Image

Eurorail pass or not

This May, I am taking a long, European adventure. And it includes quite a few train rides. I looked up train travel using one of my favorite websites, RometoRio, and added up the costs of all the train rides. Yikes. Like 500 Euros for me and my husband. Then I thought, maybe that’s why people get the Eurorail pass!

In Europe, we are going to 4 countries over a two week period. We are visiting 6 different places. The Eurorail pass is purchased by number of countries you will visit and and number of days of train travel. Also, the countries have to share borders. You can’t do some train travel, fly to another country and then get on a train, or you will be charged a fee.

For example, you can buy a three country pass, choosing Germany, France, and Italy. After that, you have to choose how many days of travel you will have on your trip. You can choose 5 days or 6 days, meaning more than one stop in a country. But when I looked at the Eurorail pass, it was above 800 euros. So it was still cheaper to buy each ticket individually. 


This is second time I considered a Eurorail pass. But each time it costs more than buying individually. So when would you use a Eurorail pass? When you want the price to be set without being tied to a particular time. I bought my individual tickets at set times and paid attention to higher costs at certain times of the day. But if you don’t want to be tied to a time of day and travel outside of a set schedule, a Eurorail pass would be better. Additionally, the pass can be used on some ferries and some public transportation in addition to trains. In Italy the pass includes 4 ferry lines. 

Eurorail passes are only for non Europeans and are purchased ahead of your trip. Sometimes you can get discounts from travel professionals. 

But for me, I’m still too thrifty. I am buying all of my train tickets on my own and saving €300 for food.

http://www.eurail.com/

Image

Cheap Travel Meets Vienna

Our next stop was Vienna, another city along the Danube. Basically our trip was organized around capitals along the river and connected by train travel. Because we had such cheap flights, used airbandb stays and used points, our travel expenses stayed pretty low up to this point. 

But Vienna is a little more expensive. We did stay in a hotel, the Hilton, using points to cover most of the costs. Airbandb stays were too expensive in Vienna. It worked out best because by then, we were ready for comforts found in hotel rooms. Like lounging in the whirlpool. We used uber to get around the city, along with the U, Vienna’s metro. We did a sparkling wine tour with tasting that was in line with our budget, €9 a person. But most things cost us more on this leg.

We splurged for a very touristy concert at the Schönnbrun palace, a palace where 6 year old Mozart once performed. And we are some more. 

One thing we noticed in Vienna was how much it appeared that everyone was in a hurry. There seemed to be an expectation everywhere we went to know what we want immediately. Waiters would hurry over and ask, “Yes?” Even in rooms half empty, they seemed to be in a hurry. In the hotel bar, the waitress apologized for not helping us right away, and we had just gotten there. 

I like how in Europe, no one brings your check until you ask for it. But feeling rushed to order did end with some disappointing choices. I had to consciously focus on not feeling rushed so I could order what I wanted. I often think I am more like Germans and that timeliness is important to me, but on this trip I realized the Austrians have me beat! 

I honestly feel like I didn’t get to see enough of Vienna. My favorite moments included lounging at the hotel spa, ordering würst from a stand using my German, and talking to an Uber driver who moved to Vienna from Romania. Which is exactly like me, I like meeting people and I like quiet time. 

Image

Eating all the bread

Our trip to Europe landed us in Belgrade, which caused most people to ask, why would you go to Belgrade? Our answer was $149 round trip tickets to Europe. But since Belgrade wasn’t our dream destination, we made plans to take the train to Budapest and Vienna. For the last two days, we’ve been in Budapest. And we have eaten so much. But we have also walked 5-7 miles a day, so I am pretty sure it evens out.


And Budapest? We love it. The place we are staying is in the Buda side of the Danube, right off the famous Andrassy street. It wasn’t too hard to walk to the Schezeny baths and St Stephen’s Basilica, or most big tourist sites. We stayed at an Air BnB on the first floor (American 3rd floor, because the the second floor is the 0.5 floor). The elevator only fit two people and our suitcases, but most of the time we took the stairs. All of the buildings in the inner city look like Parisian style buildings built in the 18th century. Food was cheaper in Budapest than LA, but not as cheap as Belgrade. In Belgrade, We only spent $40 each the 48 hours we were there. That includes our taxi rides from the airport and to the train station and all of our food. 

We ate all the pastries in Budapest. Croissants with schokolade and pastries with blueberry. I even bought a donut. But they were different from what we expected. The donut, was not a cake donut and was not fried. It looked like a donut but was less sweet and more bready. Croissants were made with pastry dough, so they were flakier. 

