fifth time. Unlike my brother when he was my age, I will follow a thoroughly planned itinerary. He and his friend wanted flexibility, but I want well-planned structure.
I am equipped with a six-day three-country Eurail Select Pass, five Rick Steves' guidebooks, hotel reservations in half of the cities and hostel reservations in the other half, a little black Moleskine journal in which I am writing this "blog"...oh, and it kind of helps to have a dad who knows a little about travel in Europe.
So it may sound like this is just one more trip to Europe for me, but in fact this one is completely different from the rest. People who know that I am the daughter of Rick Steves think I know everything about Europe. I actually know very little about travel in Europe.
Sure, I know how to pack light, how to get over jet leg, how to order pasta with meat sauce in Italian, and how to get around crowds at the Louvre. However, I know little about using a Eurail Pass, about withdrawing money from ATMs, about using a cell phone in different countries, about which museum pass is the best value, and about reservations that are required for this and not that.
During this past spring I worked Saturdays in the Travel Center at Europe Through the Back Door to earn money, and at the same time, while researching and answering customers' travel questions, I learned a fair amount about travel.
To give you the honest truth, I am nervous — not scared, just nervous — about traveling alone. Sure, I traveled last summer to Morocco without my parents, but I was with a school group with adult leaders. Yes, I've been to Europe about 18 times before. However, I didn't have to worry about pickpockets because my passport was safe in my dad's money belt. I didn't have to worry about missing the plane because my mom would wake me up from my nap when it was time to board. I didn't have to navigate Amsterdam because my brother read the map and led the way. Now all of that is up to me and my friend. Also, I have never been to Prague or Istanbul before, where we will be traveling for half of our trip.
One thing is for sure — this trip is bound to be an amazing adventure. Above all else, I am incredibly excited. I'm excited to discover tricks at being thrifty to keep a low budget, excited to make friends in hostels and bars, excited to get lost in Prague, excited to observe the convergence of cultures in Istanbul, and just ready to be totally independent.
Posted by Jackie Steves on June 16, 2008
My travel partner this time around is Juliana. We have been close friends ever since the day we met — the first day of fifth grade. I know we are compatible because I traveled with her last spring visiting colleges on the East Coast (when we both fell in love with the colleges we will go to in the fall: University of Pennsylvania for her, and Georgetown University for me) and also to Morocco last summer on the "Global Service Learning" trip we went on through our high school. It was on our trip to Morocco that we began dreaming and scheming about a graduation trip to Europe.
I think we will balance each other out well because she is very no-nonsense and sharp at figuring things out while I am well-organized and optimistic (i.e., I won't be shy about asking someone on the street where so-and-so square is, and Jules will be confident navigating with a map). We also share many interests such as Impressionist art, international politics, and resistance movements. We both want a good balance of museums by day, a couple clubs by night, and a few days of relaxing at the beach.
During the past 24 hours, I feel like my family has overloaded me a little with information.
My dad: "Make sure to call so-and-so when you arrive in Prague — he will be happy to show you around...buy an international calling card to share with Juliana each time you arrive in a new country...little grocery stores offer the best cheap, fresh, nutritious picnics...people are just going to love traveling vicariously through you while reading your blog...everything you want to see in Amsterdam is no further than 10 minutes away by bike..."
My mom: "Don't wear yourself out feeling like you have to see everything. Take some time to relax and take care of yourself, too...wear your money belt!...stick with Jules. Don't walk alone at night...you've planned your trip so well. You're so independent and I'm proud of you...don't forget to wear sunscreen."
My brother: "Watch out for the signals you are sending guys. Some guys over there are much more aggressive than what you are used to...never lose sight of your drink. Don't drink anything handled by anyone but you and the bartender...watch out for thieves in the hostels...don't trust anyone who is friendly for no reason...if someone bumps into you, watch out because you might be getting pickpocketed...observe what locals are wearing and try to match it so you can blend in."
Most of this advice I've heard before, but sometimes I get nervous when my dad recounts a time when he was charged an exorbitant amount while using a phone in his hotel room, or my brother recalls being ripped off at the launderette and having to pay 200 euros to clean a few T-shirts, or my mom reminds me we have travel insurance that would allow me to be airlifted in case of a medical emergency — yes, very reassuring.
As I ponder my packing job, I think I packed one or two outfits too many. I grudgingly sacrificed one item of clothing at a time while coming to grips with the size of a carry-on suitcase and needing to make room for guidebooks, chargers, and travel accessories including a travel towel, a sleep sack, a clothesline, and an adapter. I realize parents who serve the purpose of carrying such travel necessities for the family are a luxury I will miss.
It was a disappointment when I had abandoned all the troops (clothing items) I could emotionally afford and I still couldn't zip up my bag unless it was set to expanded size. Despite my failure at packing truly light, the general packing experience was rather pleasant. I know — I'm a nerd, but I like coordinating outfits and rolling them up together into compact rolls, I like squeezing just the right amount of shampoo and conditioner into travel-size bottles, and I like printing out all my travel information and stapling it to make one neat packet.
I made a discovery yesterday — my parents' investment in my teeth paid for braces along with a series of retainers, so I was left with about six colorful retainer cases, and I realized they are great for holding jewelry and hair things. When customs searches my bag, they will probably think I have especially terrible teeth, but really the containers will hold my earrings, my hair clips, etc.
Posted by Jackie Steves on June 19, 2008
I'm dangling my feet over the water as Jules and I sit at the edge of a walking bridge, which arches over one of Amsterdam's more than 100 canals.
Yesterday morning Jules and I searched Schiphol Airport for what we needed: our Eurail passes validated; train reservations from Amsterdam to Paris; train tickets from the airport to Central Station; and an ATM to withdraw money.
While riding the escalator down to the train terminal we heard beeps, signifying the train was about to depart, so we rushed to board it. Jules made it, but an elderly man was in my way and the doors closed just before I could hop on. Jules and I looked at each other through the glass, first with shock, then despair, and then we just started cracking up.
Thankfully I was reunited with a not-too-worried Jules at Central Station. What a great way to start our solo trip though — we weren't even successful at boarding the same train.
We battled jetlag by setting out to get oriented and explore the streets of Amsterdam. We perused a smartshop. Never before had I seen mushrooms, ecstasy, and many other mysterious drugs sold in a cute little shop.
While searching for lunch we stumbled into the Red Light District, which took away most of my appetite.
Cannabis College was very educational, with displays of pipes, bongs, vaporizers, medical marijuana licenses, and other cannabis products like teas, ropes, and clothing. We were too cheap to pay three euros to see the marijuana garden downstairs. One wall was covered with small posters showing pictures of the poor families of people imprisoned for what this "college" thinks should be legal everywhere.
