vienna, austria

The only thing I knew about Austria, was that my mom had been there once before in 1983, and my dad had been there in 1981. Naturally they had tons of advice on where to go and what to see, all of which I assumed was no longer relevant. Sorry mom. Once in a while the universe deals you a good hand and about 3 weeks before taking off on this adventure, I agreed to house-sit for a co-worker. While touring their home I met two girls, about my age. We chatted over dinner while my co-worker explained where the dog food was and how to lock the garage, and it turned out they were visiting from Vienna, on a California coastal tour. What are the chances? Over the next few days we got to know each other, hit the town in San Francisco, and had some lunch on the water in Marin County and as I showed them around my hometown, they offered to show me around theirs.

Since we now had some friends to stay with and wanted to make the most of our time together, we stayed in Vienna for 6 nights, our longest leg of the trip in fact. We arrived on a Monday so naturally my friend Melanie was working but her roommate happened to be home to let us in and drop our bags after a grueling 7 hour bus ride. She also made us pasta for dinner! On our first full day we walked around town, stumbled upon some casual palaces, unaware of their names or history. We found a rose garden to eat our lunch in and wandered around what we later found out to be Museumplatz, a joining of a modern art museums, with a large courtyard equipped with ice cream and funky chairs, perfect for our afternoon nap.

Traveling with your personal trainer has it's advantages, none more than the guilt you feel for not hitting the gym in the morning. While walking through the main street near our apartment, we stumbled upon a gym and told them we had just moved there and wanted to test it out. Free two day pass, and we are the happiest humans! After about two hours of catch up workouts, we found a grocery store, bought some cheese and wine and a baguette the size of my whole leg and headed home for a relaxing movie night.

Day 4 and were ready for action! The girls were off work, and we have a full day of sight seeing ahead! We began the day with a metro ride to Naschmarkt, a.k.a heaven. With over 120 market stands and restaurants, it reminded me a bit of the farmers markets in Paris but even more delicious. Rows upon rows of merchants selling all my favorite things, from olives, to cheese, to ice cream. I even got a house-warming tapestry for my girlfriend Alicia, knowing I would see her in Madrid a few weeks later. After a delicious brunch all together, we walked to Schönbrunn Palace or Schloss Schönbrunn in German where we spent the majority of the day walking the grounds.  The palace is the former imperial summer residence, boasting a mere 1,441 rooms. Casual. Naturally, it's one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country. Sculpted gardens, named the Great Parterre, separate Schönbrunn Palace from the Gloriette, a large structure atop a 60-metre high hill, which Maria Theresa decided should be designed to glorify Habsburg power and the Just War. Today it houses a café and an observation deck, and panoramic views of the city.  We walked around the palace, took some prom-posed photos on the stairs and talked to all the horses. We even climbed the zig-zag path up the 60-metre hill, pass the zoo and tiergarden, and fountain, all the way to the Gloriette an took some selfies with the rest of the tourists. : ) On the back end of the grounds, are some secret pathways lined with forests to cut the heat, and gorgeous fountains. We could have stayed there forever. But alas, the nightclub awaits!

Before we headed home we made a quick pit-stop to see Vienna's treasured Wien Stephanplatz, and shared a light meal - more sausages! After a long day of sight-seeing we were ready to unwind with out friends. We had a small get-together and played some German drinking games, and sang American rap songs. Made memories of a life-time, and headed out to Ramba Zamba! If there is one thing that crosses language barriers and country lines, it's having some drinks and hitting the dance floor.
We woke up on Sabine's couch the next morning, quite mangled and far from home. We laughed about the fun times, told stories and recaps from the night before and with make-up streaming headed to what can only be considered a metro-of-shame, back to Melanie's apartment.

The next day we toured Mirabelle Palace, climbed on all the lion sculptures which I am almost certain you are not supposed to do. Walked through some incredible tunnels covering in trees and wines, Vienna really has this concept down. And listened to a street performer perform 'somewhere over the rainbow' on his saxophone. One of those moments that just speaks to your heart.