Next stop Vienna.

Image

No Sleep…Since Brooklyn

Jet lag is hitting me hard onthis trip. I am siting in the bathroom right now at four am, so I don’t wake up my friend with the light from my screen. I’ve been awake since midnight. Since we have arrived in Europe, I have basically slept 4 hours at a time at the most. In the last 60 hours I have had 14 hours of broken sleep. Three hours when we arrived, 4 more that night, 3 the next day…you get it. It’s rough. I am worried it’s going to get me sick.

Other than the sleep, we’ve been exploring the Serbian (former Yugoslavia) capital city of Belgrade. Our neighborhood is very communist block in style, in zone 3. But we did venture out to see the more Bohemian and hipster part in zone 1. One surprise we have found is that more people speak English than we had thought. When we researched our trip, a lot people said English wasn’t spoken by many people. But so far, it hasn’t been a huge problem.


Image

The Longest 3 Weeks

I need a vacation.

Didn’t that just seem like the longest 3 weeks of any presidency? 

So my best friend and I are headed to Europe. So far, our 8 day adventure is costing us less than $700 each. The ways we saved money on our trip include and error fare from NYC to Europe for $149, points for cheap or no cost hotels, and Airbnb stays. 

We have a night in NYC before heading of to a part of Europe I have never been. When looking up travel guides that include Serbia, there seems to be some debate whether it should be called Eastern Europe or Central Europe. Lonely planet says its eastern.

We are going to experience a few different things on our adventures.

  • Plane and train travel 
  • 3 different currencies
  • Traveling to a place where less English is spoken
  • Food, food, food
  • Thermal baths
  • Cold, February temperatures

See you when I get back! Until then, enjoy the view from my parking spot!

Image

Reinvention

When your kids become adults, do you change?

This new year has definitely been a redefining process for me and my identity. It’s not that my kids got older and I changed completely. Our lives are multifaceted and dynamic, so the changes were there happening slowly. But this was definitely a milestone that causes a person to reflect and reevaluate. I spent a lot of time this last year wondering what I was going to be doing and who I am. And that reflection, combined with a change in life circumstances as well as a change in world circumstances has catapulted me into a new place. 

Case in point:

Lisa the activist went to DC. 


The issues I care about have become increasingly more important and my desire to act has also grown. I have also found myself respectful to others and their beliefs, but less afraid to speak about mine. I am who I am. My faith, my experiences, and my education have brought me to this.    So what am I rambling about? I finally feel my constant reflection and wondering what’s next is actually morphing into something.

Image

Done, I Swear.

You know how Facebook shows you your memories, and you get to see what things you posted 1,2,3, 4, even 5 years ago? Well it turns out most of my Facebook posts are about school. For like the entire time I’ve been on Facebook. Which is like 8 years. Because since I have been on Facebook, I have studied and earned 3 degrees. Yep. 2 Bachleors and now my Masters. And lately I keep seeing all of these posts from years past about school (which I mostly loved) and how much work I was doing. It made me realize a few things. 

First, I’m pretty impressive. 3 degrees? And a full time job 6 of those 8 years (part time for 2)? And kids? Wow. I can sure accomplish stuff.

Second, man am I tired of school. No, I swear. I LOVE school and learning, but man am I over studying. I want to do other stuff. Like bake. Or cook. Or exercise. Or read for fun. 

And last of all, I am still trying to figure out what’s next. My youngest just finished her first quarter of college (yay!). And I am working on my résumé. And I have two Europe trips planned. But other than that? It’s not entirely planned out, which is usually pretty stressful for me, but I am mostly relaxed about it. People at work keep asking me what I am doing next, what do I want to do next, and I have no solid answer. Classmates have asked me if I will do a Ph D. I don’t know. I am covering someone on maternity leave for the next 4 months. That’s the extent of my plans. Maybe we all need a little uncertainty once in a while. 

Image

Overchoice 

I just left my kid at her college two days ago. In a dorm with two nice girls from the bay area. I mean they seem nice. But the dorm hallway wall also had an informative graphic about how much alcohol a red solo cup holds. This is the time of letting them make their own choices with your fingers crossed.

