Reflecting on 3 Months in Europe

Reflecting on 3 Months in Europe

I just finished traveling across Europe for 3 months. When I booked this trip last March I made a plan that I didn’t follow:

If you look at my itinerary you might be confused that I went around in circles and my route looks very inefficient. Although I probably could’ve saved more money if I had a more efficient route, I’d rather go with the flow and books trips to visit people I know or meet on my travels.

Traveler Hospitality

Although I was in Europe for 3 months, I probably only paid for 2 weeks worth of accommodation. I was lucky to have European friends that I met over the years while traveling, who lent a couch or bed to sleep on. One of the main reasons I love to travel solo is because it forces me to meet people along the way. It amazes me how backpacker connections works. For example I decided to go to Oktoberfest since a guy I met in a hostel in Portugal 2 years prior offered me a free tent to stay in. I actually ended crashing on the couch of a German guy I met in Berlin 3 years ago on a free walking tour. I can meet someone for a couple hours, yet since we share a passion for travel we stay connected and end up being friends. Also, it is more enjoyable to visit people in their hometowns, since they share a pride over their city and want to show me the best experience. Thank you to all my fabulous European hosts!

Memorable European Experiences

I definitely did not give as many updates as I would like on my blog, so here are some of the most memorable experiences I had while in Europe for the past 3 months!

  1. Getting Bikes Towed in Amsterdam – Only in Amsterdam will you find more towed bikes than towed cars. Two hostess friends and I parked our bikes on the street at night on a bike rack with dozens of other bikes. When we went to get our bikes in the morning, we were surprised to see not only were there no bikes, but the actual street the bikes were on had been removed by construction workers. After asking around for 20 minutes, we ventured an hour outside the city to visit the “bike graveyard”. Luckily we were able to find our bikes and only had to pay a 15 euro fine. Overall it was a fun experience, especially riding our bikes back into the city because we got to see another side of Amsterdam.
  2. Going to a Sparty in Budapest – Budapest is known for their thermal bathes and nightlife scene. On Saturday night you can get the best of both worlds by attending a “sparty” (spa + party). I put on my bathing suit and danced to the electronic beats until the early morning at this unique party experience. 
  3. Caving in Budapest – This was also a unique experience. I loved putting on my caving gear and crawling through cracks and holes for three hours in a cave. The guide was a funny character, who would do things like tie your shoes together when your’e crawling under a rock.
  4. Working for the Yacht Week – I can’t explain the experience of working on the Yacht Week, since it does not feel like the real world. I had amazing crews that I loved looking after, and found out that I’m a good chef!
  5. Biking in Copenhagen and Amsterdam – Copenhagen and Amsterdam have similar feels. If you visit these cities you must get a bike and go around town.

    While biking through Amsterdam we saw tons of people with sunflowers. We decided to find the source of all the sunflowers and found a maze of 125,000 sunflowers to honor Van Gogh’s death 125 years ago.

  6. Attending Football Matches – I found my new favorite sporting event. There is so much energy in football stadiums in Europe. I attended games in Berlin and Bilbao with huge stadiums packed with crazy, avid fans. IMG_4098
  7. Oktoberfest – Getting to Oktoberfest took 12 hours from Budapest, since there was a lot of regulation crossing the border. Once I finally made it to central station in Munich I put my luggage in storage, bought a Dirndl for 20 Euros, and met up with my Bavarian friend to experience Oktoberfest. For the next two days I drank, ate, and had a merry time.
  8. My failed attempt volunteering at a hostel –I figured volunteering at a hostel would be a great experience since I love people, and want to open my own hostel in the future. Turns out working at a hostel was not my thing. Due to miscommunication and me being sick I started on the wrong foot, and it seemed like the staff just didn’t like me for some reason. I’d rather pay $20 for a bed then work long shifts, and not have anyone on the staff appreciate my help. My hostel career might be over.
Bilbao, Spain – The Silicon Valley of Food

Bilbao, Spain – The Silicon Valley of Food

One of my favorite things to spend money on while traveling is food! At the end of July I was in Madrid and had a great culinary journey. I love trying new foods, so Madrid was perfect with tapas all over. Later in the summer I met a Spanish guy in Croatia who told me I should visit Bilbao since it is one of the food capitals of the world. His family owns three restaurants in the area. As I said, if you invite me I will come. So of course I booked another flight to Spain!

Bilbao is a part of the Basque Country, which prides itself on their cuisine, which includes meats and fish, and pintxos (finger bar-food). The Basque Country attracts tourists due to their food.

 

On my first night my friend fixed a gourmet meal from his family’s restaurant, which consisted of octopus and sardines (on left), Serrano ham (middle), and blank ink squid (right). Needless to say, this was a perfect way to spend my first night in a new city.

