And off we go
Back in 2016 me and my best friend Jenny travelled on our own for the first time. It was our first time ever leaving Austria to explore our neighbor countries. We were thinking about where we wanted to go for a while, then we finally settled for Budapest. Close to Vienna, easy to reach, cheap. So the decision was made.
We hopped onto the bus early in the morning and a few hours later we were warmly welcomed by pouring rain in Budapest. Our first mission there was to find our AirBnB apartment. We had gotten a map of the city earlier and were walking around trying to find our way. Eventually we asked a guy on the way – in English. He, however, just spoke Hungarian, but nevertheless made a real effort to help us. A few minutes of pointing and gesticulating in different directions in Hungarian later we had a vague idea where we were going.
Close to our AirBnB, however, we realized we were a bit too early and couldn’t check in yet. So, as we somehow had to pass the time we decided to do what we do best – search for food! We started checking out supermarkets around the area, then eventually found one and bought a ton of stuff to eat. Quick reminder – it was still raining, and we were carrying our suitcases with us! Walking in the rain with all our groceries through Budapest – and the streets there being not that flat, rather a bit bumpy with a lot of holes. Dragging our suitcases through water and mud we finally arrived at the apartment and got in with no problem. We stayed in a tiny little room with a bunkbed – just enough for two people and two suitcases, not more. You literally couldn’t fit in a third person. It was only then when I realized that my shoes were dripping wet and I had to do something to get them dry as I only had this one pair. So I simply took Jennys hair-dryer, sat down on the floor and blew air into them – and they dried within minutes. Quite a life hack I would say.
Budapest in the rain
After drying my shoes, we decided we needed to distress from that adventurous journey for a bit and wanted to go for a massage – which is ridiculously cheap in Budapest. In Vienna, I would have never treated myself for one as it is too expensive, but here… If I remember correctly we paid around 10 euros for half an hour. On top of that, it was actually my first massage ever. When we walked into the studio we entered a relaxed, calm atmosphere. Quiet music was playing and the lights were dimmed. All furniture there was made out of dark wood, a few decorative statues were standing around. Before we started our massage we had to change our clothes into wider ones a white shirt and pants. Every masseuse there had their own kind of “chamber”. They were lined up
one after the other, but separated by curtains. In there I got stretched and torn apart like never before – at least that’s was what it felt like. Still, I knew the pain was necessaire to have a positive effect later. Leaving the studio our bodies were already hurting–and we would be feeling the effects of the massage until we were about to leave.
However, we were still fit enough to discover the city for a bit. I was walking around with my pink umbrella while Jenny was taking tons of pictures. The umbrella being a big contrast in the greyness of the rain. We didn’t go far, just far enough to get an idea of what the city looked like. On our way we remarked a lot of bronze statues, yellow trams, a lot of cool bridges – and the parliament we didn’t even realize was a that important building at the time. We were just looking at it like “Oh yes, that looks cool, must be something important.”After a while of walking, we decided we would be back the next day. For now, we were tired and just wanted to go home.
City parc and Garden castle Vajdahunyad
Luckily, we woke up with perfect weather the next day. We left soon and walked around a bit clueless, we just wanted to get some good pictures of the city as we are both really into photography. So, that’s what we did. Our first stop was the heros square with a lot of tourists already taking pictures of it.
We were more interested in the city parc behind the square anyways – a very old parc created in the 19th century – the world’s first public parc ever. Jenny, being a big fan of colorful flower pictures, was in paradise there. As everything was blossoming, we had to stop a lot on our way to take some flower pictures. Finally in the parc, we were amazed by its beauty. The majestic castle Vajdahunyad was appearing in front of us, marking the entrance of the parc. A little lake to the side, boats in the water, everything around blossoming. We walked through the garden for a while, admiring the old buildings and the beautiful, big garden. We were walking by a lot of bronze statues –as we’ve seen so many of them the day before already, Budapest slowly but surely became the city of statues for me.
The market hall
The market hall. A thing about Budapest the I really loved – and not only because you can take the most amazing pictures in there. We went in and were struck from the first moment on. I just love markets – there’s always so much to see that you need a lot of time to absorb everything. We made sure to do that. The market offered everything – from of fruits and vegetables to souvenirs of Budapest and traditional clothes. It really is no wonder it has become a tourist attraction as well. We even would be back there twice.
After spending a few hours in the market hall, we left and went strolling around the streets, taking some pictures to remember how the city looked like. In the evening we decided we wanted to go for shisha as we felt like having a relaxed night out and weren’t really in the mood to dance. So shisha it was! We found the place easily and sat down to smoke on the streets. Meanwhile we could watch Budapest slowly lighting up during the night – especially the chain bridge appearing in a beautiful, blue glow.
The next day we went up to the Fisherman’s bastion – a castle on top of a hill in Buda, where the old fisher’s market in Budapest could once be found.”In Buda?” you might ask. Yes, the city is divided in two parts – Buda and Pest, which are separated by the Danube. As we were staying in Pest, we had to walk all the way over the bridge to get to the castle. However, it was worth the way. You could even go up the hill by taking a cable car, but we decided to walk all the way up. Passing by beautiful gardens and portals we finally reached the top. There you had an amazing view over the city.
The Fisherman’s bastion is a big attraction in Budapest and you’lln soon see why. With it’s many unique white towers it is a demanded place to have your wedding pictures taken. We even spotted a couple shooting there – and took some pictures of them as well. Jenny and I also did our little personal photoshoot – including me flirting with a pillar – yeah that’s another story.
We stayed there for a while and waited until the evening, then walked down to a garden where we had an amazing view over the Danube and could watch the sunset as well. Seeing glowing Budapest in the yellowish light of the setting sun is definitely something you have to see.
Then it was time to go home. In our AirBnB, we weren’t the only ones to stay there – but we never really interacted with anyone as we just met briefly and exchanged some “hi!”,”by!”s. However, when we noticed a lady from Australia staying there all by herself, that was something different. Jenny and I felt like we should invite her to join us for a drink or something.
– Want to ask her to do something with us? Must be so lonely being all by yourself the whole time.
– Sure, let’s ask her! But you’ll ask.
– No you!
– Ok, together.
We were literally so shy, no one wanted to ask her all on her own. Oh well, when I look back I’m certainly happy to see that changed now. We were convinced she must be lonely travelling by herself. Of course, she was not and I know better now, but at the time the thought of travelling alone never even came to my mind. Anyways, she was happy to join us, introduced herself as Amanda and we all went out for a drink in a tiny, but nice bar where we talked the whole evening. She was travelling on her own for a while now, wanting to see as much of the world as she could. Currently she was exploring a lot of different cities in Europe. Considerably older than us (me being 17 at the time, she was 38) and the first solo-traveler I’ve ever met. I wonder what she would think if she knew I’ve become one now, too. We just had a chance to go out once – but that wouldn’t remain the last time we ever saw her. Because Amada was coming to Vienna after we left as well! She had planned to visit the city in advance and we were more than happy to show her around. That way we experienced Vienna form a touristic point of view and learned what tourists love about Vienna – which is completely different from what we enjoy about our city.
Parliament and guards
The next day we passed by the parliament were a military demonstration was taking place. We had no clue what we were experiencing, but we stayed there to watch what was going on. Guards were marching up and down in front of the parliament. A crowd of people was already
watching and we joined them to see the guards marching and taking their places in front of the parliament. Then they stood still so we could take pictures with them. I don’t know if that really was the purpose of it, but I needed to get a picture with this guard anyways – you don’t get this experience everyday, right?
Bridges and Yoga Events
In the evening, we reached the chains bridge – the most beautiful of all the bridges over Budapest – and the very first one connecting Buda and Pest as well, as it was already built in the 19th century. When we got there, a yoga event was taking place directly on the bridge. People were rolling out their yoga mats, wearing sports clothes and preparing for the class. The bridge was blocked, so cars couldn’t get through, just pedestrians. Sadly we didn’t have a yoga mat nor sports clothes, but we still stayed to watch the class. Therefore we climbed up the bridge – yes, you could really climb on top of it. This event really fascinated me as in Vienna you would never be able to just casually climb up a bridge and sit there for hours. We stayed on the bridge until the sun was going down, just watching the city and the yoga class. Next time, I promised myself, we would be arriving well equipped and were going to participate as well.
Coming to an end
The last day we decided to go to a thermal bath. These baths are generally famous in Budapest, so we surely had to try it out. However, we ended up not going to a traditional thermal bath, but to the aqua world – which isn’t historical at all, more about water slides. So many different kinds of waterslides we couldn’t even test out all of them – but it was a lot of fun trying it. Relaxing there for a bit we knew we had to leave soon – a fun trip that was coming to an end. But as Budapest is close to our home we can always come back easily – who knows, maybe one day we will.
