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a southern yankee abroad

Month

August 2016

Coming Home

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Coming home has by far been the most difficult part of my trip. I arrived back in NYC at 2am Saturday morning–my first time back in the city since April. My mom had decided to come to New York from Alabama to meet me on my return, and she treated me to 2 nights at the Waldorf Astoria. This was a great entrance back into the USA, to say the least! I am so happy that my mom came to New York to welcome me back–I was an emotional mess by 2am once I finally arrived at the Waldorf, and a mother’s hug was just what I needed. As much as I truly love New York City, I wasn’t near ready to come back.

Over the last few days, the heat in the city has been sweltering and hotter than I recall any of my previous summers here being. It’s almost like nature is  serving as a metaphor of the literal pressure cooker I feel my life is in now. Even though I am back in my city, I am still without a set plan for an apartment, and the plans I had before I left to travel have fallen through (as the best-laid plans often do). As my friend Sarah framed it, I am now wanderlusting in my own city. I appreciate this romanticized and optimistic view of my situation! Law school orientation starts August 24, so the countdown is on to find the right place and move in before the grind of “1L” starts.

Even apart from my apartment/starting law school situation, coming home is just plain hard. A friend who has traveled long-term before warned me how difficult it would be. I really am not a very emotional person, but I cried the entire plane ride back. I now find myself randomly tearing up when I think  about memories from traveling as I wander through the city, running errands and worrying about finding an apartment before school starts in less than 2 weeks. It’s so good, but so hard, to be home–so familiar but also strangely isolating.

The only thing good about being back at this point is being with my friends. I truly have the best friends in NYC anyone can ask for. So many of them have offered to let me crash with them for as long as is needed until I find an apartment, and they are all so excited to hear about my travels and the people I met over the summer. After my mom left to go home Sunday, I moved over to “the penthouse,” where 4 of my closest girlfriends in the city live. It honestly felt like coming home, as this is the same apartment/group of friends I stayed with the nights before leaving for my travels in April, and it was so good to catch up! They (along with my other amazing friends in the city) are the reasons I love New York, and they are truly my family in this city. As much as I want to go back and relive certain moments from the summer, and want to be with a particular person across the Atlantic, I am so thankful to be with those friends who are here with me now in NYC–those who have supported me on this journey, and who continue to have my back.

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My friends have been so supportive from Day 0 to Day 100+ of this journey, and I am so grateful for them! 🙂 shout out to Erica for this little care package!

It’s also great to be able to talk to family whenever I want to now, without regard to time zone differences or lack of WiFi access. I’ve enjoyed some amazing catch-up conversations in the last few days with my cousin Valerie and my dad, who both remarked how great it was to be able to communicate more frequently again (which I definitely agreed with in both cases!). Even though I still live far away from family in NYC, I am still closer now than I have been the last few months, and it’s good to be back in touch.

So, life goes on. In the next few weeks I need to 1) find an apartment, 2) buy my books for law school, and 3) start law school. While I feel a sense of sadness, I remain so grateful I had this opportunity to travel for so long and to so many places. I am not sure when this sadness/period of readjustment will end, but I do know I have plenty to distract me and keep me busy over the coming weeks–living in NYC is all about staying busy, after all. 🙂

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A nice subway advert to remind me what it’s all about…!
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London Calling

Somehow, my trip has come to an end. Months ago as I planned the summer-long journey, I decided to make London my final stop before hopping back across the  Atlantic. I’ve found so many other parts of my planning-related aspects of my trip to be serendipitous, and my visit to London was no exception. As Nat lives just outside of London, I was so excited to spend a few more days with him after our adventures in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and France earlier in the summer. Nat was absolutely the perfect London guide, and the last few days have flown by. I only wish I had known to plan more time in London months ago when I was booking flights, but we made the most of my time there!

After a quick flight from Vienna to London, Nat picked me up Monday night and we made our way to the quaint town of Potter’s Bar, where we watched the Olympics and I reunited with my long lost bag! The next morning, we set out for London. Nat surprised me with tickets for the London Eye, as well as a room at the Citizen M Tower Bridge hotel for our nights in London with a flawless view of the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge!