We made it through the tulip market over to Leidseplein but lost gas before making it to the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum like we had hoped. So we went to a coffee shop instead, not to smoke weed like many of the other customers were doing, but just to use the Internet.
Last night we went on the Randy Roy's Red Light Tour. Here's what I learned from our guide, Kimberley, that I found especially interesting:
- Marijuana is actually illegal in Amsterdam. It is just decriminalized, which means the police look the other way.
- They have transsexuals, but no male prostitutes in the windows.
- If a prostitute is unhappy with a customer, she will throw his shoes and pants out on the street so he is humiliated.
- Many prostitutes are members of a prostitutes' union to advocate the government for their needs.
- In the African quarter, 15 minutes with a prostitute is 25-35 euros. Everywhere else it's 50 euros.
- You cannot open up, pass on, or inherit a coffee shop because Amsterdam is trying to cut down on their abundance.
- The Red Light District used to be the most dangerous area before they legalized prostitution; now the police look out for the safety of prostitutes and the area is very safe.
- The oldest prostitute is 85; 60-year-old prostitutes are rather common.
This morning, we ate breakfast at the Pancake Bakery because Jules wanted what her Dutch grandma used to make for her, a food I was not familiar with: poffertjes.
This afternoon we visited Anne Frank's house, a very cool museum. My favorite part was at the end when there was a film presenting quandaries over how much freedom people should really be allowed. Should there be freedom of the press to the extent that newspapers are allowed to publish cartoons mocking Muhammad, the prophet of Islam? Should there be freedom of speech to the extent that music artists are allowed to rap about exterminating homosexuals? Should there be freedom of assembly to protest, to the extent that Northern Irish Protestants are allowed to march through Catholic neighborhoods?
I thought it was cool to follow up the museum with this program because we should be proactive about the lessons we've learned from the Holocaust along with the rest of history. It reminded me of the quandaries I had a few times as the editor of my high school's newspaper over what should be published: issues of student safety versus freedom of the press.
Posted by Jackie Steves on June 25, 2008
Bikes are ideal for getting around Amsterdam.
Reading in Vondelpark about van Gogh before visiting the museum.
This morning we rented bikes and biked to the Dutch Resistance Museum, which I found to be very high quality. I learned about one young female revolutionary, Hannie, who was part of the violent Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. It's cool that people didn't expect a girl like her to be involved so she could keep a low cover, yet she actually accomplished so much for the Resistance.
From the way the museum explained the Resistance, it seems the Dutch were very brave during those terrible few years of Nazi occupation. After hearing about all the risks they took looking out for each other, I admire those Dutch very much. It would have been so much easier to surrender to the will of the Nazis, but the Dutch maintained their integrity, leading a fierce resistance. I can't believe Anne Frank was just one in many thousands to go into hiding in Amsterdam.
One of the saddest parts was seeing little things that were made by some concentration camp prisoners: a little Christmas tree made of scraps of cardboard and bandages, a cloth embroidered with one prisoner's life story and even a paper with a verse written on it in blood with a straw.
We ate lunch in beautiful Vondelpark, admiring groups of Dutch school children. Dutch kids are remarkably cute!
We visited the Van Gogh Museum. In the past, I haven't been a huge fan of Van Gogh, but after this museum, I like him a lot more. I like knowing the context about his troubled life and the emotional phases he went through. It's incredible that he had very little formal training and mostly taught himself.
We went to an improvisation show tonight called Boom Chicago. It was so well done that the exaggerated acting style, which I usually find obnoxious, didn't bother me. They employed amazing improv skills — barely ever pausing — and played a lot on stereotypes of Americans, along with other nationalities.
Posted by Jackie Steves on June 26, 2008
I'd like to revisit the topic of prostitution. When I addressed it before, I only listed several interesting factoids. I didn't elaborate with any of my own opinion because I'm not sure what I think about legalized prostitution.
I would never patronize the institution, and I can't help being judgmental of those who do. I am a feminist who believes a woman should never have to sell her body. I am a Catholic who believes sex is a very special, intimate act that should be reserved for someone you love. But who am I to force those values on others? And if prostitution is going to happen whether or not it's illegal, then why not make it legal so that the prostitutes are safe?
I was surprised there were no male prostitutes in the windows. Obviously there is a gender disparity in the institution of prostitution, but what an incredibly stark disparity to have no males?! This must be a reflection of our society treating women as objects to be bought, and society being accepting of men and men only who patronize the institution.
So I'm torn. I don't want prostitution to become more and more acceptable from being legalized, but it will happen inevitably so it's best to make it a safer, legal environment. I don't know which of the above is the lesser evil.
The price difference between African prostitutes (25-35 euros for 15 minutes) and all other prostitutes (50 euros for 15 minutes) is despicable. I would like to do a sociological study of race and prostitution in Amsterdam. Is the price disparity just because of supply and demand? There are more prostitutes from Africa coming in than what is demanded for by the clientele? Or is it completely and simply racist — Amsterdam's society says African prostitutes are worth less?
So what did I think of Amsterdam in general? I really liked it. It was surprisingly quaint and clean (not including the Red Light District). I love how most people get around on bikes using the city's abundance of safe bike lanes. The canals and green parks are beautiful. The international food is great. Most Dutch people look fit, tall, and attractive. Everyone seems to savor the good life — some enjoy a lazy afternoon smoking in a local coffee shop while others stroll through the tulip markets or take their kids to the nearby zoo. It seems Amsterdam would be a great place to raise your kids. While it has a reputation for drugs and sex, not all Dutch smoke weed, and most customers in the Red Light District are tourists.
Posted by Jackie Steves on June 30, 2008
This morning we grabbed a picnic breakfast and caught a 9:30 train from Amsterdam to Paris.
While taking the Métro from the train station to the rue Cler neighborhood, Jules and I remembered how much we love the Métro system in Paris. It is so efficient, reliable, and affordable. It makes Seattle's public transportation system seem like a thing of the Dark Ages.
We visited the Marmottan Museum. While I walked around the big room, I realized a newfound admiration for Monet and his use of vibrant blues, greens, and oranges. There was a piano and saxophone performance going on. I felt like I was back in the end of the 19th century in the lively art scene, embracing life's beauty with all my senses.
We went to Ile St. Louis for some famous Berthillon gelato that night. At the Notre-Dame there was a strange juxtaposition: crowds of lively young people dancing, drinking, and singing, lines of cops holding big guns, and tourists gawking up at the cathedral.