Let’s go for a 59 kilometres walk – and be prepared for what comes at the end!
From Vienna to Bratislava. By foot. Within one day. When my friend Julia came up with the plan of mastering this distance in just 24 hours I was immediately on board. This idea sounded crazy enough to make it happen. 59km by foot – oh boy, that was going to be an adventure.
The early bird catches the worm – that’s what we thought when we started our walk at 7am. at the Danube in Vienna. Without any further hesitation we started marching through the woods and soon reached Großenzersdorf, where we allowed ourselves to take the first break to eat as we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. However, we wouldn’t pause for long. Soon we started over again as we only had conquered a few kilometres so far. It was still early in the morning when we reached the Lobau, which is a beautiful nature reserve right at the Danube. Having my camera always with me I quickly snapped some pictures to keep some memories of this adventure. The sun had already risen and the water was glittering in the light of the early morning.
It was getting warmer as we kept walking, but luckily the next part of our way led us through the woods, so we didn’t have to burn in the sun. We came across a dam where we wanted to take a shortcut to leave out a few kilometres as we were eager to get to Bratislava in time. Our feet already started to hurt a bit, the first signs of blisters appeared – even though we were wearing sports shoes! Marching for such a long time had left its marks. We continued our walk anyways, trying to ignore our feet as best as we could as we could already see the end of the dam.
– Look, we almost did it! The shortcut was definitely worth the way!
Or that’s what we thought. Our “shortcut”, however, turned out to end at a river just a bit too big to cross. We either had the choice to get down in the water and try to reach the other side – risking to end up completely wet as we couldn’t see how deep the water was – or to walk all the way back. We were thinking for a while, trying to find a way over there to avoid the extra way. But we had no choice – in the end we accepted the fact we just walked a lot of kilometres for nothing. Complaining about google maps which didn’t show us the river in the way we kept on walking as fast as we could. Our “shortcut” had made us lose a lot of time.
It was already midday and we still had a long way to go so we decided it was time for a break, sat down on the side of a forest road and had a little picknick. While eating, a tractor passed our way – with the guys in there turning their heads in disbelieve of us two girls sitting in the middle of nowhere, enjoying their lunch like it was the most normal place to do so ever. The food literally made us so happy, you won’t believe it.
Afterwards, we couldn’t keep up with our fast pace before the break, so we slowed down considerably, but kept on walking nevertheless. Sometimes other people crossed our path, but most of the times we were alone. Then we reached another dam – the dam of horror as we have feared in secret. 9 kilometres long and all out in the sun. No shadows to hide – we knew that dam would take up all our energy. We should be right. Damm that dam! Taking pauses more often now we even started to sacrifice our motivation dates we had brought with us to eat in worst case. Now it was about time. Our backpacks were getting heavier and heavier, our feet covered in blisters hurt like crazy and the sun was burning mercilessly from the sky. We slowed down even more, hobbling along the way like two old ladies who couldn’t walk properly anymore. Well, after all of that we certainly couldn’t. 45 kilometres we already had mastered, but it was still a long way to go. 14 kilometres left. It would have been impossible to reach Bratislava within time as it was already getting late. We were debating about what to do. On the one hand we really wanted to master our challenge, on the other hand we knew we couldn’t reach Bratislava today anymore. So we finally decided to take a bus from a village 2 kilometres farther – the best idea we ever had. It was already 8pm. and we were at 47 of 59 kilometres.
When we finally reached the village, Heinburg, we took the next bus that came along. We were so happy to sit for a while, we didn’t even want to get up anymore. From the bus stop we got to Bratislava easily. It was already 9pm and we still had to find the couch surfer we were staying with. This was the last distance we had to walk by foot. Walking through Bratislava during the night we couldn’t even appreciate the beauty of the city as we were too focused on our hurting feet and just wanted to sleep as soon as possible. Luckily it wasn’t hard to find our couch surfer. Finally there, we were warmly welcomed with a hug – we really needed to be hugged after this energy-sapping march.
A minimalistic lifestyle
The apartment of our couch surfer was way different from what we expected – he was living a completely different lifestyle. That he was vegan – like us – we knew beforehand, but he was also living a very minimalistic life, including trying to save as much water as possible. That he did by flushing the toilet with the water he used for showering – and while we lived there we did so as well, of course. Every time we showered we had to close the cork of the bathtub to collect the water. After being done we had to take as much water as we could out of the bathtub with a barrel and then used it whenever doing some bigger business on the toilet.
Our host was a dumpster diver as well – which essentially means he took some of the food big supermarkets throw away every day out of the trash for himself to eat. Dumpster diving is not very common in Bratislava, so it’s not even illegal there he told us – in many other countries, however, it is. Too much food ends up in the trash every day even though it’s perfectly fine – like everything he had in his pantry! So we could thrive on a lot of delicious food, that was completely free as well! Fruit and vegetables, but also perfectly fine bread and pastries. The pastries weren’t vegan, but as this was rescued food which would just have ended up in the trash anyways, we all felt fine to eat it.
To this day I am fascinated by this man, doing that much effort to keep his impact on our planet as little as possible. This lifestyle might not be for everyone, but there are certain habits everybody could adopt as well.
The next day, it was finally time to discover the city. Julia had messaged with another guy on couch surfing as well, who couldn’t host us but was willing to meet up. So we went around the city a bit, then met up at the main place. First, we had trouble to find him, but eventually we got there. He was already waiting for us with a few friends that came along and we ended up as a really big group. Miguel, so his name, who wasn’t even from Bratislava himself, but from Spain, brought along his friend, a French a guy who brought another French guy. Then he invited another girl from Austria to join the tour who came along with two Portuguese guys. Got lost there? I don’t blame you. In short, a Spanish guy showed a very international and mixed group around in Bratislava.
First, we went up to the castle to enjoy the view from above. You can watch over the whole city, spotting the bridge of Bratislava with a restaurant on top that seems like an UFO hovering over the Danube. We also walked through the beautiful garden of the castle, where everything already started to blossom. The conversation was always flowing the group got along nicely. Miguel not being born there did a good job keeping us entertained (maybe not as much as he did as a tour guide be we forgave him). After walking around for a little bit, everybody was getting hungry. Julia and I still had to go home as we promised our host to be there. So the group split, but we would be reunited not much later.
In the evening we went out to grab a beer – and it shouldn’t just stay at one. The conversation ranged from selling organs to all crazy kind of ideas and we were having the best time. Exchanging a bit of cultural differences, I even tried to speak French to the French guys – but didn’t really succeed though. Granted, that was before I lived in France for 5 months – now a conversation would run smoothly. Anyways, we were having fun, in English or in French or even Spanish – it didn’t really matter.
After a few bars we wanted to go to a party taking place on a boat, so we went to the haven. It was already late, dark, and no one was there except us – a drunk, loud, multicultural group of eight. As we were walking down alongside the water the guys started to make jokes about killing us here and selling our organs, because no one would notice anyways – yes, our conversation escalated quickly. When we reached the boat not much was going on there were just a few people on the boat and no one really was into the music playing.
So we left and went to another famous club in the city centre. That one was fun – good music and we stayed to dance for quite a while. In the end the group was slowly but surely getting smaller, people were already leaving. One of the Portuguese guys got so drunk he couldn’t even walk home so we ended up getting him to a taxi to get him to his hostel – we were sure he wouldn’t have found his way without us. It was already early in the morning, Julia and I could even witness the sunrise, the old town of Bratislava appearing in a beautiful morning glow. Then we had to sleep a bit and soon it was time to leave for going back home again!
A very short, but very fun trip came to an end. Actually, we had planned to walk all the way back to Vienna as well – but as our feet were still not over the torture we had put them through 2 days before we decided to go by bus – a very smart idea. On our way to the bus station I took some last pictures and we wished the city goodbye. Crossing the Danube, I got a last photo of the castle of Bratislava as a souvenir. It was time to go home. Pomaly ale isto – slowly but surely, as I learned in Slovakian the night before.
Back in town again
Gone for four months, now the long-lost daughter was finally coming home – for a bit. Yes, I was back in my hometown once again, meeting my closest friends and spending time with my family. Needless to say, I had an amazing time. Seeing your loved ones again after such a long time is truly amazing. You have a completely different notion of time and value the hours you spend with them even more – because you know it will come to an end soon. The days flew by, I felt like leaving the airport just to return a few hours later. However, it felt a bit weird to be back as well. Being away for so long you yourself change and you can’t imagine everything at home to stay the same – but that’s exactly the way it was. No major change, nothing dramatic. Just good old Vienna, good old life, good old days.