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The view of the Tower of London
After checking in and enjoying our complimentary drinks, we made our way across the Tower Bridge, along the Thames, towards a quick stop for lunch and a beautiful ride on the
London Eye. I never would have done this by myself, so I am so glad Nat had this idea and surprised me with it!IMG_3511[1]

After the London Eye, we made some quick calls from an iconic London phone booth before exploring the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey areas.IMG_3535[1] IMG_3536[1]Later, we made our way to drinks at the Sky Garden bar, located at the top of The Shard (the “cheese grater” building) in London. This place houses a large indoor garden and has a beautiful view of London below.IMG_3552[1]

The next day, we visited the Tate Modern Art Museum where we enjoyed several well known pieces, like The Snail by Matisse, as well as a lot of random art.  IMG_3584[1]Then we made our way to the Globe theater, which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit! Even though today’s version is a modern replica, it was amazing  to learn more about how the theater played a role in the everyday lives of Londoners in Elizabethan times, and also how tough life was at that time.  Apparently people only bathed twice a year, so it seems like coming to the plays was a welcomed distraction from the roughness of reality. The “groundlings” were the people who would pay 1 pence to be able to stand on the floor, and I learned they were very much part of the plays (almost like a sporting event!)  It also stood out to me how Shakespeare was truly in touch with all levels of society–his plays regularly entertained and involved the “groundlings” and he  was also invited to court by Elizabeth I multiple times.IMG_3591[1]

After the Globe, I enjoyed my first experience at Cheeky Nando’s.IMG_3597[1]

Then, we made our way to Trafalgar Square (Nat is related to Lord Admiral Nelson at the top of the column, so we took a picture!) and then to the National Portrait Gallery. So many of the pictures’ captions included stories about scandals related to the portraits’ subjects, so it was quite entertaining to walk through!

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Showing some love for George Washington in the National Portrait Gallery. USA!!
Then, we walked past Buckingham Palace as well as the former residences of Ben Franklin, Heinrich Heine, and Herman Melville. IMG_3659[1]After relaxing a bit and watching Great Britain win gold and the USA win silver in men’s diving, we went to dinner at the French restaurant Clos Maggiore in the Covent Garden area. The small dining room had a glass roof and the room was filled with flowers. It was beautiful!!13995434_10157387957330595_5362559082951680775_o.jpg

The next day, we visited the Churchill War Rooms (thanks for the recommendation, Hillary!). This museum shows the preserved bunker for Churchill and his war cabinet during WWII and includes an extensive museum on Churchill and his life. Nat and I both enjoyed it a lot and left with an even deeper respect for Churchill and understanding of the complexity of his life and work.IMG_3673[1]

After an Asian lunch (throwback to earlier in the summer for us!) we went to the British Museum. We saw the Rosetta Stone, as well as several artifacts from ancient Egypt, Africa, and Native America. We also looked at their coin collections, as Nat collects coins!

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Afterwards, we made our way back to our hotel, where I had one of the main highlights of my London trip! My friend Amber, who I had traveled in Africa with back in December, met up with us for a drink. It was so amazing to not only see her and catch up, but to see her on the last night of my travels. It was very much a full circle moment for me. Amber, along with my friend D.J. from TFA, has been 1 of the 2 single-most influential friends when it came to planning and executing my round-the-world trip. I find Amber’s story, which involves losing a significant amount of weight and then traveling the world for 14 months, so powerful, and I’m thrilled to learn she is writing about it!! Stay tuned…I can’t wait for her story to further inspire others to travel!IMG_3723[1]

While (in my opinion) London is not as beautiful or as cheap as other European cities  I’ve visited this summer, I still found myself feeling at home during the last few days. On one hand, London reminds me a lot of New York. On the other hand, I was with Nat the entire time and felt very comfortable. I couldn’t help but feel sad at different intervals throughout the visit–as much as London reminded me of New York, it was a reminder that my travels were coming to an end so soon.