In the Métro it felt like a party on this Saturday night, with everyone singing together in call-and-response fashion. I envied these Parisian teens. They take the Métro like it's as normal as riding your bike, and they hang out all around the city as if it's all their own playground.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 02, 2008
Jules and I took the RER line (it's like a Métro that goes outside the city) to the suburbs to visit where she used to live in fourth grade. We walked through a colorful, small-town market street and I went to Mass. Even though I couldn't understand anything the priest said, I got to appreciate the stained glass and classic paintings decorating the inside of the old church.
We met some Seattle friends at the Musée d'Orsay. Until a few years ago, I didn't feel this way about art museums — but now I am at a place where looking at these Impressionist paintings is like eating sweet candies that have all the nutrients of vegetables. I used to only really like Renoir, Degas and Chagall, but now I'm starting to also like Manet, Monet, Picasso and van Gogh.
I was thinking about at what age I will want to start bringing my own kids to Europe. Having to drag kids around Europe, like my parents did, doesn't sound appealing at all. I want to raise kids who are cultured from a young age, but I probably won't bring them frequently until they are teenagers and can appreciate the art, the food and the other cultural differences — because all this stuff is expensive!!
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 03, 2008
We walked from the Louvre, up the Champs Elysees, and now we're ready to climb the stairs to the top of the Arch de Triomphe.
We walked up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. The walk wasn't so exciting because I am pretty familiar with it. Although the last time I was there was two years ago, when the Tour de France came through, so this time around felt much less crowded.
My favorite part was the view at the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Paris has the prettiest skyline.
We visited the Jacquemart-André Museum: a peek into the life of a 19th-century aristocratic filthy rich couple. They had an "Italian museum," more than five Madonna and Childs, the most amazing staircases, and many pieces by famous artists, all in their own home. It seemed like decorating their house must have been a full-time job in itself — it was that amazing.
We grabbed dinner in a beautiful park, Parc Monceau. While watching adorable French kids running around, I fantasized about being a nanny for a Parisian family who wanted their children to learn English. I ate a delicious ham, goat cheese, and onion crepe.
We got a free ride on the Fat Tire Bike Tour, thanks to the association with my dad. Johnny was our very charismatic, loud, funny, and crude tour guide.
The first half of the four-hour tour was not pleasant because it was really hot; bugs were everywhere, sticking to my skin; my allergies were bad; and we were riding on big, busy streets, so I was too stressed out about getting hit by cars to be able to appreciate my surroundings. The second half was great because we biked around the Louvre, which is absolutely gorgeous during sunset when there aren't any crowds of tourists. At the end we got on a boat for a cruise on the Seine (which I think offers the best perspective of many of Paris' beautiful major buildings) and drank wine.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 08, 2008
Yesterday morning we visited the Pompidou Center. Most of the modern art I saw just went over my head. Either my taste is not sophisticated enough — or just not weird enough — to appreciate some of the bizarre "art." I like modern art like Picasso, Matisse and Chagall better than contemporary art. I saw a few completely white canvases in a row claiming to be art — I don't get it.
We visited the Picasso Museum too. I read about him — what misogynist! He used women for inspiration and sex. Many of his girlfriends were way younger than he was too, like the 27-year-old he married when he was 91! I still like his art. It's not my favorite, but I admire his unique style and skill in many different media.
We picked up a Nutella-and-banana crêpe—amazing!—on Rue Cler from the Ulysée crêperie .
We went out last night to a couple bars and I had an amazing time meeting a few cute/fun French guys. The downside, however, was missing our 8:45 train this morning because our alarm didn't go off for some reason. We didn't wake up until 9 a.m. We threw everything into our bags and rushed to the train station.
I was so worried we would never be able to make it to Nice today, or tomorrow, or even all weekend because I had tried to change the reservations a while ago and had been told there were absolutely no other availabilities this weekend. We miraculously got tickets on a train that left at 11:46 a.m. Better yet, the ticket woman actually gave us some money because the tickets were cheaper than our original ones (even though it was totally our fault we missed the earlier train). Also, this train was direct to Nice, unlike the other one where we would have had to transfer. We couldn't believe our luck!
We got into Nice at about 5 p.m. and walked to our hostel. Jules was limping along the way because she fell and hurt her foot really badly last night.
I wasn't sure what to expect because I've never stayed at a hostel before, but it's a brilliant system: the sheets, storage spaces, lockers, shared facilities including laundry, Internet and a kitchen. I thought it would be weird sharing our room with two strangers, but it actually doesn't feel too weird because they are just young female travelers like us.
We walked to the beach — very rocky and uncomfortable to sit or lie on.
We have arrived in the land of gelato! Many gelaterias here have tons of flavors — like 30 plus. I got Nutella and pistachio.
Nice to France seems like Florida to the United States — the kind of place where you would like to retire. It's not a bad place for young people, either.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 10, 2008
I'm kind of freaking out right now because, so far, I've failed to make many friends with strangers. It's easier to just get comfortable without trying, especially since we've been meeting up with friends from back home.
French girls aren't very approachable. When it comes to the guys, I feel torn between being extra safe to the point of avoiding them (because I don't know if I can trust them), and striking up conversations with those I might want to befriend.
I've gotten a very healthy dosage of culture with the insane amount of museums we've visited. I've eaten tons of delicious French food. But I'm afraid I'm missing out on what really makes for a great Eurotrip — befriending fellow young people.
Usually I am pretty outgoing with strangers, but take last night as an example, when I was hanging out in the hostel. Hostels are supposed to be ideal for meeting people. What held me back was that everyone seemed about five years older. I'm a little self-conscious about my age. I usually assume my elders don't have any interest in me, so I leave them alone. A lot of people seem like they are in their own world, or that they are content with just the friend — or group of friends — they are traveling with.
My trip is almost halfway over. From here on out, I am determined to make a tremendous effort to connect.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 14, 2008
We were glad to store our suitcases safely in a locker during the day at the tram station yesterday, but I hated spending €5 on a lame necessity like that. We could have left them for free at the hostel, but those weren't lockers, just unguarded shelves. Sometimes you've got to play it on the safe side. My suitcase is of incredible value to me.
Yesterday we met a friend from back home, Erin, and her friend, Galen, from New York, at the train station. Galen's grandparents are letting us stay at their apartment, which is kind of halfway between the beach and the train station in Nice. The place feels so spacious and comfortable after a hostel!
This is what I ate for dinner last night: one banana and Nutella crêpe, one scoop of strawberry gelato, one scoop of stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings) gelato — so nutritious, right? I'm just living it up here because crêpes and gelato are probably my two most favorite foods and they are found abundantly throughout Nice.