With our last day in town, we decided to make a bold move and decided to go out to Salzburg where Melanie was running in a 10K race. The best part of backpacking is freedom. The freedom to change the plan, the freedom to have no plan. So, we woke up in the morning and road-tripped out to Salzburg, caught the end of Mel's race and spent the day roaming around a nice city we hadn't planned on visiting. Fun fact, Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg, and they have a love lock bridge, and basil ice cream. These are a few of my favorite things.

munich, germany

Three short days in Munich with so much to see and even more to do. Run Fast!

We arrived midday, with a general idea of where we were staying and some screenshots of our map to get us there. The first lesson learned while backpacking and relying on wifi, is that you don't have any during your transit between cities, or when you arrive in a new city and need to get to wherever you're staying. Queue the genius idea to screenshot your itinerary, your train ticket, and the map to get you from the station to your home. A lesson we learned quickly and forgot even quicker, but somehow we always made it.

This time however, we weren't headed for a hostel. We were lucky enough to stay with friends of friends, Sven and Sophie! Yes, actually the most adorable german names ever. After a bit of confusion on when they would be home, which button rang their front door, a few hotel hops to steal wifi, and some extra schnitzel we finally made it up the five flights of stairs to our temporary Munich oasis. Free stay, you say!? A backpackers dream. But that pales in comparison to the absolute treat it was to stay with these wonderful people. With a home that looked like it came out of an ikea catalogue, friends that cook and eat together every night, and directions to where I can purchase a dirndl for Oktoberfest, I was one happy girl.

We went to bed early and prepped for a full weekend. Although we didn't have much time in Munich we wanted to make sure we did a little tour of the city on Saturday, since Sunday was reserved for Oktoberfest. So, Saturday morning we borrowed some bikes from the neighbors and Sven, Sophie, Brandon and I took off on a cycling adventure. What a wonderful way to see a city. After having walked our way through Berlin and Prague, bikes were so much more...efficient. Not to mention the fact that Munich basically gives the right of way to cyclists. I'm still confused as to where the people walk, since all the sidewalks are bike paths.

First stop, Olympiapark.  I must admit, Sven and Sophie knew so much about the history of their city, it made me question if I would be an equally awesome tour guide, if someone were to come stay with me in San Francisco. Nonetheless, I was thankful to have them and listened with open ears and a full heart, as we cycled our way through the city. Olympiapark was constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics. It's located in an area of Munich known as the "Oberwiesenfeld" or "upper meadow-field" which is essentially what we biked through to get to it. My favorite part about the German language is that they simply smush words together, and are not phased by how long they become. I imagine it would make learning the language a bit simpler, since you can basically dissect each word into smaller parts. To this day, Olympiapark serves as a venue for cultural and social events. We rode all the way to the top of the hill (mountain), where Sven pointed out his apartment, as well as the view of the Schwimmhalle, park, pond and communication tower.
WHY does every city in Europe have a large communication tower? It's awesome. They all look a little different, but they all serve the same purpose; helping Stephanie navigate where the heck she is.

After cycling up that giant hill, we all agreed on one thing, we deserved a beer. Next stop was to the English Garden, or Englischer Garten, Munich's largest park area. Google says 417 hectares is 1030 acres, but I'm not buying it. Regardless the English Garden is larger than Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York. We mazed through trees and rivers, over bridges and past tons of people seemingly headed somewhere exciting. They were right.
Welcome to Chinesischer Turm. Although I haven't been to all the biergartens in Munich, I'll go ahead and claim that this is the best one, because it was awesome. Named Chineseischer Turm for the Chinese Tower built by Elector Karl Theodor in 1790. Like most things it was destroyed in World War II, but was rebuilt a few years later. The Chinesischer Turm beer garden is the second largest beer garden in Munich, with about 7,500 seats. The food stalls offer traditional beer garden food such as Stecherlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Hendi (roasted chicken), Schweinshaxn (roasted pork knuckle, YUM!), Obatzda and Auszogne. Watching Sven and Sophie try to translate to Brandon and I was quite hilarious, but if there's one thing we're good at, it's eating.We stuck to the classics and were pleasantly surprised to find that the pretzels are actually the size of your head. The beer is only €7 and you get to keep your mug! Well, I'm not sure if you're supposed to, but that's besides the point.