Yes, I know that the end of every adventure is the beginning of a new one, but I’m not ready for this one to end!IMG_3674[1]

Vienna Waits for You

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its amazing roof!
My last week of traveling has been among the best for so many different reasons. I spent the first part of the week in Vienna, before flying to London and spending 4 amazing days.

First stop–Vienna.

My visit to Vienna got off to a rough start. After arriving via a smooth 1 hour bus ride from Bratislava, I made my way to Seven Hostel, where I had a reservation for the next 3 nights. This place literally looked like where the horror film Seven could have been filmed–after one look, I instantly felt uncomfortable staying here. Not to mention, the receptionist refused to even let me in the building at 12pm. So, I took my bags and quickly found another hostel that was a bit pricier but definitely cleaner and safer than Seven Hostel.

Vienna started off a bit roughly, but being able to reconnect with an old friend made it one of my favorite stops of the summer! Lekisha and I interned together in the U.S. Senate in the summer of 2009, and grew up just down the highway from each other in Alabama. She is now living in Vienna as part of her second tour with the U.S. State Department (she’s changing the world…no big deal!). We met up for some sightseeing, an authentic Austrian dinner, and long-overdue catching up.13920169_10208178554754106_7585510553736956668_o.jpg Even though we had not seen each other in 7 years, we picked up right where we left off and had so much to discuss in terms of current events, career goals, and life in general. #AlabamatoAustria !! Lekisha generously offered to let me stay in the guest room of her (gorgeous) apartment for my last 2 nights in Vienna, so I grabbed my bags from my hostel and threw my deuces up to my last hostel of the entire trip!

In terms of sites to see, below is a list of my highlights of Vienna:

-Sigmund Freud house/museum/cafe. This was the first place I attempted to visit in Vienna. The queue was extremely long and slow-moving, so I settled on having a glass of wine and dessert at the cafe next door where Freud frequented. I recommend going early in the day if you would like to visit this museum!IMG_3194[1]

-Belvedere. The Belvedere is a former castle converted to a museum with open gardens. It has the largest collection of Gustav Klimt artwork in the world, which is why I had to go! I saw The Kiss, as well as other famous works of his such as Adam and Eve and Judith. I also enjoyed seeing a series of marble busts by Franz Messerschmidt which are known for their absurd expressions.IMG_3279[1].JPG

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-Haus Der Musik. Vienna is a city all about music. This was surprisingly one of the most enjoyable museums I’ve ever visited. The museum focuses on the science of sound, as well as Vienna’s significance in the history and contemporary performance of classical music. I liked how a separate room was dedicated to each great composer of the Viennese Classical school, including Mozart, Strauss, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert. The emphasis on science was particularly interesting too–one room recreated the sounds we all heard in our mothers’ wombs. It was fascinating! Another darkened room played Mozart and Beethoven scores as performed on synthesizers on a surround sound system. I definitely chilled in here for a while and relaxed.IMG_3280[1]

-The entire Vienna downtown. Vienna is absolutely beautiful and the entire downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site. St. Stephen’s cathedral is iconic with its chevron pattern, and the Hofburg (the Hapsburg imperial palace), National Library, Volksgarten, and Museum Quarter are nearby.

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Hofburg
-Schloss Schonbrunn. This palace is in the southwest corner of the city and is Austria’s version of Versailles in France and Sansoucci in Germany. Lekisha, her summer intern Maria, and I enjoyed walking in the gardens and taking “Sound of Music” pictures on the hills (haha).13913872_10208183684122337_8576659094238598319_o.jpg

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-Rauthaus and Vienna Film Festival. I happened to be in town during the Vienna Film Festival, which consists of regular showings during the summer on a giant screen attached to the Rauthaus, or city hall. Several food and drink booths line the lawn. Lekisha and I had stopped by for a drink earlier, and I went by myself for a screening (Cinderella by the Dutch National Ballet) my last night after Lekisha had left for Spain. It was a great atmosphere and the perfect way to enjoy a nice summer night in Vienna.IMG_3406[1]

-Naturhistorisches Museum. My last day in Vienna, I explored the Vienna Natural History Museum, which houses the largest collection of meteorites in the world (~8,000). I saw meteors from all over the world, including ones discovered in Alabama, Tennessee, Gerogia and Arkansas! I also saw a huge collection of beautiful minerals and dinosaur bones, including a “live” animated dinosaur. While I think New York’s museum has a better dinosaur collection (and the blue whale), I feel the Vienna museum is superior in every other way.