Yesterday morning we visited the Chagall Museum. I think Chagall is my favorite artist. All his paintings are fascinating with symbolism and a jumble of influences: Christianity, Judaism, Russia and France. I really like Chagall's concept that romantic love between two humans mirrors God's love.
We took the bus all the way to Villefranche for just €1 and it took just 20 minutes. What a beautiful town! I agreed with what Jules said: Most places are not as picturesque as you imagine they might be, but Villefranche is. It really is — with its warm, pastel-colored buildings perched on the hillside, the sandy beaches sprinkled with vacationing French families and the glittering white yachts anchored in the glimmering blue, blue water.
Today we returned to Villefranche with Erin and Galen because we wanted to lie on sandy beaches (not the rocky ones found in Nice). This time we bought cheap towels so we could go swimming. It was hot!! The water was the perfect temperature and very salty, so it was easy to float on your back.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 15, 2008
A few days ago we caught a train from Nice to Genoa. I went to the information desk because I didn't know how the Italian train system worked. The woman there told me I would need to transfer in Milan and Monterosso to get to Vernazza.
I went to buy tickets at the ticket window. When I told the ticket man I had a Eurail Pass, he was very irritated and told me I didn't need a ticket if I had a Eurail Pass. Whoops. Well, now I know that you don't always need train reservations in Italy. I guess I don't blame him for being rude to me because he probably has to deal with many clueless tourists asking him the same questions all day.
We have now spent two lazy days in Vernazza, and I have a great tan to show for it. I really love it here. It's the same as I remember from coming here as a little kid, just more crowded.
Two of my friends from back home, Eva and Alexia, have met up with us here. The four of us are sharing one hotel room.
What I love about the beach here is how comfortable everyone is: families with little babies, little boys and girls running around in the nude, lovers holding onto each other in the water, pregnant moms wearing bikinis, rowdy teenage boys playing water soccer, middle-aged women with their tops off, and tourists speaking a plethora of languages.
It's definitely the good life here: sleeping in until 11, eating fresh fruit from the morning market, reading my book, laying in the sun and taking breaks to jump in the salty water or to try two new flavors of gelato, cleaning up with a shower around six, eating a big plate of pesto pasta for dinner at nine, and walking out to the rocks to sit and talk with my girlfriends about putting high school in the past and looking forward to college.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 16, 2008
I miss traveling with my family, which is kind of funny because I haven't exactly enjoyed traveling with them in the past. I love my family to death, but teenage brother and sister, a mom trying her best to keep them peaceful and happy, and a busy dad working to research his guidebooks do not do well when stuck in a single hotel room or taxi. It's nearly impossible to satisfy everyone's interests and wants. Everyone is hungry, hot, or tired at different times. It's not pretty.
That's why, for the past few years, I have looked forward to experiencing Europe independently with a girlfriend. I love the independence we have to sleep in more, go to just the museums we want to, choose our own itinerary, and go out at night. I like the feeling of responsibility that comes with doing the travel work, but there are times when I wish my dad could do the talking to the hotel receptionist, when my mom could take care of my stomachache, or when my brother could crack a joke and make me laugh.
The Blue Marlin Bar, where I check my email frequently in Vernazza, is run by three cute, friendly, 20-something-year-olds. Yesterday two of them told me there was going to be a party in Monterosso, and my friends and I should go with them on their boat. So we stopped by later that night, and while we waited until they closed the bar at midnight, they made us exotic cocktails. We drove with them in their little speedboat to the adjacent town. The view from the water of the glowing hillside Cinque Terre villages and the stars was magnificent.
The party was outside in a square, with a makeshift bar and a DJ. We had a great time dancing to European pop and techno. The party ended at what must have been around 2:00 in the morning.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 17, 2008
Yesterday, we took the train to Padua, a college town in northern Italy. The great thing about a college town is you can find really cheap food. We found margarita pizzas for just three euros.
This morning we visited St. Anthony's Basilica. I immediately remembered the last time I was here because I was so mesmerized by the display of Anthony's tongue, vocal cords, and lower jaw.
We wandered around the university area and sat in the historic Caffè Pedrocchi. We visited Scrovegni Chapel in the afternoon.
Jules and I agreed that if we could go back in time and alter our trip itinerary, we would skip Padua and detour between Amsterdam and France down to Switzerland for a EuroCup football game that would have been going on at that time. There's not much to see or do in Padua. My dad thought it would be a fun young college town, but it seems like many of the youth and students have gone back home or something for summer vacation. At the same time, we don't regret going to Padua all that much because it is a very cheap city to visit, and it gives us downtime to do laundry and such.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 18, 2008
This morning we took the train to Venice. Upon arrival we boarded a very crowded vaporetto boat to go down the Grand Canal to our hotel near St. Mark's Square.
We visited the Correr Museum, which I thought was pretty lame. I only liked about two pieces of art, and most of the paintings looked the same.
We visited the Doge's Palace, which was pretty incredible, with most of the walls covered in paintings. I had fun imagining all of the rich merchants and members of senate meeting here during the 13th and 14th centuries.
We visited St. Mark's Basilica as well. We were too cheap to pay three or four euros to see the Treasury or the Golden Altarpiece, so we just enjoyed the main free part as best we could while being shuffled along in the tourist sea. It always feels a little weird to me to be in some place holy like a church, but at the same time feel so unholy because you couldn't sit or kneel down to pray if you wanted to. And you are one in many thousands of tourists visiting on a given day to gawk at the art more because it's really old and famous than because it's about God and worship.
So far I'm not the biggest fan of Venice, but that's probably just because we braved a few of its most major sights during the worst time of day to go (early afternoon), with the multitudes of crowds. I agree with Jule's statement that "Venice loses 80 percent of its potential magic because of the crowds of tourists."
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 22, 2008
Last night we met one of my Dad's friends, Alessandro, at the top of the Rialto Bridge to go on his "Classic Venice Bars Tour." While we were waiting for him, we asked an American couple to take our picture. Lo and behold, they were also meeting up with Alessandro and would be the only two other people in our tour group.
Alessandro showed the way to our first stop, an enoteca, where he got us wine and bruschetta. He didn't have much of an agenda for the evening except to let us talk about whatever we liked, drink several glasses of wine and snack on cicchetti (bruschetta, mini-sandwiches and other little hors d'oeuvres). After the wine was finished and the conversation had come to a natural pause, he would take us to the next cicchetti bar. This is standard practice for Venetians. I guess they like to try many different wines, and to hop from one bar to the next for a kind of progressive dinner.