What I did notice though is, that the cliché of the laid-back (you might as well say a bit lazy), grumpy, not much smiling Viennese is kind of true. People love to complain here. It’s called “suddern” which basically means complaining about everything. Literally. Everything. Ah, good old Viennese culture. Taking the metro, I was welcomed with warm grumpy faces without even a hint of a smile. Just imagine the face of grumpy cat. A few hundred times. A huge contrast to super polite and friendly Bordeaux. Entering the metro looking into people’s faces I felt like
“Oh, yes Vienna, you got me back again”
Of course, I love my home town. It’s just funny how different people are in every single corner of this world.
Being back again I, of course, had to visit all my favorite places of the city. Get ready for the inside of the best places to be during summer.
Land am Strome
“Land der Berge, Land am Strome… “ – „land of mountains, land at the riverside…” – that’s the first sentence of our national anthem already emphasizing the importance of the Danube, the biggest river flowing through Vienna. This river was also one of the few little spots I really missed being in France. In Bordeaux, you do have the Garonne, but it’s simply not comparable. The Danube is way bigger and greener. There you can sit down in the grass at the waterside drinking a beer with your friends while enjoying the sunset. Watching the sky turning from yellow to orange to red. A red glowing ball slowly disappearing behind the hills of Vienna.
In the middle of the Danube an island was constructed which now has been transformed into a leisure time paradise. 21 kilometers long, green and full of possibilities. People there skating, riding their bikes or jogging. For those who are a bit less into sports there is plenty of space to just enjoy a picknick, play some music, dance, relax, sleep, enjoy the sun – the list goes on and on. If its warm enough you can even go for a swim. Granted, there’s not so much to see, but it’s just a beautiful place to enjoy your day – or night as well if you gather with a few friends.
The Donaukanal (Danube canal) is another beautiful place in Vienna. The most southern part of the Danube which has been divided in the 19th century. Alongside the canal you can find a lot of important business buildings of Vienna up on the streets. In contrast to busy city life, a new urban space has been developed down at the canal, right next to the water. Going there, the heart of a true sportsman will beat faster seeing all the workout places, football cages and skateboard ramps. Riding your bike or jogging there is also common. As a pedestrian you even you to be careful no to get run over sometimes. The workout areas are situated in the middle of the canal.
At the beginning, close to Schwedenplatz, which is a famous place to go out and have a drink, you can see the drinking culture from the bars above reflecting on the canal. As soon as it gets warm a lot of people come together to sit next to the water and enjoy a beer together. Bars and a few restaurants lining up right at the side, just waiting for some thirsty students to finish their cheap beer from home and craving for more. If you want to join – just keep in mind you won’t be the only one especially on a really nice day. People are lining up there one after the other, so you might even need to walk all the way back to find a place to sit. However, it’s a free spot to drink and relax at water in the middle of the city – what more do you need?
Graffiti and street art
Colorful, diverse and bright. The walls of the Donaukanal. You’ll soon spot the “Wiener Wand” (Viennese wall) sign which marks the places where spraying graffiti is legal. As the city wanted to move away from criminalizing street art and graffiti, they introduced a lot of places all around Vienna where street artists can express themselves freely and present their work in a legal way. And everybody else is free to join the spraying, of course. Walking around there you can already see the walls which have been sprayed over and over so many times they are covered in a dozen layers of paint. This project helped to transform the canal in a beautiful place of art. It’s also the perfect place to take some pictures as the canal is offering you the most colorful background you can imagine.
Down there you’ll also find a famous club of Vienna – the Flex – which is covered in Graffiti as well. A Viennese underground place for concerts or other numerous illegal activities – not the most recommendable club from my side but it’s definitely unique – and already part of Viennese culture for almost 30 years now. So as a hardcore – culture fan it maybe is worth a try.
Last week I received a message of Magdalena, a friend of mine who is currently on Erasmus as well.
– Hey you know what? I’m coming to Bordeaux tomorrow!
– Wow that spontaneously – that’s the Erasmus spirit!
So, of course, I made sure to have some time on my hands. As she arrived so did the rain, Bordeaux was cloudy, wet and grey. Experiencing the typical Bordeaux-weather right from the start we ended up in a café talking for hours as we couldn’t wait to exchange some Erasmus experience. Doing her semester abroad in Utrecht, Netherlands, right now she left me with the urge of wanting to pay a visit to Utrecht as well.
Anyways, back to Bordeaux. Being the perfect visitor, Magdalena liked everything about Bordeaux. The southern flair of the old town with its light houses, the city being so bright when the sun was shining. It makes you feel closer to the sea already.
– The food is so much better here than in Utrecht!
One point for France. Another one for cultural diversity, a lot of interesting museums and people speaking French all the time. Well, there are two sides to the last point, but I couldn’t agree more. If you want to improve and practise your French, you’ll get an opportunity for sure as a lot of people seem to expect you to speak it. At night we strolled along the Garonne admiring the beautiful red and green lights of the lanterns lining up at the walking path next to the river. We ended up at the place de la bourse which is even more impressing during the night with its lights reflecting in the mirror d’eau.
Back to wartime
We also made sure to check out some places on the other side of the river, leading us to some remains of wartime. The submarine base. A bit outside of Bordeaux, not really known among tourists (which is great, you most likely will be there alone) but not one bit less interesting. The base was built by the Germans during the second world war between 1941 and 1943 after the French surrendered in 1940. Situated right at the haven it offered room for 15 submarines. As it was a delivery point providing the exhausted soldiers with food and supplies it played a significant role during wartime. The building itself is a giant concrete block, 19-meter-high, 245 metres in length and 162 in width, made from 600 000m3 of cement. Its and walls so massive and strong they even resisted several bombs during wartime. Before it was conquered at the end of the war it was heavily attacked but only barely damaged. The colossus resisted all efforts to take it down. Today, I offers you a different picture. It’s quiet, just a few pigeons flying converting the tiny windows of the bunker into their nests. Who would have thought the base would be a home for pigeons one day?
In the 2000nds, the base has been transformed into a room of art. Artists can present their expositions there or can even include the bunker in one of their artworks transforming it into a piece of art itself. After abandoning the building and letting it be for several year, not knowing what to further do with it, it was restored and opened in the year 2000 for its first exhibition. Some artists used the walls of the base to present theirs films which were reflecting in the water at the haven. We visited the base a bit too early so it was closed, just a big poster hanging outside announcing the current exposition. Next to it we also found a poem on the wall of the base:
Like the night
The night has forgotten me
However, I am always here
Between the run down walls
Of a remorseless industry
A boat carrying childhood memories
At the haven we spotted a little boat directly in the middle with something that seemed like dirty bags or trash all over it. When we took a closer look discovered is wasn’t trash, but teddy bears all over it. Dirty and grey they were popping out of the boats window and ceiling. We wondered if this might be a piece of art as well – and turned out it is. Constructed in 2013 it is a project of B-a-r-b-b-art which encouraged the visitors of the base to leave their children plush toys behind to put them on the ship wreck. Slowly Noah’s ark made of toys was built. It’s depicting farewell, laying in the haven for 5 years now.
Walking around we could even spot some other pieces of art – street art. In this industrial corner of Bordeaux you can find graffiti all over storage halls and other older buildings. Covered in paint their colourful images were reflected on the water, as they are laying right next to the haven as well.
Making some new friends
Leaving the submarine base behind we came across the colourful tent of a circus. A lot of straps and trapezes outside in the garden, but no one there to be seen practising. Then we followed some old rails on the ground leading us the way directly outside of the bases area. A few cars and industrial buildings outside, but not a lot of people, we were the only ones walking around. A bit farther away we could spot something black and moving.
– What is that? A dog?
– It doesn’t really look like one – but what the heck?
As we came closer we could see it more clearly. A goat! Chained up at the rails, walking around in circles as far as the chains let her. In front of the goat, we even found a dog as well. Looking at me with its dark brown eyes I couldn’t resists and instantly rushed there to play with him for a while. Chained up at the rails like the goat as well, I’m sure he enjoyed my company as much as I did his. Magdalena kept her distance a bit but snapped some pictures of me and my new friend. After a while though I had to stop as we needed to get going. Really sad to leave him behind I proceeded trying to make friends with the goat as well – which appeared to be a bit harder as she was really scared and running away from me every time I came a bit closer. So I let her be but took some pictures of her as a compensation for her lack of love.
Then went on to walk around the area, not much to see, just a typical industrial area of a city. Just following the rails we came along the second bridge of the Garonne, trying to get some good pictures of it as we were quite close already. It wasn’t the best place to take photos so went on walking around seeing what was yet to come. Farther away we discovered a street with a lot of waste on the sides, wondering what this waste had to do on the side of the road in an otherwise really clean city like Bordeaux. Still, it was a little adventure – abandoned places like these are the best to go to as all of them have a fascinating history – or if you don’t know you it you can free your fantasy make up a story about it on your own.
