It’s been a little over 6 months since I moved across the pond. I had a blast being unemployed for most of that time, as you can probably tell from all my previous travel posts 🙂 But now I’m settling back into being a real adult.
Did I do anything other than travel during my time off?
I took an intensive French class. I’m still terrible at French. As a native English speaker, there is not enough incentive to learn French, German, or Luxembourgish because most people in the city speak English as a second (or third or fourth or fifth!) language. Even if I attempt to speak French, I either leave the conversation not quite understanding everything that was said, or I end up slipping back into English. Thankfully, everyone is usually quite friendly, and they accommodate my lacking language skills. Here, English is the lingua franca where 47% of residents in the country and 70% of residents in the capital city are foreign nationals coming from 170 different countries.
I learned how to drive stick. In Europe, most people drive stick. If you want to rent a car, it’s at least twice as expensive to rent an automatic car than a manual car. And that’s if they even have an automatic available. I know like 4 people total in the US who own a manual car. Poor N had been responsible for driving both of us everywhere we went, until I rented a car for a week and asked him to teach me. That wasn’t fun either. I might have cried after stalling in the middle of an intersection and getting honked at by a bus driver… Aaanyway, it took me a good few days to get the hang of it, but now I’m capable of driving stick on the left as well! I still stall here and there, but at least I don’t freak out anymore.
A very accomplished friend and former Dell colleague of mine, Ang, was spending 7 weeks traveling around Europe before starting business school at Harvard, and she let me tag along for a stint.
We stayed at the City Backpackers Hostel near to the central train station. It was a great space where we met a bunch of cool people, and the hostel offers a few different types of tours as well. The first night we were there, we went to the Ice Bar with some random people from the hostel. It was cold but a bit kitschy for me. Can’t say I need to do that again.
Day 1: We went to the Stockholm Public Library (I know, I guess have a thing for libraries). Then Ang and I rented a kayak from Rålis Kayak and even though I still do not know how to kayak properly, we paddled for 2 hours around the Kungsholmen island. The guys running Rålis Kayak were really chill and nice, but this was the only place we encountered the whole time in Stockholm where we couldn’t pay with our credit cards.
and Zurich too! Yea, it was a lot for one week. My main purpose for this trip was to visit family and check out some spots along the way. My favorite aunt and uncle (who is Austrian), were spending a few weeks in Austria, and I wanted to see them since I was so close. The last time I saw them was 9 years ago in Beijing, right after I graduated high school. My uncle currently works for the Austrian embassy in Lima, Peru. In the past, they have lived in Beijing, Vietnam, Slovenia, New York, and other places, with a home base in Vienna.
My aunt and uncle live in the 21st district of Vienna called Floridsdorf, in the northernmost part of the city limits. They are for sure an interesting pair! My uncle started learning Mandarin at university, and he went to Shanghai in the early 80s to continue studying Chinese. Back then, he was probably the only Western looking guy for miles around, much less one that could speak the language. He found a job at the Austrian embassy in Beijing, and then met my aunt shortly after. My mom (her sister) had moved to the US with my dad around that time. After marrying him, my aunt moved to Austria without knowing a lick of German, and now she and my uncle speak a combination of Mandarin and German with some English and Spanish thrown in for good measure. It’s quite confusing at times!
So this was my rough and rushed itinerary: Vienna > Bratislava > Vienna > Feldkirch > Liechtenstein > Feldkirch > Zurich > Luxembourg. Given how quick each stop was, I’ll just share pics with a few notes.
Vienna / Wien
I did a free walking tour and then ate schnitzel at the 3rd gen Figlmüller because the OG and 2nd gen locations were full or closed (respectively). Was delicious but slightly touristy.
I waited in line to have the Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel Cafe. Was very delicious, but very touristy and not worth the wait in the hot sun.
St Stephen’s Cathedral: lovely square, beautiful roof, crowded
St Peter’s Church: gilded and ornate interior, not as crowded as St Stephen’s
Austrian National Library: pretty interesting Free Mason exhibit, beautiful old globes, statues, and painted ceilings
Belvedere Palace and museum: looove Gustav Klimt, paid €15 for just the Upper Belvedere, then took a stroll around the palace grounds for free
Contrary to popular belief, or at least my belief, Malta is not full of Maltese dogs running around everywhere. I didn’t see a single one… 😦
Sand colored buildings, rocky cliffs, and blooming desert shrubs. Malta is part of the EU and is made up of three main inhabited islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. It used to be part of the British Empire, so people drive on the left and English is an official language (Maltese is the national language). N doesn’t like driving on the left, so I finally got to pull my weight with some of the driving.
Straight from the airport, we tried to go to the megalithic Ħaġar Qim Temples not too far from the airport. Unfortunately, we got there just before closing time, and they wouldn’t allow us in. We were still able to walk around the outside of the UNESCO site and check out the amazing blue ocean.
Day 1: After exploring Milan and Venice by myself, I met up with N in Florence for one night, then we flew to Catania in Sicily. We rented a car and stayed at this lovely little Airbnb with a family of kittens in the courtyard, and spent our first evening walking around the center.
We got dinner at Trattoria Vecchi Sapori, and at one point, a parade of horses came trotting down the street in front of us. Accompanied by music, each horse was dressed differently and trotted differently. Before I could figure out what was going on, it was over.
Day 2: Woke up to crying kittens and mama cat. The kittens had fallen from their perch into our patio. N saved the day and helped the kittens back into their nest.
Question, why are so many Italian city names anglicized? Milan (Milano), Venice (Venezia), Florence (Firenze), Rome (Roma), but other city names around the world have been de-anglicized. Beijing (Peking), Mumbai (Bombay), Sri Lanka (Ceylon). I know there are many examples of other anglicized names besides in Italy such as Munich (München), but why is it so prevalent in Italy?
The whole city of Venice and the surrounding lagoon is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so they are not allowed to construct any new buildings. Interiors are updated and maintained, but facades remain largely unchanged. The big beautiful doors of buildings that face the canals were actually the “front” doors back when everyone used boats to get around. The city was founded in the 5th century, and I kept thinking, who had the bright idea to build a city on a bunch of teeny tiny islands??
I have been quite lazy and have been putting off writing about my Italy trip. I’ve got plenty of excuses (adopted a cat, started French classes, interviewed for a job, etc.). But it also just seemed so daunting, so I’ll be breaking it up into bite sized pieces.
First impressions, it’s a big city with some very modern and beautiful areas and some slummy areas as well. The drivers are always in a rush, and can be quite rude (seems like this is kind of just an overall Italian thing).
I stayed in Ostello Bello Grande, and it is probably the best hostel I have stayed at to date. Honestly the only downside my entire stay there was that my dorm-mates the first night smelled like sweaty feet… but that’s a risk you take at any hostel. The staff is incredibly friendly and welcoming, the location is right next to the main train station (and a cat cafe), and they offer free breakfast and aperitivo!
Aperitivos are a sort of happy hour with free appetizers (read, delicious Italian food) offered by restaurants and bars throughout the city. If you want to go out, Deus Café, has an aperitivo with good cocktails. It’s crowded, even on a Tuesday, and seems to be a trendy place frequented by locals.