Alessandro explained some ways in which Venice is unique from other Italian cities. It is traditionally a fishing town, so many people wake up as early as three a.m. for the fish market. Nine a.m. feels like the middle of the day, so that is when they go to the bar to drink a few glasses of wine. It is the same reason why people eat dinner and retire in the evening here much earlier than other Italians.
He also explained how dramatically Venice has changed just in the past 10 years with the vast increase in tourists. It is a very hard city for Venetians to live in, so many, like Alessandro himself, have moved outside of the city.
What was especially interesting to me was his explanation of Italy as a nation. Venice used to be just Venice, not Italy, but a country of its own, like the rest of Italy until the 19th century. Not until Mussolini did Italians replace their regional identity and pride with nationalism.
We also talked about the Mafia at one point. He explained that the Mafia in the early 1900s was a good thing — supplying protection and looking out for people's needs and equality. Now, he says, the Mafia that is talked about isn't the traditional Mafia — they are thugs and a bad thing.
This morning we visited the beautiful Frari Church. I liked it even better than St. Mark's Basilica. We visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of modern art, which we both liked a lot for its pretty gardens, thought-provoking modern paintings and sculptures, and the Coming of Age exhibit on American art.
I took a photo of a bench which had a poem engraved in it that I really liked:
I walk in
I see you
I watch you
I scan you
I wait for you
I tickle you
I tease you
I search you
I breathe you
I touch your hair
You are the one
You are the one
Who did this to me
You are my own
I show you
I feel you
I ask you
I don't ask
I don't wait
I won't ask you
I can't tell you
I am crying hard
There was blood
No one told me
No one knew
My mother knows
I forget your name
I don't think
I bury my head
I bury your head
I bury you
I cannot breathe
I cannot eat
I cannot walk
I am losing time
I am losing ground
I cannot stand it
I cry out
I bite your lip
I breathe you breath
I pray aloud
I smell you on my skin
I say the word
I say your name
I cover you
I shelter you
I run from you
I sleep beside you
I smell you
On my clothes
I keep your clothes
Then we visited the Academia, which was a bit vast and overwhelming. I had a hard time appreciating huge religious painting after huge religious painting. After about huge room number 10, all the paintings started to look the same to me.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 25, 2008
Jules and I got from Venice to Prague via vaporetto boat, then bus, then plane. As soon as we checked into our hostel in Prague's New District, we set out again to get oriented.
It is both of our first times in Prague. Here's what this city feels like to me: a cross between Germany and Disneyland. Many places near the old town square look very corny and touristy. Overall though, Prague is a really pretty city, with beautiful old buildings that look cleaner and whiter than old buildings in other parts of Europe.
Two friends from back home, Annie and Isabelle, flew in from Seattle. Annie will fly home after spending five days with us in Prague. Isabelle will come with us to Istanbul, our next travel destination.
We visited the Museum of Communism. I find the communist ideology fascinating, so I really liked the museum. It gives an overview of the history of communism, with a focus on the Czech Republic. It takes you back in time, explaining the positive sentiment toward communism in the early days of the spread of communism.
It's incredible to me that whole nations were going through such a revolutionary change. I can't imagine what it would be like to be leading a well-off lifestyle, when suddenly your country departs from capitalism and you no longer own your own house. There was a video showing riots that happened against communist rule in 1989, just one year before I was born. I feel separated from most history I study by at least a few decades, but 1989 seems so recent! I can't imagine living in a time and place where police were allowed to beat peaceful protestors. I guess I take many things for granted.
We visited the Mucha Museum. I really like this art-nouveau artist's style. His art seems very unique and unlike any that was being produced before it. I love all the beautiful women in his pieces, used to express a season, a time of day, or to sell a product.
It seems like he was one of the pioneers of the objectification of women's bodies used to sell products. No matter what the purpose of his poster is, whether to advertise a movie or perfume, there is a woman in it. I doubt there was much of that going on in his day, but today we see it everywhere. The first example that comes to mind is the sexy, scantily clad women we see today in beer commercials. At least most of Mucha's women subjects are dressed.
We went to U Fleku for dinner, a Czech beer hall renowned for brewing their beer on site. I had a heavy meal of duck, coleslaw, and dumplings. Their beer was tasty, but they also gave us disgusting shots of some kind of cinnamon liquor.
We went to Roxy's Music Club that night. It was ladies' night, so we got in for free. It was kind of cool, with multiple DJs, floors, and rooms. There weren't many attractive men, and the music playing was jarring techno, so we didn't stay too late.
Posted by Jackie Steves on July 29, 2008
Yesterday morning, our private tour guide, Jana, took us to Wenceslas Square, kind of a wide boulevard with the National Museum at one end. When the country wasn't being obedient enough toward strict communist rule, Moscow sent tanks in and shot at the National Museum building, mistaking it for Prague's radio headquarters. She told us about huge protests that have happened in the past on this square. We saw memorials to two students who, in 1969, burnt themselves to death in protest against communist rule.
So much happened to the Czech Republic during the 20th century. At the turn of the century, they were a part of the Habsburg's empire. After World War I, they were joined with Slovakia to make a single nation, Czechoslovakia. They were under communist rule from 1948 to 1989. In 1993, they broke apart from Slovakia. Despite all of that upheaval, they managed to maintain a strong sense of national identity.
Jana took us to the Old Town Square and explained the really cool clock tower, made in the Middle Ages. The clockmaker was blinded after he completed it so that Prague would always be the only city with such a clock.
Annie's dad treated us to a really nice dinner at Al Campo, an upscale restaurant on the river that I would definitely recommend. Jules and I felt it was especially luxurious after weeks of small-budget eating. We all enjoyed getting dressed up, eating terribly delicious food, and sharing a bottle of wine. (If only US law back home gave us the dignity of being allowed to have a glass of wine with dinner — it's something we deserve as sophisticated young adults.)
We went to the Five-Story Club, a dance club with different genres of music on each of its floors. We mainly stayed on the hip hop-floor. We met some ridiculously funny Aussies. We danced with guys of many different nationalities, including Spanish, German, American, Dutch, Italian, Brazilian, Columbian, and Irish. I didn't meet a single Czech guy. It was all tourists, but it was so much fun!
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 01, 2008
Yesterday we visited the Jewish Quarter. We learned about the tragic history of Prague's Jews. They were crammed into a ghetto, exploited as moneylenders, and persecuted in all kinds of ways. We walked through the cemetery, where 12 layers of Jews were buried. It is so crowded because for several centuries, the Jewish community was limited to just one cemetery. Today it is packed with crooked tombstones. We went inside a synagogue that had the inside of its walls covered with the names of Prague's Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It was a very powerful memorial, especially when I kept seeing the surnames of some of my close Jewish friends from back home. We saw a display of artwork by some of the Jewish children who lived in the ghetto during the Holocaust and were taken prisoner to concentration camps. It was heartbreaking to see the word "survived" next to only a few of the children's drawings.