After our little trip Magdalena soon had to leave for the airport already – a short and spontaneous visit came to an end way to fast. Now I already promised myself to visit her in Utrecht as well. I also need to get some insight of Erasmus life in the Netherlands!
Meeting people – how to
As I’ve already been travelling in South America by myself for a bit, going out to meet people on my own is nothing special for me anymore. However, I still get asked a lot about it.
– With whom are you here?
– Well, I just came alone.
– Whaaat? But why? Isn’t that a bit lonely?
Honestly, it’s the complete opposite. I enjoy meeting new people and if I hadn’t gone to places all by myself I would have never met a lot of amazing people I’m now so grateful for being part of my daily life. Even if you’re a bit shy and don’t feel comfortable doing it – leaving your comfort zone will always be worth it. There are so many cool places you can go to to find out for yourself – so be prepared for some you can find in Bordeaux.
Erasmus exchange – Saint Emilion
As I am in Bordeaux with the Erasmus exchange program, the first place I made new friends was university. Especially participating in the orientation week is a great opportunity to get to know your future study buddies. There we went on a lot of trips and even on some adventures outside of Bordeaux. The first one being Saint Emilion. This small village is situated an one-hour bus ride outside of Bordeaux. For me, it really it fulfilled the expected vision of french countryside. Beautiful and quiet, wine yards as far as you could see, chateaux that were hundreds of years old. Saint Emilion is a beautiful destination for a daytrip indeed. We walked around the village as a student group leaded by a guide who told as a bit about its history accompanying us until the wine tasting in the end.
There we met the bizarre but funny owner of the winery. He started talking about how he was running this winery with his wife and never forgot to add:
– She’s my wife – my nightmare.
We had a good laugh about that – as he used it as a catch phrase the whole time. Being the owner of a big winery wasn’t enough for him – he also was an amateur-magician, never too hesitant to surprise his visitors with some magic tricks. Holding up a cord on both ends in his hand he picked a random student, gave him a metal ring and let him drop the ring into the cord from a certain distance. What was presumably a completely normal cord always caught the ring and we were left to wonder: how the hell did he do that? After letting the students take turn in trying the trick, the magician finally revealed his secret: turned out a thing as simple as a magnet hidden on the cord could leave bachelor university students guessing in desperation for half an hour.
We also went on a trip to this lovely city at the sea. After the three hours bus ride I had to get up for at 6am in the morning, it started to rain heavily. Well, we were welcomed with typical Bordeaux-weather right from the start. Finally in Biarritz we couldn’t appreciate the full beauty of the city as it was raining and storming that much we even had to hide in a cave for a bit. However, in the end we did get to experience it – just in the rain, but at least that was a little adventure. Situated at the ocean, this city is a beautiful place with a lot of old buildings and fancy, expensive restaurants. To me, it seemed like a place where my grandparents would love to spend their summer. After walking around in the rain alongside the ocean for a bit we decided to take a break from the storm in one of the cafés – which was hella expensive though. Still, it was a cute little place and I enjoyed the trip no matter what. I even promised myself to go back there in summer to enjoy the city to the fullest with nice weather and sunshine – so far I haven’t kept my promise yet – but I will.
Going out for a drink and partying nearly the whole week is completely normal here in Bordeaux – especially if you’re on Erasmus. I, however, decided to do my liver a favour and shifted my priorities from drinking to dancing. And not any kind of dance. Latin American dance, Bachata and Kizomba. A bit funny though I discovered these dances in France and not in south America – but well, there’s a first time for everything. Granted, I knew a little bit of Bachata before as I danced it once in Chile – but just once doesn’t even count. Kizomba is an African dance, connected to the earth.
As I was just used to classical dance in Vienna, the Latin American hip moves were definitely a challenge for me (and I’m still not sure if I have mastered it quite yet). Being used to dances like the waltz I basically needed to forget everything I knew about dancing before. Doing classical dance you need to ware your distance, you’re stiff, you’re elegant – ideally you feel like Princess Sissi back in time. Dancing Bachata of Kizomba you need to move your body, your hips and more. These dances are way more fun, and I also felt like being way more into the music than if I would dance the waltz. As you can see, I discovered a completely new world for me here.
So, I couldn’t be happier I decided to attend my first class. Over time I found out about other classes, then about some bars you could go to and dance. Slowly but surely, I engaged in the dancing scene. I just love how dancing brings people together, especially when there’s bars you can go to and practise as well. At one, Cubanito, you don’t even have to pay entrance, which is perfect if you’re living on a tight budget but want to do cool stuff as well. Another great place is La Tencha. Situated at the Garonne, also close to the city centre where you just pay 2 euros for dancing a few hours – which is also acceptable.
Language exchange places
These are one of the best places to get to know new people. Most people there come along on their own as well and enjoy meeting someone new. You can practise your language skills (in my case, French) while getting to know each other. Even if you haven’t quite mastered a language yet and are struggling to express yourself, people there will be patient with you. If you participate in a big meeting, you can even choose from a variety of languages like English, French, Spanish, Italian and much more. So, if you’re a real polyglot, you can even focus on a new language every week and have discussions in a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. The meetings mostly take place in cafés you can easily find on Facebook. Just search for “language exchange” and I assure you a lot of events will pop up within seconds. The first one I went to was le café des arts in Bordeaux. It’s situated in the city centre, close to the main museum, musée d’Aquitaine. However, there are a lot of other ones as well. For example, monthly exchange meetings in a winery and much more. I would definitely recommend going there – I mean who doesn’t enjoy great conversations over a beer – or wine, if you want to stick to French lifestyle.
Bordeaux. Time has been flying, I’ve been living here for over 3 months now. This place has grown on me, even though it’s raining all the time and it’s a rather small city compared to what I am used to. However, I didn’t regret the decision of doing my Erasmus here for a single day. The city is awesome, it’s a student city with a lot of things going on every day. Here, you can enjoy your student life to the fullest. But what made the city particularly great for me you might ask? Keep on reading, I am going to tell you all about it.
Bright and full of light. That’s the old town of Bordeaux. Only when it’s sunny of course – which doesn’t happen as often as one would wish. I’ve experienced everything here already – from thunderstorms so crazy I came home wet from head to toe to super sunny and warm days where you just want to stay outside the whole time. Spending some time in the city centre is definitely something you should do then. There are a lot of parks you can go to. Jardin public is the main park in Bordeaux. Now trees and flowers are already starting to blossom, spring did finally arrive. It’s a great area to hang out and enjoy your time, go for a walk or have a picnic. A lot of kids running around playing at playgrounds or riding the carousel – which is not necessarily something for kids. If you have a childish heart like me, go on and enjoy the ride as well
Take the tram to the place de la Victoire and go for a walk on the famous shopping street Rue Saint Catherine. Starting with cheap shops and food places you might be surprised it’s going to end with nice little boutiques at the end. Especially if you want to by glasses here – which are a must-have in France and especially in university – you’re at the right place. I know what I’m talking about – I already fell for a pair of Jimmy Fairly’s.
However, there are other great places to see as well – like the book shop Mollats. If you’re a book worm and love to read, you’ll feel like walking into paradise. So many books from so many different countries and authors, from people all over the world. So many different genres, so many different types. I could have stayed there for hours and wouldn’t have seen everything. The only thing you need to keep in mind when you go there is that every book will be in French. As the French are really proud of their language, I’ve never seen any English books there. Not a problem for me as I want to improve my French, but for non-french speakers that’s a pity.
Talking about the language – yes, getting used to just talking French was difficult at first. Especially because my French was not on the highest level when I started. I sometimes really struggled to understand French people talking, because guess what – even if you’re foreign they won’t slow down for you. You either adapt or get lost. I decided on the first one. For a while I primarily hung out with my Erasmus friends as it was easier to talk to people who wanted to improve their French as well but weren’t native speakers. So they experienced the same struggles as me. Now, however, it’s going quite smoothly. I’m already feeling more comfortable with the language, I’ve come to love reading French books and watching French movies. Oui, ca marche maintenant.
French language and difficulties? Let’s focus on them for a while, because as you might have guessed, there are yet some more to come. I’ll just say one word: university. Yeah, university is still not that easy for me. Of course, it depends on the professor, but some of them just really don’t seem to care if foreigners understand them or not. Muffling into their microphones, speaking so quickly you get the impression they can’t wait to get their class over with. Me sitting behind my computer in desperation trying to figure out what the words coming out of my professors mouth even mean. Looking at my notes later they literally make zero sense. Of course, I am exaggerating now, not all my classes are like this – but a fair amount, to be honest. Well, I try to see it positively – at least it is a challenge for me.