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The “Cabin Creek” meteorite from Arkansas is particularly well-known when it comes to meteorites…and it’s in Vienna!
To top off my amazing trip to Vienna, I received word from Nat on my last day that my backpack had been delivered to his house after 3 weeks of being completely missing and no word from Germanwings. I was so excited and relieved to know it was waiting on me in London! I still find it astounding that my bag made it from Hanoi to Qatar to Dallas to Lima and was the first bag off the belt in June, yet got lost between Berlin and Marseille in July. This gave me just one more reason to be so excited for my last stop–London.

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Volksgarten

Vienna, according to Billy Joel

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The view from the Upper Belvedere

Slow down you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart tell me,
Why are you still so afraid?

Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?
You better cool it off before you burn it out
You got so much to do and only
So many hours in a day

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you’re doing fine
You can’t be everything you want to be before your time
Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight

Too bad, but it’s the life you lead
You’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you’re wrong
You know you can’t always see when you’re right

You got your passion, you got your pride
But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you crazy child
Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while
It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two
When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
Why don’t you realize… Vienna waits for you?

When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

Bratislava: A Slovak Version of Memphis

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The main town square. Much smaller and less busy compared to other European cities I’ve visited.

My last 2 days in Bratislava have led me to draw the most unlikely comparison. Bratislava reminds me, in a strange yet not completely far-fetched way, of Memphis, my favorite city in the USA. Needless to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 48 hours here! As I was planning the last few weeks of my trip a few weeks ago, I decided to come to Bratislava somewhat on a whim. I was initially attracted to it because it is off the beaten path a bit, and considered making it a day trip from Vienna. I’m so happy I stayed 2 nights! As the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava offers its own dose of unique history and culture, yet is small enough to feel like you’re visiting a small town.

 

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Like Memphis, Bratislava is home to a major river and a uniquely shaped bridge. Natives call this bridge “the UFO” 🙂
How does Bratislava remind me of Memphis? Both cities are similar in population (around half a million, more or less). Here are a few other ways:

1. It’s a chill river city. The Danube is basically Europe’s version of the Mississippi River, and it flows just south of the old town portion of Bratislava. As in Memphis, the river is the ideal place to go for a stroll, to relax, or to have some food and drinks. I spent an entire day laying on this beach next to the Danube, reading a book for fun as well as my first law school assignment (Chimel v California! wooo). Especially after coming from some of
the busiest cities in Europe, life is a little slower and more relaxed around here, just as in Memphis.

 

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Chilling by the river getting a bit of reading done!
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Beach time!
 

2. I (almost) got hustled at the bus station. Like it or not, Memphis is a city full of hustling. As I got off my bus from Budapest, I was feeling a bit  tired, sick (still fighting that cold), and lost. I decided I would splurge and take a taxi, and I knew from my hostel’s website it should cost between 4 and 8 euro from the bus station. I decided I was willing to pay up to 10 euro given my condition however! As I approached the first cab driver in the queue and started my bidding at 5 euro, he informed me the charge would be 20 euro flat to my address. I literally laughed in his face as I turned around and walked away! After 2 years of living in Memphis, 3 years of living in NYC, and 3 months travelling abroad, there was no way I was falling for that one. Better luck on the next person, dude! Within 15 minutes, I had purchased a ticket on public transport for 0.70 euro and had easily found my way to my hostel. Just as in Memphis (or anywhere really), it’s smart to watch your back here 🙂

 

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These streets are hard…literally! The cobblestones are quite slippery!!

