Ok new approach guys! I’m starting to understand that I’m not that great at posting when I’m traveling and moving around, and I think that’s because I’ve been trying to make every post this deep and meaningful essay about my entire experience in each country.
But that’s not what this blog is all about! It’s about sharing stories and thoughts and reflections that I have and telling you all the crazy shit that happens to me while I’m on this wild journey! Now I’m not going to get all shallow on you and start talking in that high-pitched baby voice that some girls use for reasons I’ll never understand. But by putting pressure on myself to write something profound every single time I post on here I think I’m kind of failing at documenting a lot of my trip and sharing my day to day adventures and thoughts.
That ends today!
Ladies and gentlemen, I am in Greece 🙂
I got off the plane yesterday around 8:30, just in time to see the deepest red sunset I’ve ever seen (I would’ve snapped a picture but the tiny Greek lady behind me was stronger and pushier than she looked) and a blast of 80 degree weather right in the kisser. It’s a weird feeling for this Seattle girl to be sweatin’ bullets that late at night, but I’ve got absolutely no complaints. Give me all of the warm weather all of the time I love it! Except for that one day when I wore pasties to work because I didn’t have any clean bras and Seattle was hit with a goddamn heat wave…that was a messy day.
So what did I learn today in Athens? Grocery shopping when the letters aren’t the same is MUCH more difficult than when everything is just in another language. In the Netherlands or Italy or wherever I can usually guess what I’m buying. ‘Zwarte peper, ok, yeah that looks like pepper and the word is almost the same, it’s just missing a p!’ That totally works in the Netherlands, not the case in Greece! Today was like a fun guessing-type game show where the prize was some strange booze that I’m now enjoying. My bartender spidey senses are tingling and telling me it’s ouzo, which is what I was going for thankfully. I also bought some other food type stuff that’s also tasting pretty good. Gotta love the unexpected wins life gifts you from time to time!
If only all those frat boys knew that they were actually learning something useful while they chanted and memorized the Greek alphabet in between their rage black outs. Never thought I’d be jealous of the knowledge a frat boy holds but here I am.
I did the right thing and learned some useful Greek phrases before I left today, which came in very handy. I don’t think us Americans get as much exposure to the Greek language as we do to Spanish, or Italian or French, so I got off the plane yesterday not even knowing how to say hi. But now, just a few phrases in Greek before I choke up and make it obvious that I know next to nothing about the language seems to be enough to ensure that people don’t hate me so much that they don’t want to help me 🙂
I’ll have some pictures for all of ya’s tomorrow, today was my adulting day and it was visually quite boring (no offense to the guys over at WIND mobile that sold me my Greek SIM card). Tomorrow feels like a ‘wake up early and hike up to the Lycabettus look out’ kind of day so stay tuned! Although maybe this bottle of mystery liquor that may or may not be ouzo has other plans…
Going from the scene in Malta to the scene in Sicily was like going from breast milk straight to pop rocks. Malta was so kind, so quiet, so gentle, and just familiar and comfortable enough that I could get around without too much planning. Everyone spoke English, the buses made sense (even if the ride was a little wild), people were happy to calmly explain to me which way I needed to go to get to which place. Malta gave me a false sense of security as a solo traveler. And then I got to Sicily.
Everything in Sicily was shocking. The people are over the top enthusiastic about everything (I’ve decided that Sicilian is a ‘fight or fuck’ language, because no matter how boring the conversation topic is it always sounds like people are about to fight each other or have sex with each other, or possibly both I guess?). The produce is like a concentrated, more intense version of anything I’ve ever tasted back home. You will never feel the same way about tomatoes in the United States again after you eat one in Sicily. Someone should’ve warned me. The history is grandiose, full of Greek mythology about Odysseus and Cyclops and Medusa. The traffic is outrageous, don’t ever rent a car without paying extra for FULL COVERAGE insurance here. That’s important. I would estimate that about one in every four cars has a scuffed up bumper. The people are so warm and inviting that it’ll make you grab your purse a little tighter at first because you’re wondering what the catch is. There’s no catch, they’re just super friendly and proud of what their culture has to offer.
But once you get over the initial shock and start aligning yourself with that Sicilian mentality, you’re going to have the most uninhibited, amazing time.