Teaching in France is also much different from what I am used to. Coming from Austria and studying at the university of Vienna, I’m used to having a lot interactive classes in small groups. There we exchange ideas and work on a lot of group projects. Here, in France that doesn’t seem to be the case. Professors love to just stand in front of a class and talk. Listen and take notes, that seems to be the motto. We never did anything related to group work and interactive teaching doesn’t seem to exist. That’s a shame, because I really love to participate and work on projects with my university colleagues. However, it is indeed a bit more relaxing, because you just have to listen (or you can pretend to and just doze off). Other cultures, other teaching methods.
Bordeaux, the city of bikes. Yes, biking is a big thing here and Bordeaux, you can find people riding their bikes here all the time. It’s a good thing I have to admit. I was already thinking about buying my own and biking trough the city like a real Bordelaise – well in the end I changed my mind, because it’s quite impractical having to carry your bike everywhere. Still, going by bike in general remains a good idea.
As the French are really eco-friendly, they do not only focus on riding their bikes, but also on turning off the light during the night. First I really liked the idea, but well… once I went out and had to walk home during the night with no lights on the streets I quickly changed my mind. As I missed my last bus and live out in the sticks I strongly rethought my choice to move into a place that far away from the city centre.
– It was cheap though.
– Yes, I know, you little savaholic. You don’t look so smart now anymore walking alone in the dark for hours!
Cold, chilly wind, coming from the north trying to make its way all through the south. Darkness, not a single spark of light. Dark street lanterns that lost their purpose that night. All sad and in the dark. One car passing by every thirty minutes. Wood cracking under my feet. The moon watching. Silence. Not a single human being on the streets. Except for me. The flashlight on my phone leading the way I followed on google maps. My phone at 5%. Shivering. Not because of the cold, but also because of my thoughts. Someone was going to kill me here tonight. I was sure about that. And no one will ever know… Walking through some high buildings I felt even smaller. Their ceilings nearly reaching the sky. Huge skeletons, made out of stone. No place to hide, just a place to run. Run as fast as possible. You’re already halfway through. Following the abandoned tram lines on the floor. All alone like me. It felt like following them for ages. Left right, straight ahead, every step brining me closer to home. In the end finally reaching the little wood in front of my house. The scariest part.
– You have managed not to get killed by now, you might as well go through that.
I exhaled deeply.
Not looking left and right anymore, just running, my feet hitting the ground heavily with every step, my heart bumping. My lungs screaming and reaching for air, my breath going fast and heavy. Trees left and right to my side, a few buildings in between. Laying there in silence under the moons covers. Wind howling, trees cracking. Don’t look, just run. Run run run. Until your door. Finally reaching it I could not have been happier. I wasn’t dead I was more alive then ever. My heart still bumping, nearly dropping to the ground. But I made it.
You see, Bordeaux won’t kill you. It’s a lovely place full of Chateaux and wineries. Quiet, if you live a bit outside, but in the city centre there is always something going on. Students partying nearly every day of the week. Bars and pubs are open from Monday to Sunday, and full of people every day. So you might as well take advantage of it!
Of course, that’s not everything I experienced here in Bordeaux – I mean I’ve been living here for a while now. So stay tuned, there’s still a lot more to come.
Couchsurfing. I’m pretty sure a lot of people know the concept by now, but if you don’t you might be wondering what the hell I was doing in Barcelona then. Well, I certainly didn’t surf on couches in case you’re wondering. I just used an App which enables you to get in contact with locals and sleep at their place for free. You don’t have to pay anything and get tips from a person who really knows the city. A pretty cool concept, right?
But why would anyone do that you wonder? For most people it’s just to get in touch with other cultures and to broaden their horizons. I’m especially glad I decided on couch surfing in Barcelona, because it was the best experience ever. I stayed there with my two best friends, Jenny and Vicky – so this trip was going to be awesome for sure.
The arrival was a bit complicated as we all came to Barcelona on different days, but in the end everything went as planned and we were happily reunited at the apartment of our couch surfing host. He was the nicest and most open host I ever had. Always engaged, always open to come along with us and show us the hidden places of Barcelona. Surprising us with his love for operas of Mozart and the fact that he could even sing in German. Thanks for being that awesome, Adrian!
The first hidden place we got to know thanks to him were the Bunkers del Carmel, which are remainings from the Spanish civil war. Situated near Parc Güell but a bit higher, you have an amazing panorama view over the whole city. People like to stay there until late in the evening to drink and watch the stars. This place is even more beautiful than the viewpoints in Parc Güell as you have a much wider view and can see the whole horizon. It’s also carrying an adventurous flair – you can still imagine people hiding and shooting there.
On our first evening there, me and my friends decided to go to a Shisha place at the beach as we do have a lot of them in Austria and wanted to check out the Spanish ones. Going there was already a bit of a challenge as it was already late and there was no bus going anymore. So we decided on a taxi. Me being the only one speaking Spanish (not good in any way, but enough to get by) I had to talk to the driver who did not speak the tiniest bit of English. So, if you want to go through Barcelona by taxi and don’t know any Spanish – good luck that’s going to be a challenge.
When we finally arrived at the beach we couldn’t decide where to go at first. So many places and all looked alike. In the end we decided on a decent looking place with a few people inside. We wouldn’t be disappointed. Sitting there, drinking Sangria (what else, if it’s your first day in Spain?) we were just happy to be reunited again. Slowly the evening was coming to an end and finally we were the only ones still there. We obviously didn’t want to leave – so one of the waiters came up to us. In broken English he asked us if we wanted to join him and his colleagues for an after-work drink with them. Who would say no to that? Free drinks, free Shisha – our first evening was going perfectly. Even the manager, who was actually from Morocco, joined us. An international, funny group mastering to talk in English, Spanish and French. We stayed until the morning then we decided to go home. We definitely needed some sleep.
That time I didn’t stay in Barcelona for that long, so we did not have time to do a lot. But going to the beach for swim at least for once was definitely something we had to do. The water was warm dark blue and after a while we didn’t’ even want to go out. Vicky, our strong protector, carried both Jenny and I around in the sea. As we three girls stuck together the whole time a few Spanish guys passed by the whole time starting to call as “las tres sirenas” – the three mermaids. We had a good laugh about that. But which girl hasn’t dreamed to be Ariel at least once? In Barcelona, everything seems to be possible.
Adios 2017 – Hola 2018!
From summer and beaches to winter and – guess what, beaches as well! Because it’s Barcelona, where real winter doesn’t seem to exist. So, after my visit in summer I came back to the city after Christmas to visit my boyfriend. No need to any further explaining, obviously I had an amazing time there. As I’ve been there before we didn’t do sightseeing anymore, expect for Parc Güell. Otherwise we just enjoyed everyday life in Barcelona. A particularly cool place we went to quite often was a bar called Milans. There was also a pub crawl happening quite often and we joined in a few times.
What you have to know if you go out in Barcelona is, that it is actually forbidden to drink in the streets – which is kind of hard if you’re on a pub crawl and don’t want to pay that much for a beer. Getting one from the many guys selling them on the streets is way cheaper – so it’s up to you if you want to be a criminal. The streets in Barcelona are full of adventures. Once we found some old destroyed chairs in the streets, sat down with a beer and cheered to life. Being rebellious, drinking in the streets and breaking the law – shh you didn’t hear it from me.
Hola 2018! New Year’s Eve in Barcelona – let me tell you, that’s amazing. For new years eve we went to Plaza España to see the fireworks. Plaza España is huge, with the fountain of Monjuic in the background as well as a castle. The fountain lights up in a lot of different colours during the night. There’s even a little show going on, music is playing while the water is splashing around, forming all different shapes and sizes, lighting up in blue, red, orange, purple – so many colours you can’t even count. During new years eve it was completely crowded there. So many people wanted to welcome the year of 2018 at Plaza España. If you enter the Plaza you see smaller fountains lining up on the sides right and next to you. They are building a line just until you reach the big fountain of Monjuic. These ones were also working. We arrived there quite late, half an hour before midnight and struggled a bit to find a place in all the people, but eventually we did. So many people around us singing, drinking, counting. 3 – 2 – 1! Feliz año nuevo! Happy new year! Then the firework started. So many colours exploding in the sky I couldn’t help but stare the whole time. Sparks of lights shooting in the sky, appearing and disappearing, making place for new sparks again. So many new possibilities. 2018, that was sure, was going to be an amazing year.