3. It’s a bit on the gritty side. There are several parts of the city that are less renovated and a bit more rundown than other cities I’ve visited this  summer. The same can be said for some areas of Memphis (although my understanding is the local government has put a lot of emphasis on fighting blight in recent years). In my mind, the right amount of grunge adds significant character to a place, as in Berlin. However, the grittiness here is unaccompanied by the frenzied energy of Berlin, and instead is a testament that time marches on and can leave places behind, as in some parts of Memphis.

 

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Not every inch is landscaped or renovated. To me, this makes a place more real and less touristy!

4. The cost of living is low. I have been blown away by how cheap everything is here! My dinner and drink the first night was under 5 euro! Beers and glasses of  wine are all under 2 euro, no matter where you go! Also, my hostel is extremely up-to-date and nice, and I am paying less than 35 euro for 2 nights. Oh Memphis, I remember when I paid 25 percent of what I paid each month for a tiny walk-up studio in Midtown NYC for a practically new downtown apartment with a pool, gated parking, free access to AAA baseball games next door, a balcony, etc…sigh.

5. Blues music! To be fair, I did pick my hostel (Hostel Blues) because it is a blues-themed hostel…and I love blues music! However, I had no idea they feature live blues musicians at night in the lobby for free. I loved listening to these 3 guys pick away and play the harmonica. I had to remind myself I was in Bratislava and not on Beale Street. 🙂

 

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6. They both have royal homes (Ok, this one is a bit of a stretch). The Bratislava Castle is arguably the city’s biggest attraction. I took a walk around its grounds my first few hours in the city. It was first built in 907 AD and is now a museum exhibit with beautiful gardens. It’s also on a big hill with stunning views of the city and the Danube below. Memphis has Graceland, the former castle of another king, which is arguably its biggest attraction as well (haha…sorry. I know this one was a bit of a stretch!)

 

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Bratislava Castle

7. It has an array of cute and hipster coffee shops. Just as in Memphis, the cool coffee places abound. I had coffee and a poached egg with avocado yesterday morning at Urban Space…and of course it was ridiculously cheap too. This place would fit right in in Midtown Memphis or Overton Square.

8. Everyone is extremely friendly. Just as in Memphis, the hospitality is deep and genuine. My waiter this morning insisted on telling me about his favorite  place in Bratislava and encouraged me to check it out. The girls who work at my hostel have given me endless recommendations (more than they were required to!) on restaurants and coffee shops, as well as places to see and chill (they are the reason I found my amazing beach!) Just as in Memphis, it seems everyone here looks out for one another (except the few hustlers!) and everyone treats each other and visitors alike as neighbors. ❤

 

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I am so happy I came to Bratislava. What was supposed to be a random stopover has turned into a much-needed few days of relaxation, chilling out, and saving  money. Just as Memphis does, I feel like Bratislava surprises those who visit in the best way possible!

Next stop…Vienna!

 

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Taking a quiet stroll along the Danube

Budapest: Give Me One Good Reason Why I Should Never Make a Change

“If you come from Paris to Budapest, you think you are in Moscow. But if you go from Moscow to Budapest, you think you are in Paris.”

IMG_2985[1]It’s been 85 days since I left the USA, and the exhaustion is starting to set in in the form of sickness. However, surprisingly I am in no way ready to come home. The fact that this adventure is almost over has really started to set in during the last few days in Budapest. I am not ready to be in one place again, even though I know I realistically can’t continue to be a nomad forever.

As I write this, I am on a bus from Budapest to Bratislava feeling a bit light-headed from the variety of Hungarian cold and flu medicines I am currently taking to ward off my stuffy nose, cough, and slight fever. The last few days in Budapest have been both fun and relaxing. On my first night, I discovered Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube River (Budapest consists of 2 cities which used to be separate cities–Buda to the west of the Danube and Pest to the east of the Danube).