 

The next day while my friend was at work I went on a mission to find barnacles, since they are unique to the region and a delicacy. Now I did not know exactly what barnacles looked like, but I knew they were expensive. I walked into Mercado de la Ribera and realized I needed some fuel for my barnacle search, so I stopped at the first merchant and ordered a glass of wine and 2 pintxos for less than 5 Euros. I had no idea what I was eating, and the server didn’t speak English, but I was heaven with each bite.

 

I walked to a different merchant and I think I found the barnacles! I ordered a handful and once I saw the price of 16 euros, I knew this was what I was looking for. Ten minutes later the server came out with my filter-feeding crustaceans. I stared at my plate for about 5 minutes because I had no idea how I was supposed to eat these. After I gained confidence, I just started biting and sucking with the salt and sea flavors taking over my taste buds. The barnacles had the similar texture as oysters. There was very little meat in each barnacle, but it was fun to try and yummy. I devoured them!

 

On my third day in Bilbao we drove to a beach town outside the city to get fresh fish. No words needed, this was absolutely delicious.

 

On my last day in Bilbao I already had amazing seafood and pinxtos, but my friend saved the best for last.We went to a restaurant that overlooked the entire city and ate barbeque. For 25 euros I had some of the best steak I’ve ever tasted, potatoes, pigs blood with rice (no one told me it was blood), salad, and bread. Talk about great value!

 

Bilbao was a perfect trip where I was spoiled with food. Here are some non-related food pictures the capture my whole experience in this beautiful city.

Corrida – Witnessing a Spanish Bullfight

Corrida – Witnessing a Spanish Bullfight

 

I haven’t updated my blog in awhile, since I was sailing on a boat for the past month! Now that I’m back to a more civilized life I will be updating more often. First topic to restart the blog is the Corrida!

During San Fermin I did not end up attending the Bull Fight that happens in the evening. I had mixed emotions about whether or not I wanted to attend. On one hand watching a bullfight would be a very unique experience and I wanted to see that part of Spanish culture. On the other hand, do I really want to be an eyewitness to a bull dying? Once I got to Madrid I decided I should complete my whole San Fermin experience (even if I’m no longer in Pamplona) and observe a Corrida.

At Plaza de Toros stadium to watch the bullfight

What is a Corrida?

On a Sunday afternoon in Madrid, Spaniards and some tourists gather in a big arena to watch a bullfight. Corrida de toro literally means “running of the bulls”, and refers to the Spanish-Style bullfighting. The four main contenders are:

  • The Matador – the bullfighter who uses his cape to test and control the bull, and then eventually kills the bull. The matador is able to show his dominance by using his cape. A good matador will kill a bull in one try with his sword. If a matador stabs the bull more than once, the crowd starts hissing and booing.
  • Two Picadores – Men on horseback who stab the bull in the neck in the beginning of the fight to weaken it. The bulls often ram into the horses very hard, yet the horses never seemed phased…must have diesel armor! (In the past horses did not have armor, and more horses died than bulls during the fight).
  • Three Banderilleros or Toreros – each banderillero plants a sharp, colorful, barbed stick into the bull’s shoulder, which both weakens and angers the bull.
  • The Bull – usually between 4 and 6 years old and weighs no less than 1000 pounds.

My Perception of Watching a Bullfight 

Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.” – Ernest Hemingway in his non-fiction book Death in the Afternoon

Surprisingly, I am happy I attended the Corrida. Although I witnessed an animal die, it was not as gruesome as I expected. I definitely felt bad for the bull and was rooting for the bull most of the time. During the first fight the matador actually got hit pretty badly. The matador took a two-minute break, but then came back and finished his job. I was amazed by the courage of the matador and know if that was me I would be running out of that arena pronto.

There is a beauty in watching the bullfight to see how all the participants interact. Style, technique, and courage are all displayed. The bullfight isn’t merely a sport, but more an exhibition. There is bravery and strength in both the matador, who has no helmet and mask, and the bull. These men are risking their lives for the glory and tradition. One of my main concerns was what happens after the bull dies?  After doing some research the meat is used to eat.  Recently bullfighting meat has gained popularity amongst a new generation of Spaniards, who think the meat is of higher quality since the bulls have a better lifestyle. Although the corrida is controversial, I can understand why it is a part of Spanish culture. (more…)

Summary of San Fermin Experience

Summary of San Fermin Experience

Hello All!

I have been without wifi for a week, but now I have time to make a second post about the San Fermin festival.

Should I run?

The main highlight of San Fermin is actually running 800 meters with 6 ginormous bulls. Before doing any research, I assumed I would just join the crowd and run with the bulls since that is name of the festival! My thoughts quickly changed after I read stats on the number of injured people each year. There is even a section of the run called “Dead Man’s Corner”…..yea, no thank you, I will not run. Instead, I opted to watch the bull run in the arena. After a crazy opening day, I took a 5 am bus the next morning from the campsite back into Pamplona. Once I got into the city, I realized all the hardcore people partied all night. Looking around the streets I have never witnessed a bigger mess in my life. It was clear that a huge party went on with broken glass, all sorts of trash, and masses of people in purple-stained white clothes and red scarves passed out on sidewalks.  The air had an aroma of beer, piss, and sangria – so pleasant. A part of me wish I stayed the whole night in the city to witness the craziness.