Post beer and lunch, Brandon and I continued to explore the city by bike, crossing rivers and bridges to unknown landmarks and finally ending in the center of town for some shopping, and a nap on a large plot of grass. Win.
  

Sunday came like Christmas. Oktoberfest had always been a bucket list item but I didn't think it would happen so quickly. Now, here I was, in Munich, at just the right time and with an traditional dirndl to wear. We began the day with a traditional Bavarian breakfast - boiled weisswurst sausages served with loads of sweet mustard, freshly baked pretzels and a refreshing Weissbier. It's not often that we get to have beer for breakfast, and I was all for it!
We rode our bikes down to the grounds and explored the fair a bit before landing in the most epic 'tent' I've ever seen. We sang, we drank, we ate, and we sang again.

German Lyrics to Ein Prosit
" Ein Prosit"

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit.

OANS! ZWOA! DREI! G'SUFFA!

As I sat in the tent with Sven and Sophie and my crumpled up piece of paper with the phonetic spelling of Ein Prosit in my hand, part of me didn't want to leave.

Ayn praw-seet, ayn praw-seet
Dare gay-moot-lich-kite
Ayn praw-seet, ayn praw-seet
Dare gay-moot-lich-kite!

Do we have to continue on, lets just stay a few more days! I love this place! But alas, the journey must continue, there's still so much adventuring to be done.

prague, czech republic

Train $49.50, metro to hostel $1.10, foot massage from your bestie, PRICELESS. Have I already mentioned how much I loved the trains? Such a wonderful way to cross countries, every time you look out the window the scenery has changed. Not to mention, trying to decipher the language the family in your cabin is speaking, always makes for a fun game.

I can say with complete certainty that Prague was my favorite city on this entire tour of Europe for two reasons; beer and architecture. We took a train from Berlin to Prague for about $50 and the metro to our hostel, Rosemary Hostel was only about $1.

Although I planned my first few cities before leaving home, after the first couple weeks we simply used the Hostel World app. It gave us a great idea of what was available, day of, how much it would cost, and we could read actual reviews from other travelers who had just stayed there. This becomes very important when you're on your way to your next destination and the person who posted yesterday says, "BED BUGS! DON'T STAY HERE!"
For the most part, we were very lucky with our choices. For instance, Rosemary Hostel was directly across the street from the metro station at which we arrived, and just a couple blocks from Old Town Prague. We were also super lucky to stay in the rooftop room with a kitchen, small patio and large skylights which let in so much natural light in the morning, and allowed us to hear the rain on the rooftop at night.All of our fellow hostel-mates were very nice and we ended up going out with them to the Cross Club one night, which is definitely a must see. Five stories of black lights, nuts bolts and gears, and bar seats made from what I can only assume were old chair lifts.

Our first day in town we explored, got a feel for where all the landmarks were, and how to get from our hostel to the center of Old Town Prague. Every hour, hundreds of tourists (us included) gather around the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square, camera's at the ready. The clock mechanism is composed of three components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the sun and moon in the sky; "The Walk of the Apostles", an hourly show of figures of the Apostles; and a calendar with medallions representing the months. I have a small obsession with the moon and stars so this was one of my favorite stops everyday, mostly because of it's detail and everyone's fascination every hour, on the hour. It definitely had nothing to do with the fact that all the gelato carts were right out front.

On our second day, just as in Berlin, we opted for a free walking tour and were completely overwhelmed with the beauty in Old Town. Prague is one of the only cities that was not affected by the happenings of WWII, so although most the Eastern European countries we visited were covered in bullet holes and war stories, Prague is perfectly intact. The tall and skinny buildings in the center square of Old Town reminded me a bit of San Francisco.What blew my mind is that these buildings are so clean, well maintained, and hundreds of years old. The entire city of San Francisco is barely 200 years old and looks much more run down. Some of the buildings are on a less than solid foundation and seem to tilt forward a bit, which gave them a bit of character. We walked through side streets, stopped for coffee and a croissant with our tour group, saw some of the old schools where art had been hidden during the war. Then we happened upon a small synagogue, just before we reached one of Prague's most expensive and bustling shopping streets. Our guide explained that this synagogue has been holding their Saturday service, every single week, since 1280. Talk about creatures of habit. Nothing helps calm my fear of growing old like a synagogue making my mere 25 years on this earth seem irrelevant.