So I’ll start with my first day in Sicily, since the night before when I actually arrived I had gotten quite drunk with the bartender at the airport in Malta and really needed to go to bed by the time I arrived in Catania. My first night was a wash, it barely counts because it was very foggy and the only brain cells that were still functioning were focused on getting me to Agora Hostel. I made it, somehow, and was just drunk enough to sleep through the massive block party that goes on every weekend downstairs from the hostel.
I woke up the next morning and knew immediately that I wanted to find the market. And it didn’t disappoint. I don’t know why, I think because I have this idea in my head that all Italians are painfully chic and always look good, but I got kind of dressed up to go site-seeing that day. Not like a clubbin’ outfit, but I was wearing a little sundress and I put some makeup on my face (I had been a dirty hiker the previous five days and wanted to feel a little bit pretty again).
Woah, if you ever want to feel like the belle of the fricken’ ball, go to the Catania market in a dress. I’ve never been so flattered before in my life. I’m talkin’ free samples being hand-fed to me by handsome Sicilian men, cheese vendors singing operatic style songs to me, and ‘Ciao Bella’ called to me at least every ten steps. I actually feel like kind of an idiot for wearing a dress to the market. Who the hell was I dressing up for? This is not some cute market set up to please tourists, this is a place to buy (very fantastic) groceries plain and simple. These guys are the actual farmers and fishermen that grow, catch and produce this product. But, I’ll be honest, I was giggling and hair flipping my way past every single compliment. I don’t care, I’m not sorry, and I know that they probably shower every solo girl that walks through with the same attention. I felt amazing and I loved every second of it goddammit, I’m just gonna let myself recollect fondly on that compliment shower regardless of how meaningless it was.
So the first lesson Sicily taught me was to take the damn compliment. When someone says ‘Ciao Bella’ or whatever they say, accepting it and loving it doesn’t mean you owe anyone a damn thing. Soak up the compliment, and know that it’s just that instead of scaring yourself or feeling uncomfortable (I’m of course referring to situations that are safe, like a daytime market. Fuck letting anyone scare you, scream and run like hell if your gut tells you to). From my experience at the Catania market and through the touristy sections traveling by myself, nobody follows you or expects anything in return. Just say ‘Ciao’ back, and let yourself feel beautiful and amazing and in the moment 🙂
I then went site-seeing by myself, which usually just entails me wandering around in the area of town that is the most saturated with beautiful buildings and viewpoints, and stumbling upon things that blow my mind as I go. This is fun for me, and I love getting lost, but behind every amazing building in Catania that afternoon, there was an even cooler story that I didn’t know. I’m terrible at this, I just go wandering around and don’t do any research so I have no idea what I’m looking at. Luckily for me, I met a couple locals that night who, in true Sicilian fashion, were very proud of their history and were happy to walk me around and tell me all of the interesting facts about their city.
This is my next lesson, and one that has taken me a long time to learn how to do well. Talk to strangers. I know it goes against everything your parents told you growing up, and I’ll admit that that weird doubt and skepticism of people I don’t know sometimes makes me apprehensive. But I think if you close yourself off and don’t talk to people you miss out on such a huge part of the place that you’re visiting. Just be sure to trust your gut, and if someone is making you uncomfortable don’t be afraid to tell them that and excuse yourself from their company 🙂 When I’m at home you can’t shut me up, I’ll talk to anyone and everyone that wants to. But when I’m traveling by myself I tend to be a lot more guarded and skeptical. I feel like I’m finally starting to figure out how to balance being smart with being friendly and it’s made traveling solo a lot more fun for me.
Another thing these local boys taught me was an important lesson at dinner. I was told that I absolutely HAD to order pasta. Both of these guys agreed that if there’s a day in your life that you don’t eat pasta, you’ve had a bad day. Like these guys were genuinely concerned that I hadn’t had pasta yet that day. And these guys were both doctors! They didn’t seem concerned at all about the calories, and who am I to question the health advice of two doctors (that were also feeding me loads of alcohol). I ordered pasta col pesce (pasta with fish) and I don’t regret a single one of the perfectly cooked pieces of homemade, hand rolled pasta that I ate that night. So, especially when you’re in Sicily, eat the pasta.