We went to a black light theater show. Black light theater uses black lights and black backgrounds to create illusions. In the dark, people dressed in black can make all these things move so they look as if they are moving on their own. The show we saw consisted of six actors. Some were visible acting characters while others were invisible and controlling the illusions. There were about six short plays. There were no words spoken. It reminded me a lot of old-time cartoons, where the characters don't talk, they are going along happily doing some sort of task, something bad happens, some obstacle is introduced, finally in the end all is resolved, and it ends happily. It was a fun one-time experience, but I probably wouldn't see black light theater again.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 05, 2008
This morning Jules, Isabelle, and I flew to Istanbul. I like my new, cool-looking Turkish visa sticker — which cost me $20 — in my passport.
The drivers here are ridiculously aggressive! There are lines which mark lanes just like home, but they seem to be painted in vain. Drivers are constantly changing lanes or driving down the middle of two. No one lets anyone into their lane, and everyone butts into other peoples' lanes.
Our hostel room is small with barely any room to walk around our beds. It has everything we need, although we could really use some air-conditioning!
We went to dinner at a place nearby that had very hospitable, funny waiters. We climbed four flights of stairs to eat up on the terrace with a beautiful view of the water, the Blue Mosque, and other portions of Istanbul's eclectic skyline of domed mosques, minarets, terraced buildings, and the Asian side of Istanbul across the water.
I like Turkish food. Even in meat dishes there are lots of vegetables. There are many different kinds of interesting breads (I need to learn the names). I like baklava and rice pudding for dessert. I enjoy finishing each meal with a small glass of Turkish tea.
Today we visited Topkapi Palace. It's vast with many courtyards and sections. The harem was mostly just a shell of a building. What really makes visiting the harem interesting is reading about the politics. The sultan did not usually choose his lovers, but his mother did. There were hundreds of concubines, but they were servants, not sex slaves. Black eunuchs were transported from North Africa to protect the women and run the harem administration. I can only imagine what tremendous power struggles went on between these women. There was a period of 150 years called "the reign of the ladies," when generations of women wielded extraordinary influence over the Ottoman Empire. I think it would be fascinating to take a college history/gender studies course on the reign of the ladies.
There was this hall of holy relics which contained Muhammad's sandals, Moses' staff, Abraham's granite cooking pot, David's sword, and Joseph's turban. I really don't know if I believe, though, that all those things are actually what they claim to be. Still, it's incredible to think that what I saw could be the very staff with which Moses parted the Red Sea.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 07, 2008
Yesterday, our private guide Mine took us to visit the Blue Mosque. I thought I had a modest dress on, but they still made me cover my shoulders with one scarf and my knees with another. There was a low-hanging chain at the entrance, where even the sultan must dismount his high horse before entering the mosque. This is because in Islam, everyone is equal before Allah. Inside the mosque, however, the sultan is "more equal" — he gets to pray on an elevated platform.
Mine explained the segregation between men and women in mosques: Women praying behind men is only practical because women bowing to pray in front of men would be distracting. I think to make it fair they should just divide the mosque in half the other way, such that the left side is for women and the right side for men so that neither has to be behind the other.
We visited Hagia Sophia, a fascinating blend of church and mosque. It was originally Christian during the Byzantine Empire, but when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, it was converted to a mosque. Its Christian frescoes were plastered over, its stained-glass windows replaced, its crosses made into arrows, and all representations of people, or "idols," were covered up. In mosques you can have no depictions of humans, but only floral designs and some Arabic script.
We took the tram to Kabatas and then a taxi to the flea market in Ortaköy. We bought these big, delicious baked potatoes for lunch. What they do is slice the potato open, mix in butter and cheese, and then you choose whatever vegetables, meats, and sauces you want in it. I got peas, corn, cabbage, and rice. They squirt ketchup and mayonnaise on top. It's a bit decadent.
We walked around the flea market for a while, checking out cashmere scarves, ornate jewelry, funky pants, and lots of junk. I bought four scarves for 43 YTL (about $35). Pashminas are so soft and such decent quality for a good price. They will make great gifts. The guy kept telling me the prices were fixed, and he couldn't offer me a lower price. But I was persistent and got the price from 50 YTL down to 43 YTL.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 12, 2008
Mine drove us to Lale's house over in Asia. (Lale is the co-author of the Rick Steves' Istanbul book.)
On the way, Mine explained to us that it is a tradition in Turkey to bring flowers to the hostess and sweets to the host when you are invited to someone's home for dinner. We picked up a pot of red flowers and some baklava. It was very cool to observe suburban Turkish life as we drove in the neighborhoods and stopped at these stores.
Lale lives in a beautiful housing complex. Land is in high demand all over Istanbul, so even well-off people in the suburbs like Lale live in apartments. We met her sweet mother — who didn't speak any English — but with her smile, cheek kisses and Turkish words, she still made us feel incredibly welcome.
Lale and her mother must have been cooking all day for us, because they had laid out a beautiful Turkish feast: shepherd's salad (cucumbers, tomatoes and onions), sultan's rice (chicken, apricots, nuts and a kind of fried rice), cheese pastry, vegetable pastry, meatballs and pinto beans. For dessert we ate the baklava we brought and a wide variety of fresh fruit.
While we ate, Jules, Isabelle and I grilled Lale and Mine with questions. We were curious about many things including the Turkish school system, political parties in power, Armenian issues, wearing headdresses at universities, Turkey joining the European Union, the Turkish economy, subjects they had studied and places they had traveled.
I will recount bits I found interesting:
They like Obama, but they find one fault with him, that he wants to call what happened to the Armenians in Turkey during World War I genocide. Lale and Mine call it a civil war. They say the Armenians allied with Russia and attacked the Turks because Russia promised to give them their own territory. They say people on both sides died and even many Armenians would agree that it was not genocide. They say that the Armenians have closed their archives to cover up the facts which illustrate it was a "war" not "genocide." They say Obama is too much of a populist and just wants the Armenian vote in the States. I don't know what to think about this. My first inclination is to side with the victims, the Armenians. But Lale and Mine were very convincing that everyone, even Armenians in Turkey, believe it was not genocide.