The day of the 3 holy kings was also about to arrive soon after. You could spot dressed up people all over Barcelona, there even was a parade happening one day. Streets were blocked, children were out waiting impatiently for the kings. I only saw the kings getting ready but missed the parade as we were too hungry and had to get something to eat at first. Still, that was worth it – we chose a cheap Arabic place near the beach with damm good wraps which were worth missing it indeed.
If the three holy kings are not enough and you want to escape reality for a bit, visit Barcelonas museum of illusions! There you can dive into every illusion you desire. You can be an angel with large white wings. Want to go on a scary adventure? No problem at all! Soon you will find yourself trapped in a net with huge spiders coming at you or in the ocean staring directly at the sharp white teeth of a shark. Or have you ever wanted to meet your childhood heroes? Go take a picture with the Simpsons them!
Street art and fat cats
The Raval. A place you definitely have to visit once you are in Barcelona. It’s a fascinating district with a lot of street art. His mascot is fat cat, but there’s much more to it. A lot of street art, a lot of great artist, a lot of stories. A really famous one is “elxupetnegre”, which means the black dummy. He left images of black dummies all over Barcelona.
Love letters on cans all over the streets of Barcelona. That’s the concept of a famous couple who are leaving their marks all over town. Sweet little messages like “adorarte es para mi una obsession” – adoring you is an obsession for me. A lot of them have been destroyed and imitated as well but once you know their style you’ll be able to know which one is an original and which one an imitate.
Todos juntos podemos parar el sida – together we can stop aids. A great graffiti with a deep massage of the artists Keith Haring. As he suffered from aids himself, he wanted to raise awareness and normalise the illness as well. He dedicated his life to the fight against the virus. A fight he lost in the end. His art is remaining though, carrying on his message. Showing that all together, we can fight the virus which is depicted as a snake.
Another place I found really fascinating was the garden dedicated to Juan Andres Benitez – a man who was beaten to death by policeman while they were supposed to arrest him. A lot of people still want justice for Benitz as not all of the policemen are in jail yet. The garden they built in his memory is a stunning piece of art. There’s a small house in the middle, surrounded by plants and a lot of big graffiti all over the walls. Beautiful images that carry an important message. A lot of critique of our society. I was simply struck by this place. It really gets you thinking.
Barcelona already is like my second home. It’s a beautiful city everybody needs to visit at least once. I could write a lot more about it but decided to finish here as I will be there in summer again anyways. Then, I promise you even more details about everyday life.
I’ve been to Barcelona so many times now I guess I could write a hundred pages about it. From all cities I’ve been to in Europe, Barcelona is by far my favourite place. It’s such a mixed, multi-cultural city with an amazing atmosphere. No wonder it has become Spains most visited city.
This post will be a general introduction of Barcelona – including all the important sights you need to check out once you’re there. However, if you want to get to know the city on a more personal level, stay tuned for next week! Then I will be focusing on more hidden places and my personal experiences.
The city of Gaudi. I’m sure you’ve come across this name at least once. The famous architect has left Barcelona with a great heritage constructing a lot of the most famous buildings of the city. His most famous building which is known all over the world is the church Sagrada Familia. He worked on this church his entire life, yet it was still not finished when he died in 1926 as he was run over by a tram. It’s still being built to this day following Gaudis exact instructions. That’s why you will never get a picture of it without a bunch of cranes in the background. It also won’t be finished any time soon. The estimated date now 2026 – 100 years after Gaudis death. The church itself really is beautiful. As it is a long-term project you can clearly see from the outside which parts have been built a while ago and which ones are being built right now as the sandstone is already getting darker in the older parts. The facade is composed of multiple details, a lot of statues and ornaments. You could look at the church for hours without having paid attention to every single detail there is to see.
If you want to go inside the church as well just keep in mind you won’t be the only one. You definitely will need a lot of patience there. Even buying the tickets in advance won’t prevent you from waiting for a long time to go inside. Seeing the inside I was a bit disappointed though. You can see marvellous architecture there, no doubt. The colourful glass windows let the church appear in a magnificent light when the sun is shining directly through them. Sonthe inside as well shows Gaudis fondness for detail. But for my taste, there were too many tourists around as the church is really big and a lot of people can enter at the same time. If you visit any other church, you experience a completely different atmosphere. Normally, it is quiet, people are whispering and mostly in a devotional mood. Sagrada Familia has none of this spirit left anymore, it’s been transformed into a Mecca for tourists. People there are taking selfies and talking loudly, only a few people seem in to be in the mood to pray. The atmosphere of the church definitely suffered from the many tourists visiting it. For me, Sagrada Familia is a stunning building of a genius architect, but has no sprit of a church left anymore.
However, Gaudi left way more behind than just Sagrada Familia. Parc Güell is also one of his most famous constructions. It’s a huge park a bit outside of the city centre. As it is quite expensive to go in the most decorative and colourful part I never visited it. But I saw it from above. The park goes all the way up a hill. When you reach the top you have a perfect view over the whole city of Barcelona. You can spot all the famous buildings, the beach and the hills surrounding the city. Especially in the evening you have a stunning view when the sun disappears behind the hills and lets the city appear in a beautiful red and orange light. Stay a while longer and the city is slowly lighting up. Traffic lights, laterns, a lot of small lightballs everywhere. Buildings slowly slighting up . Turn your head to the sky and if you’re lucky you will see the stars above your head as well.
Most parts of the park are for free and you can walk around there for hours. You’re surrounded by palm trees and flowers. The free part of the park is also pretty, even though it’s not the one you see on postcards and which is widely advertised. If you want to go to the most colourful and famous part as well – but without paying a fortune – you can do so as well. Just wait until the evening, then this part is open for everyone. It might be dark but you can still see a lot and take some great pictures there as well.
Las Ramblas. That’s the famous shopping street in Barcelona. Starting at Plaza Catalunya it goes all the way down to the beach. The street itself is full of shops and overpriced restaurants. So, if you really want to find a good place to eat you should better not try this area. In smaller streets you can usually find better and way cheaper food. Or you try out Mercat de la Boqueria which is an amazing street market on the side of las Ramblas. This market is offering exotic fruits in abundance, juices, dried fruits, nuts and the best falafel place in whole Barcelona. These falafel are a must try for everyone. Situated in the back corner of the market but definitely worth the way.
Some other important sights of Barcelona are the Arc de Triomf and the Parc de la Citudella. The arc is situated at the entrance of the park, is 30 metres high and quite impressing. The parc itself is really nice as well. There’s the Cascada monumental with a little lake in front of it and a giant mammoth I simply have to take a picture of every time I’m going there.
The sea. One of the greatest things about Barcelona. The promenade at the beach goes on for kilometres and is perfect to go for a run or to just enjoy some time at the beach. People usually play volleyball there the whole time – even if it’s cold like in December – nothing is holding them back, they simply don’t seem to feel the cold. During summer time the beach is a bit crowded, but during winter it’s a perfect place to relax with not so many people around. Only if there’s a lot of cold wind coming from the ocean you might not want to go there as it can get chilly quite fast.
The beach is also one of the reasons why I like Barcelona that much – I mean where else in Europe would you find such a great, international city with so many different people from all over the world which is directly situated at the beach? Such unique places simply just exist once.
Rio de Janeiro. This city sheer fascinated me ever since I took my first step out of the plane. It has so many different faces, so many facets. You are surrounded by colours, sounds and people. It’s the most vivid city I’ve ever been to. So many people are out on the streets, so many cars and buses are going around. So many impressions, I was completely overwhelmed at first. But there I was. Directly in the middle and ready to get to know the most famous Brazilian city.
At first, of course, I had to discover the most famous sights simply everybody goes to. However, I wasn’t there all by myself but with my boyfriend, a real carioca, who’s been born and raised in Rio by my side. So, I got quite an insight of “normal” Brazilian life as well – apart from all the tourists and sights.
Let’s start with the most obvious sight though – Christ the Redeemer. This giant statue of Christ opening his arms while watching the city is situated on top of a hill. It was built and established due to celebrating the 100 years of independency from Portugal. The catholic church founded the stature as they wanted a sight representing their religion in the country. This place is just always crowded with tourists who even lay down on the floor in front of the Christ to get their perfect selfie. But the Christ is not all there is to it. Up on the top I had an amazing view over the whole city. It’s so big you can’t even see all parts of it. Sun shining on my face, wind playing with my hair I could have stood there for hours just absorbing the beauty of Brazil.
Copacabana. The famous beach. With its long promenade it’s one Rios most touristic areas. While I was there the sea was still a bit too cold to swim as it was just spring yet, but the beautiful beach attracted a lot of people anyway. If you sit down there, you can watch the sea on the one side, the city lying behind your back and hills to your left and right. A lot of food shops opened at the beach, a lot of people were constantly marching up and down the promenade selling food, drinks or even bikinis or towels.