By the time we got to the arena it was around 6 am, and we waited until 8 am to watch the run! I was squeamish just watching the bull run, I couldn’t imagine participating. This one poor fellow, got trampled twice. When I talked to individuals who ran, they were positive that the guy died since he had no life in his eyes and filled the streets with blood. Luckily, after the official stats came in, we learned that the guy was still alive. The second part to running with the bulls is running around the arena with a bull or two. Watching people in the arena was quite entertaining, as people got lifted up in the air and slammed to the ground by the bulls. In a way I was rooting for the bulls, since they must’ve been so frightened with all these people taunting them. After an hour of watching, it was time to go back to the camp site and take a siesta. What a fun 24 hours!

Below is a summary of some of the highlights:

1) Craziest Thing I Saw – A guy held a plastic cup with a slit on the side. He poked out the tip of his penis on the top of his pants and started peeing in the cup, which made it look like he was holding beer. As pee entered the cup it would leak out of the slit and into the street. Mind you – this was broad daylight in the middle of the day, surrounded by everyone (including toddlers) in the city center when there was a bathroom with no line right next to him! (Bathroom pictured below)

2) Grossest Mistake – Sticking my hand in dog poop (beats not showering for 4 days)

3) Best decision – Took a day trip to San Sebastian to get away from the craziness. San Sebastian is only an hour away, and I highly suggest visiting for a day during San Fermin to relax on the beach and enjoy some pintxos.

4) Funniest moment – On our campsite there was an Australina guy who was consistely drunk. He would individually drink 2 to 3 bottles of vodka per day. When the campsite was getting mopped, he insisted that they mopped him so he could get clean.

 

Guide to San Fermin Festival – Opening Day

Guide to San Fermin Festival – Opening Day

I survived Running of the Bulls. Okay, maybe I didn’t actually run with the bulls, but being a part of San Fermin requires stamina, so I’d still like to say I survived the 4 days I was there. I highly recommend everyone to attend Opening Day of San Fermin, since it is a big celebration for all ages (although I’m not too sure if it is appropriate for toddlers, but they were there!)

History

The San Fermin festival occurs every year from July 6 – July 14 in Pamplona, Spain to honor San Fermin, a patron saint of Narvarna. Earnest Hemingway wrote a detailed account of the festival in his novel The Sun Also Rises, which popularized the event and attracted people from all over the world. Nowadways, the focus is less on the saint San Fermin, and more about a fun atmosphere of dancing, bull riding, and sangria.

Part 1 – Opening Day Highlights

The Opening Day of San Fermin tops my list as one of the best parties.  San Fermin doesn’t officially start until noon on July 6. The streets are already packed by 10 am with endless amounts of tourists, locals, and sangria. Below is a picture of me and some Kiwi friends before we headed into the center. We did not know what we were about to get into.

 

Dressed in all white. You can tell the festival has not officially begun since our red scarfs are on our wrists instead of around our necks.

 

Once we entered the center square around 10 am, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of all the excitement and energy…

…half full sangria bottles are being thrown in the air. If a person in a balcony catches the sangria bottle then they chug it and throw the empty bottle back at the crowd.

….girls climb on their friend’s shoulders and immediately get doused in Sangria. (If boys get on shoulders they just get booed)

….people chanting in Spanish and English jumping all over the place.

I take a swig of my sangria and join in the action.

Friends getting squirted with Sangria

The festival still hasn’t officially started yet!

 

By 11 am I already finished my first bottle of sangria. I leave the center to grab another bottle and try to meet my friends again before the chupinazo (rocket) is launched at noon. When I came back to the center, this was the crowd I tried to manage my way through:

There was no way I was going to find my friends, so I just stopped where I was and decided to befriend the people around me. For 30 minutes we were all packed like sardines, but the energy outweighed the discomfort. Finally once the mayor came out, everyone held out their red scarves waiting for the rocket to launch so that they can put their scarves around their neck and acknowledge that San Fermin has officially begun!

I spent the rest of the day with the two Czech boys that I was forced to meet since we were stuck like sardines in the center. The rest of the day consisted of dancing in bars, giving little kids high fives, taking short siestas by trees, and of course lots of sangria! By 9 pm, I was ready to head back to my campsite so that I could wake up early to watch the bull run.

New Czech Friends

 

Bull run post to follow….

 

 

For professional photos of San Fermin, check out this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/07/running-of-the-bulls-2015-the-fiesta-de-san-fermin/398009/

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