Day 3, it was quite rainy and our feet were tired so, per a college friend (who had studied abroad there)'s recommendation, we went to Pivocarský Klub. I am a self proclaimed 'beer girl' but even I was overwhelmed by the over 240 different beers they had in this gem. There are 6 beers on tap, so naturally I started from the top and tasted them all. They offer traditional homey Czech cuisine and various kinds of meat. The way to a girls heart is through a good charcuterie board, trust me on this one.

Day 4, we conquered Prague Castle. Every day we would walk the same small alleyways to the long strip of stores which led us into Old Town Prague and then to Charles Bridge and from there we would explore a little bit further. With no real idea of where the castle was, besides the other side of the river, we simply headed over the Charles Bridge and towards the highest peak. We were in for quite the hike through the old city and cobblestone roads, but man was the view worth it. A million stairs later we finally made it to the top and entered Prague Castle. The pathway around the castle showcases beautiful gardens and viewpoints of the entire city of Prague. You can also stop into St. Vitus Cathedral, (for free- important when you're traveling on a budget) and see some of the most incredible stained glass walls.

It's funny, when you're backpacking you only spend about 3-4 days in a city, but sometimes that's enough time to make it home. The first day you arrive, everything is new and exciting. You can't find anything and every corner turned seems like you've become eternally lost and you'll never find your way back. Day 2 things get more familiar and by the 3rd or 4th day, you feel like you've been their your whole life. Giving others directions and recommendations becomes second nature. Then, you're off the next; to do it all over again.

Sbohem Praha, I'll be back.

the challenge

I was faced with a challenge...

"My wise friends, to what do you pin your self worth?"
He questioned us, casually, amidst some dog videos and buzzfeed articles about 'why betches love fall'.
My self-worth? Do I pin it to something specific? Is there something that defines me? Is it a number, a feeling, a trait? First, let's define it.

[self-wurth] noun
1. the sense of one's own value or worth as a person; self-esteem; self-respect.
Next let's see what people had to say for themselves:

  • Resilience and strength of character
  • Capacity for love
  • God
  • Ability to stand by my word
  • Good teeth
  • $$$$ in the bank
  • Inner light & peace
  • My Pinterest board

Ok, so naturally some took the question to heart a little more than others. I have to recognize that while reading the question and before putting an ounce of thought into it, I pictured my dad. So, one thing I know about myself is that my family is very much a part of what makes me who I am. And that some of what I consider my best traits, stem from the lessons they've taught me.

I pin my self worth to my judgement of character. There's a feeling I get deep in my soul that tells me 'this person, this new life in front of you, they're your people.' Consequently there are others who upon meeting, I get a funky vibe from and tend to stray from unless our paths cross in a different light and the relationship changes. I pride myself on knowing someone, from the stories they share and the moments they cherish. I pride myself on my crafts, and the time I take out of my day to create things for people- to share a piece of myself with them in a way that shows them that I care.

I pride myself on my cooking, and my inability to make just enough for one person. But mainly on an open-door, show up and get fed, mentality that my mother shared with everyone she ever met.

I pride myself on my heart. And my willingness to share it with others. There's no question that in life we will open our hearts to people that don't deserve it; people that got lucky and caught us in a vulnerable moment, but ultimately will take us for granted and prove they don't deserve us. And we will learn. But to have the ability to grow, move forward and not close your heart off to new opportunity, I pride myself on that. Love wide open. Jump in with two feet. Experience life.

To what do I pin my self-worth? An unrivaled confidence built solely on a believe that I wake up every day working towards being the best version of myself. Someone my dad would be proud to call his daughter, and my peers would be proud to call their friend.