These days, when kids are applying for college, they are frequently applying for 6 or 7 schools. Everyone seems frantic to get in to a school, and  they seem to think this means apply for as many as possible. But then they have to choose one. Which is very hard. And that is why my youngest was able to get in off of the wait list and get into the school she wanted. Because someone decided not to choose that school. And despite being accepted into several other schools, she really only wanted to choose from two in the end.

Isn’t that what we all really like sometimes?

Too many choices ain’t all its cracked up to be. I mean, a five page restaurant menu isn’t always better than one page. I don’t want a wine book, just a wine list. I don’t want 21 flavors actually, I want like 5. Otherwise, sometimes I just can’t decide what to do next. This happens to my husband and I a lot. We are like those two vultures from The Jungle Book. What do you want to eat for dinner? I dunno, what do you want? We could get sushi? No I don’t feel like it. How about Thai food? No. Pizza? Oh no, I’m sick of pizza.

Too many people running for a political office, and you end up with Arnold as the Govenator or Trump, right?

jungle-book-vultures

I can’t take the overchoice. And I am not the only one:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overchoice

Lately, as I plan whatever it is I am going to next with My Life, I have a million ideas. Twenty different paths. I just watched a documentary on people who work in Antarctica. Did you know that was a choice? Now you do. Along with volunteering for an NGO, Peace Corp, Travel Nursing, Teaching in Asia….You can do anything, but instead you just scroll through pinterest thinking about what you could be doing.

I mean, it’s not all that I do, but yeah.

In order to force myself to do something, I bought some plane tickets. In 2107, I have two trips to Europe scheduled. One is 7 days and the other is an entire month. I got them cheap, basically two trips with airfare costing me about $1100 for both. I figured there is no time like now. Before I get settled on a job, or a path, or something. And now I am locked in. Can’t back out now.

Trip # 1

Belgrade, Budapest, and Vienna in the Winter

Trip #2

Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland in May

If you are thinking I am just procrastinating, then you are correct. I finish school in December. I am going to Europe twice. Then I’ll figure it out. Right?

 

Vacationing Off The Grid-the internet one

Months ago I made a spontaneous purchase from Air New Zealand and presented it as a gift to my husband for Christmas. A trip to Raratonga. He looked excited but also followed it up with, “Where is that?”


Where is it? The South Pacific. Remote Oceania. You know Fiji, Somoa, & American Samoa? Their neighbor to the south is the Cook Islands, and its main island, Rarotonga. Now independent from New Zealand, they still use New Zealand currency and are a popular vacation spot for Kiwis and Australians. 


For us, it’s a ten hour flight from LA and I was really looking forward to being away from everything. I decided to even take a social media vacation along with my vacation. Turns out I didn’t need a planned social media break, because internet on Raratonga is priced by the MB. So we saved our purchased MB for messages to our kids, no photos, those average about 2.5 MB. Have you ever thought about your every day data use? So many MB.

So what did we do? Sleep. We stayed at an eco retreat with only 6 individual above ground tents or structures. It was tucked away from the main road and the main tourist attractions. The only sound we often heard were birds, roosters, and the rain. The first night we slept from 8:30 pm until 6:30. It’s winter in Raratonga, so the nights are longer than at home. We also took naps whenever we felt like it.

I finished 3 books on the island. It would have been four, but it turned out that one book I bought was missing 32 pages in the middle. I borrowed a book from the small library at our retreat. We didn’t have a radio or a t.v. So books were the extent of my media consumption. The island has two radio stations and we occasionally heard them when in a taxi. We were oblivious to news. If we had really wanted too, we could have looked for it, but we needed a respite.


We also walked and hiked and rode the bus around the island. There is a bus that runs clockwise around the island every hour and one that runs counterclockwise every hour. So if you miss it, it’s a long wait. The bus costs 5 NZ  unless you buy the 10 ride punch card for 30 NZ. If you’re lucky, you will get on the bus with the driver who wears a microphone and sings the whole way.


We did a hike across the island that many people said was a good hike. It was a good hike, but it was also a strenuous and challenging hike. Steep, slippery slopes, across rocks and streams, through narrow passages where you had to climb over and under tree trunks, and down steep ridges with ropes. It took about 4 hours to do it, but we came out of the other side caked with mud, sweaty, but pretty satisfied with ourselves. The view from the top of the hike, by the Needle, was worth it. 

We attended the Highland Paradise show. It’s one of the main shows on the island, the reports have some too. Josie, at our retreat, recommended it to us and said it was culturally authentic. It started with a presentation of the history and culture of Raratonga and then moved forward showing the changes over the years through music and dance. We had a dinner and answered the most popular question from anyone who wasn’t American, So why is Donald Trump popular? I still don’t have an answer for that question. Sometimes they talked so fast, we couldn’t understand their New Zealand accents!