There, I noticed the division of class in Brazil for the first time. As all the people selling stuff at the beach had darker skin I began to wonder if there might be a relation between skin colour and poverty. And sadly, there is. The poorest people who live in the slums, the Favelas or sell things at the beach or in the streets always have darker skin. This division really shocked me even though it makes perfect sense. Those are the remains of slavery that Brazil still didn’t succeed to overcome. The poor stay poor, because they grow up in a favela and can’t go to a good school – or no school at all if is none. Without a proper education, the children will end up like their parents and the vicious circle takes its course.
Mountains. Dark green with colourful spots in between. A beautiful picture. A dark reality. The colourful houses everybody talks about, which are all over postcards and pictures. The Favelas. Slums. People so poor we can’t even imagine. At the time I was in Rio shootings in Favelas were reported nearly every day. It was a time you should rather stay out of them. Some touristic companies who offer Favela tours kept running during this time though. Essentially, these tours just take you into a Favela to watch the poorest of the poor. For me, these tours are simply too much. It is just not right to shove the people their poverty right in their faces. Maybe even taking pictures of them. Treated like animals in the zoo only that they are watching people. It’s rude and insensitive even to consider going on a tour like that and it’s definitely not the right way to get to know these places. If you really want to there, go with someone who knows the city, but not with a guided tour. If the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t want to be watched like that as well.
The Favelas in Rio are not all equally bad or dangerous, some of them are controlled by the police or calmer in general. But some of them are controlled by criminal organisations. The biggest organisation is Cormando vermelho which is ruling a lot of Favelas and is operating in other countries as well – like Peru, Bolivia or Venezuela. Their criminal activities start with bank robbery or fraud and range to assault, drug trafficking and murder. The organisation also kind of take care of the people who live there. Sometimes they give them food or other things in order to spread their word or to gain loyalty. Contrary to what you can read in most of the western the media, people in Favelas are included in the Brazilian society. The often also work in the city, but they just don’t pay for anything. They don’t pay rent in the favela, they don’t pay for electricity as they get the cables from somewhere else. Since the government doesn’t really care about what they are doing, they are also not punished for it.
Brazil is a beautiful country, Rio is an awesome city, don’t get me wrong. But there are a lot of downsides to life there as well I simply couldn’t ignore. If you come from Europe you might be shocked seeing more people sleeping on the streets than you’re used to. Or just seeing poverty in general. What I found amazing though, is that people there help each other. Once I saw a woman with two small children out in the streets selling peanuts. In Vienna, I’m used to people ignoring street vendors, maybe one in a hundred stops for them. In Brazil, that’s different. A lot of people bought her peanuts, because they could see she needed the money. The same thing appears if a street vendor enters a bus. He will never leave without having sold a few items at least.
So, from the Brazilian lifestyle we can learn a lot. Helping each other as much as taking life not too seriously. One situation in particular stuck to my head. We were driving with the bus to a quarter named Lapa – which is the party district of Rio. People were already drinking wine and just having a good time. The bus ride was quite bumpy as the roads in Rio are old and covered with a lot of potholes. Buses drive over them so rapidly that you are jumping up and down on your seat the whole time. Due to that bumpy ride someone ended up spilling the red wine he was drinking on the white T-shirt of another guy. However, the guy even though all covered in wine didn’t even care and they went one having a good time. That really got me thinking – because I’m convinced that same scenario would have ended completely different in Vienna. People definitely hold grudge longer there. So, overcome our seriousness and just live – that’s something we should adopt from them.
Going out in Rio was also way different from what I was used to. Of course, going out was different when I went to Chile as well, but Brazil took it to a whole new level. Lapa, as I mentioned before, is the place to be if you want to party. Crowded, a lot of people already dancing and singing in the streets. Music coming form every corner. Reggaetón and Funk, you’re completely caught up in the atmosphere. It’s chaotic, but it’s a fun chaos. Food places can be found everywhere in the streets and of course- a lot of places were selling Caipirinha. Going into a club everybody knew how to dance – something I can’t generally say for Austrians or even for myself. Brazilians really feel the music differently than we do.
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The lake in Rio is a beautiful little oasis. Sun is shining on the blue water, you can rent a boat there or just go around the lake by bike. That’s what we did. Just biking alongside green trees on the one side, the lake on the other. It’s a great place to relax or run as a lot of people do here. At the lake you also have an amazing view on the city and the sugarloaf.
Remains of the Olympics. The Olympics cost Brazil a lot of money and a lot of people were against them. The country has other problems and the money would have been needed elsewhere. The government got a lot of money from the games though – due to corruption a lot of politicians enriched themselves during the games. Today the Olympic boulevard is a souvenir of the games. This part of the city has been completely rebuilt. It’s a part of the city that seems a bit out of place. The Olympic boulevard is so clean, so new and modern. The opposite from the rest of Rio. Faces of different nationalities covering a huge wall, watching everyone who walks through. It’s a beautiful part of the city, that’s for sure. But if seems like a mask, like an image just built for the Olympics. If you just see that part of the city, you wouldn’t get the full spirit of Rio.
My souvenir of brazil went under my skin. Literally. It all started with a couch surfing meeting we went to. Situated in a hostel, there already were staying a lot of nice and fun people who travelled as well. The first one I got to know there was an argentinian bartender. During the evening I learned he also did tattoos. As I really wanted to get one while I was there, that perfectly fit my needs. So, I didn’t hesitate for long, went to the tattoo place the next day and a half an hour later it was done. I didn’t want to leave without a souvenir that went deeper than just a statue of Christ. I wanted something to always remind me of the time I was there, because it really changed my point of view on certain things once and for all.
Brazil. How long have I been waiting for you? Too long indeed. Now I finally found myself at the airport in Rio about to be picked up by the man of my dreams. Only that I wasn’t dreaming at all – it was just my dream finally coming true. I was fully awake and still unable to believe it.
Soon we were off to Buzios, a bit outside of Rio where we were about to stay next. Driving through Rio I was already amazed. So many colours so many mountains. Just marvellously beautiful. It didn’t even matter I got sick on my way and lay down with fever the first four days. Because when these days were over I could finally enjoy the city at the fullest.
Buzios the city of statues and Paralelepípedos. The second one being my favourite portugese word of all times. It literally means cobblestone and is not even that useful to know but I still liked to funny sound of it. And you can impress any portugese speaker telling him you know it. There also were statues everywhere – I even found Brigitte Bardot. The bronze statues are places alongside the beach throughout the city. You can even find some fisherman with their nets at the sea placed directly in the sea. Of course, statues and Paralelepípedos are not all there is to Brazilian culture. I should know – I learned from the best. From a real carioca – someone born and raised in Rio.
Food. Kind of the most important thing when you go abroad. Well, Brazil won’t disappoint you there. Tropical fresh fruits in shapes you didn’t even see before. Green coconuts which were completely new for me. I guess we Europeans only know the brown and hairy ones we get in our supermarkets. Cheap mangos, starfruits, bananas, passionfruit – I was in fruit heaven. Acai bowls and all the fancy food we would buy a fortune for cheap and ten times better than at home. So, trace the roots of your fruits you won’t regret it.
Roots and Nutella – and never mix it up. So, I got quite a bit of an insight in Brazilian culture and what can’t you miss getting to know another country? Exactly, their roots. And nothing describes the concept of roots versus Nutella better than comparing their drinking habits. Trust me, to really be accepted you want to adopt the concept of roots as well. So, let me explain it a bit further. Being roots means you drink every beer at every temperature out of a plastic cup while eating fries and listening to a drunk song. Whereas a Nutella beer drinker doesn’t drink corn beer, his beer has to have a solid 6°C temperature and eating fries with it would be a no-go – rather would he eat it with fish or fine meat. One glass for each beer of course and analysing the taste is also a must. So, you can decide now which concept suits you best. For me it is clear – you should always stick to your raiz (roots). So, join a few Brazilians to try out their cheapest beer and you’ll get a lot of the brazilian lifestyle.
Cachaça. If we’re already talking about drinking, let’s stay there for a bit. Cachaça, the typical rum of brazil. Strong and definitely effective, but also delicious. Especially if you find a home-brewed one they sell in tiny shops all around the city. It’s also a perfect souvenir to bring home. Of course, Cachaça is also part of their most famous Cocktail, Caipirinha, which definitely guarantees you a fun time.