Turkey is unlike the US in that its public schools are generally better than its private schools. Great educations are not bought; they must be earned. Both of Lale's parents came from very modest backgrounds. Her mother could only dream of being a midwife. Now Lale's mom has her Ph.D. in economics and is a well-paid banker. Her father could only dream of becoming an imam (Muslim prayer leader). Now he is a lawyer. So if you work very hard, the Turkish system allows you to become a great success. Of course, there are still those blessed with educated and supportive parents, and those from more privileged backgrounds, who have an easier time learning because resources are available to them.
Recently, some people in Turkey tried to ban girls from wearing veils in universities. Lale and Mine seemed to support the ban. They said that girls were wearing the veils in certain ways to express their political opinions, not their religion. Those who support the ban wanted students to leave their politics and religion at home when they come to school. Islamic tradition says religion is not something to be talked about publicly. In Turkey, you don't ask someone about their religion in the same way you don't ask someone their weight or age in the States.
Lale and Mine fear a religious revolution like what happened in Iran in the 1970s. They have talked to Iranian women who said they didn't see at that time such a revolution coming. Subtle changes, such as more women wearing headscarves, happened and then suddenly there was a revolution.
In Turkey during the 1990s there was a religious revival with more women wearing headscarves. Lale and Mine just want to discourage women from covering up — and make sure they are not encouraged to wear headscarves (some religious organizations offer female students scholarships if they cover up). They want people to be able to wear whatever they want, but they want to make sure Turkey doesn't experience what Iran did. For this reason they kind of like the ban, but not completely, because they believe in freedom of expression as well.
They really don't like their current system of government. Parliament members are elected by popular vote, but the president and prime minister are selected by parliament. To be represented in parliament, a political party must have at least 10 percent of the popular vote. In the last election only two parties won more than 10 percent so they make up all of the parliament — only 50 percent of Turkish voters are actually represented in parliament right now. I feel similarly about the electoral college in the States, but at least it's not as bad as what Turkey's system sounds like.
It is very difficult to make a living in Turkey. To get by, the average Turk must work 57 hours a week! Gee, I thought we Americans worked too much.
During the drive home, I asked Mine about her religion (timidly because she had earlier explained how Turks don't usually do that). She said she's Muslim, but she doesn't fast during Ramadan and she doesn't pray five times a day. She believes Allah created all things and is in all things, and that you should be good to all people. She could, however, be Jewish or Christian because she doesn't "pay attention to details."
It was very interesting for me to hear this attitude toward religion from the Muslim perspective. All the Muslims I have met before, in Morocco and back home, have seemed to pay attention to the details. Our American media also likes to lead us to believe that all Muslims are radical, fanatic or fundamentalist. Mine's belief system seemed a lot like mine in that I'm Catholic, but I don't follow everything the Vatican says.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 15, 2008
This morning we went on the Bosphorus cruise, a six-hour-long ferry boat ride that takes you to Asia. The views of Istanbul and its suburbs from the Bosphorus are magnificent. The prime real estate along the water consists of many fancy mansions.
The boat stopped for a couple hours in a fishing village called Anadolu Kavagi. For lunch we ate fried mussels and calamari that melt in your mouth, and the specialty of the island, sea bass.
There are two main things about Istanbul which make the city overwhelming, especially for first-time, young, female travelers: the traffic and the bombardment of men talking to you everywhere you walk.
The driving here is simply crazy. Drivers ignore pedestrians, dance around one another and disregard lanes. My driver claimed there is an order to the chaos. There must be because I have yet to see an accident. Add to the above trams, buses, motorcycles, cobblestones, lots of road construction, and the blinding sun and you have bunches of nervous-wreck tourists.
Turkish men are very creative with catcalls. There are the standards: "You are a beautiful girl," "Oh my God," "You are so hot," "Sexy," and "Wow." There are some that are a step up: "You are a beautiful princess" and "I love you. Oh my god. I love you." This morning we heard my favorite, "Aye! Charlie's Angels! Oh my God!"
What's more overwhelming, however, are all the restaurant and shop owners trying to catch your attention. In touristy parts they call out to you from everywhere. Waiters shove menus into your stomach. Scarf vendors tell you, "You are beautiful and you deserve a beautiful scarf." Ice cream vendors call out, "Beautiful lady, do you want some ice cream? Ice Cream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream." Instead of "Buy two, get one free," we hear the purse vendor joking with us, "Buy two, get me free." I really get a kick out of some of it. It makes for an invigorating walk through the Old Town.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 18, 2008
Yesterday on our way home from the cruise, we walked through the spice market. Spices are only one category of the many items that are sold in this covered shopping extravaganza. I purchased a sugar bowl for my Dad (who loves sentimental sugar bowls), and a scarf for a friend. They really give you the royal treatment. In the ceramics store where I bought the sugar bowl, the man asked me all kinds of questions. He gave me free gifts of chipped ceramic pieces, apple tea and a full tour of the basement of his shop.
I tried a sample of Turkish Delight (lokum), a chewy, nutty sweet.
We ate dinner in the New District near Taksim Square. We made friends with the manager and he brought us one of each of the restaurant's Turkish specialties. I couldn't tell you the names of any of them, but all were delicious! We also tried raki, Turkish liquor the flavor of licorice, and Turkish coffee — so strong! Of course, being the Seattleite coffee-addict that I am, I loved it.
We strolled down crowded Istiklal Street. It was very interesting to observe the other strollers and see that even in this "modern" part of the city, 90 percent of the people out and about were men.
We found one club called Carizy, up high on the fourth floor of a building. We made friends with a group of Turks. Out of the blue, the music turned off and the lights came on. A man came around checking people's IDs. Our new Turkish friends said this happens often for security reasons. I still don't understand exactly why. Perhaps they are looking for criminals or checking the ages of those drinking alcohol.
After we had had enough blaring Turkish techno at the club, we went to a bar with live Turkish rock. The band playing was actually pretty good. We enjoyed a few numbers and caught a taxi home because the tram had stopped running by then.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 20, 2008
Yesterday afternoon, we went to the Grand Bazaar. After a little while, we grew very irritated with the vendors calling out to us. Some of them are very obnoxious and stand in your way to make it difficult to pass. They seem so desperate for business that they make you feel guilty for passing them. We learned that the easiest way to get by is to completely ignore everyone who talks to you.
I don't think I have ever before seen so much jewelry, ceramics, scarves, T-shirts, slippers, hats, rugs, tea glasses, spices, or knock-off purses in my life. The Grand Bazaar definitely makes for a tiring shopping experience, dealing with the pushy vendors and getting lost in the maze of shops.
