Jackie Steves' Blog: Summer 2008 — Part 2

Insights into Venetian — and Italian — Life

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 talk

I smile
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 lie
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
My fever
My skin
I cannot breathe
I cannot eat
I cannot walk
I am losing time

I am losing ground
I cannot stand it
I cry
I cry out
I bite
I bite your lip
I breathe you breath
I pulse
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

Prague: A Wonderland that Feels Like a Cross Between Germany and Disneyland

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

Prague's Tumultuous History and a Five-Story Dance Club

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

Beer Really Is Cheaper than Water Here in Prague

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

Istanbul: A Spiky Skyline and Yummy Food

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

Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Ortaköy Flea Market

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

Turkish Feast and Turkish Politics

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

"Aye! Charlie's Angels! Oh My God!"

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

Trying New Things: Turkish Delight, Raki, Turkish Coffee

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

Died and Gone to Turkish Bath Heaven

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

Are Americans Traveling Less?

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

Eurotrip in Review: So Worth It

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