Another thing I really likes in Buzios were the rocks. Yes, rocks. At least I am holding a special memory of them as I managed to fall off one while climbing to the top. I even kept a scar on my back as a souvenir. However, it was worth it. The view up on the rocks is amazing. I was directly facing the sea with the waves hitting against the rocks underneath and the salty water splashing up, floating the lower rocks completely. Reminding us of the incredible power of the sea. Trying to keep up with Brazilians you have to climb these rocks as well – even if they will be jumping over them so easily while you might be scared of your life trying not to trip and fall.
Buzios by night. A stunning view. Gazing over the sea, watching the boots lying at the haven. A lot of expensive beach clubs we couldn’t afford at the promenade. Just sitting around under palm trees and streets made of paralelepipedos drinking cheap beer directly out of the can was completely enough. During the night the city was full of life as well. Reggaeton playing in restaurants, a lot of people out on the streets, eating, singing and dancing salsa. A lot of popcorn stands out on the streets, the salty-buttery scent of corn filling the air. Not a lot of light out on the streets, the city was appearing in a dim- orange light. A perfect end to a lot of perfect days. But it wasn’t the end of my stay in Brazil for sure. That stay had only just begun.
Easterisland – it’s a wonder of the world and it’s a wonder of the world for a reason. It’s so quiet and calm you can really call it a little paradise.
I did not stay there for too long, but as the island is very small even 4 days were enough to get to know this beautiful place.
On this island I stayed with a couple from Couchsurfing. They moved from Santiago to the Easterisland 3 years ago and haven’t been able to leave ever since. The two were just so amazed of this peaceful little place is they never even considered to leave. Having been to Santiago already I can see where they are coming from. Country and island are nothing alike, are not even situated close to each other. A 5 hours flight away from the country, surrounded by nothing but water the endlessness of the sea. The island seems so isolated, so lonely but that’s the real beauty of it. If you need to calm down, get your thoughts in order or just figure some things out, this is the perfect place to do so. You’ll have all the quietness you need to think.
As my hosts had to work every day I was there they didn’t have so much time to show me around. So, this was the only time I was alone for a bit. Having been on the road for a bit already I was a bit exhausted and needed a few days to calm down. The timing to be here couldn’t have been more perfect. I just rented a bike and discovered the island on my own. Within 4 days I did my best to discover every little corner it had to offer. Biking up and down the 3 main streets of the island I could appreciate the beauty of the island. Blossoming trees, green grass, horses and dogs running around everywhere. I’ve never seen so many wild horses in my entire life. It was beautiful to see untouched nature in that way.
Riding my bike along the coast I discovered a lot of the traditional Moais–the famous sculptures made of stone. A few remainings of the old Polynesian cultures who once ruled this island. Some natives still live her but due to tourism and a lot of foreigners moving to the island it is not their island anymore. However, the ones who remained there try to keep up their traditions as best as they can. They speak their own language, cook their own traditional meals and live a very simple life.
I even got to know a native Rapanui – which was surprising because I rarely saw other people there. While I was riding my bike through the abandoned streets I never spotted more than a few cars and once I left the centre I just had an empty road ahead of me.
While driving to the coast I crossed an old exhibition about wartime with a native Rapanui taking care of it. I was the only one visiting it, so we soon started to talk. He told me about his life there and about his cultural background. Then he even invited me into his little house and offered me coffee and bread. There I had one of the most interesting conversations of my whole trip.
The native Rapanui don’t agree how they are treated by the government. They are governed by Chile and depending on the country. Every two weeks a ship full of food and supplies is coming from the country of Chile to the island. Without this support people would soon have nothing to eat anymore. They don’t have their own farms or grow their own food. Everything they have comes from the country. However, they want to be independent and have an own government as most of them do not identify as Chilean. However, the Chilean government itself doesn’t want to hand over the governmental power – presumably because of the income generated by tourism on the island.
Afterwards I listened to the problems the Rapanui told me I was only the second person he invited into his home. He normally doesn’t even like tourists as he has nothing in common with them, he said. But with travellers, apparently, it wasdifferent. I could see how much he loved his home and he also stated to never wanting to live anywhere else in the world. That’s the general opinion of people living there. They might go abroad for a while, but everyone who ever left eventually came back again as they can’t live in a different country forever.
Death Valley, Moon Valley, Lagoons, salt flats and the red rocks. So many fascinating places to see, so many wonders of the desert yet to discover.
Valle de la Luna – Moon Valley. My first trip into the desert and outside of San Pedro. It was my second day in the desert when I decided to walk around in San Pedro for a bit, not even sure what I was about to do with my day. Too many offers, too many stunning places, too much room for decision. Luckily, San Pedro was small enough to coincidently run into a Brazilian girl I met the night before. She had already planned to visit the Moon Valley and I quickly joined her. We started off visiting the three statues of Mary – three statues made of salt and sand in the desert you could only interpret as women with a lot of imagination. Then we went on to the sand dunes which were bigger than I expected. It took us an hour to climb onto the top as it was also not that easy to move forward with our feet getting stuck in the sand all the time. But we made our way to the top anyways, where we had an amazing, endlessly seeming view over the whole desert. We couldn’t stay there much longer, a little sandstorm nearly blew us away. So we quickly left for the caves o the desert. There it was so dark we had to use our flashlights the find our way. The walls of this over thousand-year-old cave was covered in salt. Fascinated we even tried to taste if it really was salt or not every time. The last place of our tour was a gorge where we waited for the sunset. Standing on the sides, seeing the sun slowly sinking down at the horizon. The sky turning first yellow, then orange, then red. The sun getting smaller and smaller until it disappeared like behind the mountains. A beautiful end of a beautiful day.
Valle de los Muertos – Death Valley and my favourite part of the desert. That day I decided to discover the desert on my own. So I just grabbed a bike and started to drive to the Valley. When I entered I was immediately struck by this lonely but beautiful place. So quiet and peaceful, no noises to be heard. Not even the wind was hushing around the dunes. Everything was still and silent. There was no one except me. No other people, no animals, not even insects or plants. Nothing. Red sad, stones and salt surrounding me. The sun burning, no clouds in the sky. Just a single path leading uphill. So I went on with my bike to follow it. The Valley had a viewpoint up on a hill I had to climb at the end – and it was worth all the way. On top I had an amazing view all over the Valley and beyond. I could even see San Pedro seeming even smaller from above and the mountains at the horizon. A breath-taking scenery. Everything seemed so small from up there – a cheesy phrase, but true. When you see what nature has to offer, what amazing wonders our world can built you just forget everything else for a while. There’s something so much bigger than all these small worries one might have. An experience like that can shift your priorities in life. If you stay there long enough it won’t leave you unaffected.
Up there I met one of the most amazing people of my whole trip. I sat down on a bench just gazing over the Valley and a girl sat down next to me. We started talking and I immediately noticed a German accent in her voice. She indeed was from Germany, but studyed in Santiago. We became friends right away, walking downhill together and talking the whole time. Sometimes you just have this special connection with a person – and she definitely was one of them. We even met up another time in San Pedro the next day, to discover the city together.
Salt flats and red rocks – my last tour in the desert. And the most intense one. We had to get up quite early in the morning to see the sunrise at the salt flats. When we arrived the sun wasn’t up already so it was still freezing cold. But the sky was already turning pink and blue. Flamingos standing in the water, the lagoon layaing in front of us. Behind us the salt flats. A fascinating place. They even built a path for us to go through the salt flats, because the crystals were too sharp to walk over. Right there, looking over the beautiful scenery we had a litte breakfast. There were two Brazilians taking this tour as well with whom I got along great. They were also travelling together so we soon started talking about travelling and all the experiences we had yet to make. Afterwards our group went on driving uphill to the mountains. The landscape changed, soon we were standing in front of another lagoon. The red rocks. Rocks so bright red and water so turquoise blue I couldn’t even believe it was real. A perfect mixture of colors, another spectacular miracle of nature. It was a bit muddy so you could easily sink into the ground. We all ended up with our feet and jeans coverd in mudd. Then we moved on to the next destination. The landscape surrounding us changed, suddenly we weren’t in such a dry part of the desert anymore. Suddenly there was grass growing in the desert and we even spotted a group of vicugnas. Behind them a mountain with its top covered in snow. Snow. In the middle of the desert. I was amazed how that was even possible. I was even about to see more snow when we went on to our destination in the mountains – two big lakes. Christal blue water, surrounded by snow and a bit of grass. A beautiful combination. After a long lunch we went all the way back, also crossing the tropic of Capricorn. The most southern latitude where the sun can be seen directly above your head. Going back it was getting dark and cold quickly. As soon as the sun disappeared behind the dunes the cold was coming immediately. However, the most beautiful part of the desert at night is the clearness of the sky. Unpolluted by light or traffic emissions. Another peek to go visit the Atacama to see for yourself – if there haven’t been enough already.