Most of the time I was lazy. And it was great. But along with the hike, we did kayak and ride bikes. So I guess we weren’t completely lazy. Everything was green and lush. Everywhere you looked was green with banana trees, coconut trees, and Pawpaw trees. People were friendly and will offer you assistance if you are walking along the road away from popular tourist areas. 

Rarotonga details:

Flight 

Air New Zealand: the island subsidizes air New Zealand flights from the US because they are actively trying to grow tourism. Which means we got a good deal. 

Stay

Ikurangi Resort

https://www.ikurangi.com/

In the Matavera area, off from the main tourist areas. They focus on sustainable tourism including Eco friendly soaps and toilet paper in the bathroom, and above ground structures to limit the impact of the environment.

Currency

New Zealand dollars, we usually got 1.35-1.40 for each US dollar.

Good to know

Renting a car or scooter is popular on the island. You do need a drivers license for the island, which is like 20 NZ and can be done quickly. Some scooter places were just 13 NZ a day. 

Water should be filtered at your resort or bottled, ask about it.

The island is protected by a barrier that creates the calm lagoon. Muri Lagoon is very popular for water activities, but the best snorkeling is in Fruits of Raratonga. Protecting the beauty of the Cook Islands is important for tourists to consider, so don’t step on coral, it is alive. Wear reef shoes and avoid getting close to breaks in the barrier, where the ocean current can pull you out.

What’s Good Royal Caribbean?

Ok, so the last post was a list of complaining about my cruise and why it’s just not my cup of tea. So what was good on my cruise?

1. Tapas in the “park”

The cruise ship had a park. With real trees and plants (ok they were small trees). I usually visited it in the morning for coffee while I let my cabin mate sleep in. But one evening, I went to the Tapas restaurant (that costs extra mind you) and had gazpacho and Rosé while listening to jazz. Great way to unwind. 


2. Hiking in Loterie farm and preserve

So hard, but this was my highlight. I can’t believe I made it through the “not strenuous” part of the hike. It was uphill and downhill, included climbing up rocks and using ropes to pull myself uphill. I was drenched in sweat at the end. This hike requires water (had it), snacks (that too), mosquito repellent (check) and better shoes than I wore. But it made my strawberry sorbet at the treehouse lounge so much sweeter of a reward.



3. Balcony views: Always stunning.


4. Random Dunkin Donut experiences

In the Bahamas, I stopped at a random Dunkin donuts for coffee and a chance to consult the pictures of maps I took (no data). I found the local coffee shop retired group arguing about politics just like everywhere else I have lived. It must be some kind of rule that a group of older men can be found drinking coffee and arguing about things.

5. The Vitality Cafe

On days I worked out, I finished each work out with freshly juiced ginger, celery, cucumber, and apple. It made me feel like I wasn’t  just stuffing my face with bad food.


6. Entertainment: Mama Mia & Comedy 

The cruise ship had a variety of entertainment, but the two that I enjoyed were Mama Mia, which I hated as a movie (Pierce Brosnan should not sing) but enjoyed in this production. I also laughed a lot at the comedy show. It might have been the comedian making fun of the cruise experience that I completely related to, but it was funny!


7. Swimming in the Caribbean Sea

I did swim. And walked along the beach. And watched sailboats and people snorkel. And read a book. And relaxed.


8. Navigating islands alone without google maps

Most of the time data was inaccessible on the different islands. Even if T-Mobile said I  had 2G data, it was pretty nonexistent. So in order to get around the islands I took photos of maps, asked my husband to text me google map images (because texting worked) and relied on the kindness of strangers. On St. Maarten, a taxi ride to Loterie farm was quoted at $30 one way. Which was crazy to me, but I was standing in front of the place where all of the cruise ship passengers disembark, so I walked on until I spotted a van with sign in the window for Marigot. I didn’t know what it meant but I saw a passenger get on, so I hopped on too. $2 to the French side of the island and $11 taxi to the farm. Much better price and I rode with locals around the island. 

On St. Thomas, we rode the safari like van to Sapphire beach. On all of the islands, we realized driving was an adventure. Stop signs? Who needs those when your driver has a horn?

In the Bahamas, our stay was too short for long exploration, so I walked around churches and neighborhoods.