Last night we had the luxurious experience of a Turkish bath. We paid 46 Turkish lira each (about $35) for "traditional style" baths — which include a 15-minute scrub and massage by the attendant. Unlike most women, who were naked, we wore our bikinis. When we first walked into the big, marble-domed bath room, which felt like a sauna, I imitated some women who were at the water faucets along the wall. They were using a bowl to pour water over themselves, so I lazily poured water over myself for a while.
An attendant motioned for me to come over to her and lie down. She rubbed my body with a kese (a scrubbing mitten). When I glanced down, I saw all this dirt that had been scrubbed off. I had no idea that so much dirt had been covering my body! Then she poured a bunch of soapy suds on me and massaged my body more. It felt so nice. We couldn't communicate, so every time she wanted me to move, she would just tug my body this way or that. I felt like a child again with my mother bathing me.
After the massage I washed my hair and lay down for a while on a big marble slab. When my friends wanted to go, I got up only reluctantly. Afterward, we all marveled at how clean and relaxed we felt.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 22, 2008
David D. asked me in a comment he posted on this blog, "I'm curious about the number of Americans you've encountered and how it compares with past trips. Here in the U.S. we hear much about the weakness of the dollar and the malaise that is associated with the economy. Has this resulted in fewer Americans traveling abroad?"
My first response is "sure." During my trip, I've seen tons of Americans traveling in Europe. I haven't noticed a decrease over the years, but I probably wouldn't notice a change unless it was drastic and sudden. I'm sure there was a drop in American tourism in Europe after 9/11, for instance, but that was a while ago. I was 11 and too young to be very aware of it. I'm sure there has been a drop in the past two years with the dollar so weak and the euro so strong, but again, I haven't noticed it during my travels.
I've heard people ask my Dad this question many times. He responds that his business has suffered. Rick Steves' Europe is selling fewer tours, but they are surviving fine. I worked in the Travel Center this past spring and I definitely observed efforts the company was making to become more efficient and economic. This way, they haven't had to lay off any employees.
My Dad would also add that the weak dollar is not a valid reason to postpone your travels. You can always find a reason to put off your trip — you've just got to save up the money and go for it. Furthermore, some Americans that were formerly traveling more expensively are now subscribing to the Rick Steves' "back-door" style of budget travel.
My friends have also asked me about the change in the travel industry and its effect on my Dad's business. It is my perception, as an uninformed daughter, that up until 9/11 business was really booming for Rick Steves' Europe. I presume that this is because Americans were becoming more worldly and could better afford travel. The events of 9/11 were certainly a blow, but I remember that the company was proud that they hadn't sustained that much of a negative impact. After a period of recovery, I think business began to improve in 2002.
It is my impression that in the past couple of years, with the formation of the European Union and the discrepancy between the strong euro and the weak dollar, that it has certainly kept some Americans from traveling as much as they used to — and as much as they would like to.
As a young traveler on a small budget, having to mentally multiply the cost of things by 1.6 (1 euro roughly equals $1.60) has pained me and my pocket. Sure, everything is more expensive, but it is still totally worth it. Besides, being thrifty and discovering new budget tricks can be lots of fun.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 25, 2008
Last night Jules, Isabelle and I strategically stayed up all night long at our hostel in order to be tired enough to sleep on the plane. We wanted to get on track with Seattle time.
Jules and Isabelle bought baklava. They used it as a motivational tool for staying awake. For each hour they managed to stay up, they would eat one square of baklava. (I didn't join in because I don't like baklava quite that much.)
A taxi picked us up at four in the morning. We flew from Istanbul to Amsterdam and now we are en route to Seattle. This will be my final and concluding blog entry.
I have been away from home now for exactly one month (even though this blog has stretched out for longer). Jules and I kicked off our Eurotrip in Amsterdam, where we spent three days marveling at a culture much less censored and regulated than our own. We took the train to Paris, where we spent five days zipping about the city by Metro, absorbing as much Impressionist art as we could. Then we trained to Nice for two laid-back days of Chagall and beach. We jumped on the train to Vernazza in Cinque Terre, where we soaked in more sun and consumed as much pesto pasta and pistachio gelato as our stomachs would allow. We had two rest days in Padua for laundry and such. We then took the train to Venice, where we savored our last two days of Italian culture (especially the cuisine!). We flew to Prague and learned about its history of Communism and Art Nouveau. And of course, what would five days in Prague be without four nights of going out on the town? The finale of our Eurotrip was six days in Istanbul. Indulging in a Turkish bath and taking the Bosphorus cruise "to Asia" are two Turkish highlights I will never forget.
What really made our trip great was meeting friends from back home who were on their respective Eurotrips. We met up with Alex and Alex in Paris, Erin and Galen in Nice, Alexia and Eva in Vernazza, and Annie and Isabelle in Prague.
Our biggest glitch was probably missing our train from Paris to Nice, but even that ended up resolving itself for the better. Overall, we were very fortunate.
All in all, our trip went splendidly. One month was the perfect length. I felt like we spent just the right amount of time in each city (although I would have skipped Padua.) I appreciated a balance between budgeting and indulging, cheap food and good food, hotels and hostels, museums and going out at night, sightseeing days and beach days, Western Europe and Eastern Europe, the familiar and the unfamiliar.
I've really enjoyed reading people's thoughtful comments in response to this blog. I've had fun sharing my travels with you. Thank you.
Since I had such a blast this time around — and since I come from a family who just can't seem to get enough of it — I'm sure I'll be traveling sometime again soon. People ask me if I plan to work for my Dad or become a travel writer. I would really like to be an assistant tour guide during my college summers like my brother, but besides that, I don't plan to. I'm proud that my Dad didn't just choose the easy route of going into his dad's piano business. I hope to be my own innovator as well.
Besides, I have an appetite for travel in parts of the world outside of Europe. A year ago I asked my parents if I could travel in Southeast Asia for my high school graduation trip. They said no, that Europe would be adventure enough. I agree with them and I feel that this trip is an essential, beginning-independent-traveler's experience. It's amazing how confident and comfortable we grew, orchestrating our trip along the way, managing all responsibility for ourselves and then being able to let go, sit back, relax and just enjoy.
I realize that I am incredibly blessed with supportive parents and the resources that made it possible for me to go on this trip. It's difficult for many parents to let go of their kids and let them travel independently. It's also difficult for kids to come up with and spend the cash required.
But let me tell you — it's so worth it. I really do feel like I've gained so much from this trip and that it has made me a slightly more interesting and worldly person. So here's to all you young, aspiring travelers out there and your parents. Make it happen. Traveling is the stuff that life was made for.
Posted by Jackie Steves on August 27, 2008