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A view of Pest-Buda at sunset from the bridge across Margaret Island
Margaret Island is the perfect place to relax, with a walking path, beer gardens, and a beautiful lighted fountain that performs to music. It even performed to George Ezra’s song Budapest (thanks Nat for introducing me to this song before I left to come here!)IMG_2831[1]

My first morning in Budapest, I set off to explore after doing some laundry. I came across a memorial to the Hungarian Holocaust victims that included an active protest area in front. Of course, I had to know what the protest was about, and I soon learned it had to do with what many Hungarians view as the government’s attempt to rewrite the history of WW2. The memorial portrays Germany as a relentless invader and Hungary as a victim of violent imperialism. IMG_2851[1].JPGThe protesters argue that the Hungarian government at the time willingly participated in becoming part of the Third Reich and volunteered to participate in the Holocaust. The protests highlight the stories of Hungarian Jews who lost their lives at the hands of their own government, and also calls for the government to remove this dishonest memorial. If the concerns raised by the protesters are in fact valid, this is quite alarming. One thing I really admired about Berlin was the city’s humility, introspection, and apologetic spirit about the evil atrocities that took place there during the rise and reign of Hitler, and the city’s commitment to equality and ensuring these past sins are not repeated. However, if a nation chooses to disregard and withhold any sort of acknowledgement or apology for past harms, that nation is not only dishonest with itself and others but runs the risk of repeating those evils. Time will tell what happens to this memorial and if there will ever be some kind of apology from the Hungarian government.

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I also took time to relax after investigating protests 🙂

On a lighter note, my visit to Budapest was full of relaxation, including a boat cruise down the Danube (where I met some great girls from Spain, Sweden, and the U.K.), a pub crawl (where I met some new USA friends!), visits to a couple of Budapest’s famous “ruin bars,” and several hours at 2 of the city’s famous thermal baths–Szechenyi and Rudas. When the Ottoman Empire invaded the city back in the 16th century, they brought with them the concept of the Turkish bath. Both baths I visited consisted of indoor and outdoor pools at various temperatures designed to promote health and relaxation, as well as several saunas. My favorite bath was Szechenyi, which has been open since 1913 and is absolutely beautiful. It also had a whirlpool in one of its outdoor pools, which was like a small, fast-paced lazy river! It was so fun to get carried along in this, and also quite relaxing! I also enjoyed Rudas, which was smaller and newer but was located just off the Danube and had a rooftop thermal pool that overlooked the city skyline.

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I obviously didn’t take this picture (I didn’t want to get my phone wet so I left it in the locker!), but this is a typical day at Szechenyi.

While most of the modern shopping and restaurants are on the Pest side (and this is also where I stayed in 2 different hostels), the Buda side is home to many of the historic sites. I spent the entire third day in the city exploring the Buda side. I started with a visit to the Cave Church, which is exactly what it sounds like–a church carved into a cave in the side of the mountain. The church was closed down under communist rule but reopened its doors in 1989.

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Cave church!
I then climbed up Gellert Hill (it was very steep and a good workout!) to see the Citadella, which was used by the Soviets to quell the 1956 Hungarian uprising and is now the home to the Liberty Statue. There are some stunning views of the city from here! I then walked up the Danube to visit Matthias church, which was originally constructed in 1015, reconstructed in the 14th century, and served as the city’s main mosque during Turkish rule.

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Liberty Statue atop Gellert hill
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Matthias Church
I was in Budapest for 5 days, which was ideal as I still got to see a good bit of the city while also taking time to rest and attempt to recover from being sick. Also, Budapest was very, very cheap–by far the cheapest city I’ve visited in Europe. Hungary uses the Hungarian Forint, and about 280 forints equals 1 US dollar. It was hard to spend even more than 10 US dollars post-conversion on food and drinks at any meal. I am not complaining at all!

Just 3 cities left until I return to NYC…Bratislava, Vienna, and London. I definitely have mixed feelings and am half-tempted to book a ticket back to Asia or Africa instead of starting law school! But, duty calls…IMG_2835[1]

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