I learned so much from these two goofy Sicilian guys, who were probably just trying to have a guys’ night out until they saw me and my little tourist map at the table next to them. A few glasses of wine and a few shots later, and we were all walking around in the streets talking about this statue and that building and the stories behind them. After dinner and of course more wine and more shots they went downtown to try to find some weed, and I went back to my room above the noisy block party to not get some sleep.
The one thing I knew I wanted to see in Catania was Mt. Etna. The highest and most active volcano in Europe, this temperamental mountain had just erupted two days prior to my visit. For this reason, you absolutely have to have a guide if you want to go up to the summit. It’s crazy enough to want to climb up to something like an extremely active volcano, but then I thought about the people who live in the towns on the way up to the hiking area. My guide told me that this volcano erupts twenty-something times a year, so why in the world are there still people living up there?!
He told me that first of all, all of that volcanic soil makes the land extremely rich in minerals. Everything that Sicilians love grows up there (pistachios, grapes, olives, lemons, oranges, etc etc etc). So for them, the benefits of all of that amazing food and wine far outweigh the occasional eruption.
But then he told me something else that made me kind of rethink the idea of living next to a highly active volcano. “We don’t worry about next year. We worry about today, and maybe tomorrow and this is how we are able to live happily so close to this volcano,” he said with a smile. Live for today people, and find a way to enjoy it! Odds are you have less to worry about on a daily basis than the guy living on the most active volcano in Europe, and he seemed like a pretty happy guy (might’ve been the wine though).
After Catania, I headed to Palermo. That city was even more chaotic and busy, so it’s good I had my Sicilian introduction in Catania first. The markets there were amazing too and I of course had to have some pasta on my first day after the lesson my new friends had taught me.
The next day I headed to Agrigento to see the amazing Valley of Temples. I had been really excited for this place ever since I decided I was going to Sicily, and it didn’t disappoint. Shockingly intact Greek temples dating back to almost 450 BC and perfect blue skies, the whole day was incredible. Although it was slightly over run with school groups of teenagers that obviously didn’t care about what they were looking at, I still thought it was absolutely amazing.
But this was my first real experience with the public transportation in Sicily, and let me tell you it really is not great. First of all, you can’t buy your bus tickets on the bus, you have to buy them ahead of time at a nearby kiosk or tobacco shop or convenience store. You then take that ticket to the bus stop and validate it on the bus. So confusing. Anyways, I managed to figure out how to get myself from the train station in Agrigento to the Greek temples, but when I was done seeing everything I stood at the bus stop for a long time trying to get back. To the point that I thought I was going to have to walk my ass back up the hill for at least an hour to get back.
I stood there and stood there and the bus never came. Finally, as I was about to give up and start my walk, a cab driver pulled up and told me to get in.
“Hey, where are you trying to go?”
“Errmm…the train station.”
“Ok, just hop in.”
“I can’t afford you sir, and I already bought my return ticket at that kiosk this morning.”
“You can ride for free, I’m going that way anyways.”
*confused, blank stare*
“I’m just trying to help you, get in.”
And I did and everything was fine. I mean I think the other three people that had actually called for and paid for the cab were a little confused as to why I was in the front seat. Carmelo (the driver) just yelled back at them that I was his friend and I would be riding with them today, but none of them spoke English or Italian so they just stared at me and smiled.
So my last lesson is to take the freebie. I still have no idea why that man decided to help me out, but if he hadn’t I either would have stood at that bus stop for God knows how long or I would have tried to walk along the highway and hopefully eventually would have found the train station (also not safe). As long as you confirm that they really are just trying to do a nice thing, and as long as it feels safe, go for it. People are not always kind and generous and helpful, so when they are accept it and say thank you because it can be an extremely rare thing to find.
Sicily was a bit of a shock at first, but when I’m traveling I’m not necessarily looking for comfort. I’m looking for new experiences, I want my mind to be blown, I want to be shocked and awed, I want to take something away from the place that I’ve visited or in this case leave something behind. All these little apprehensions I usually carry around inside were shaken right out of me by Sicily. And I was happy to shed them and leave them where they fell, at the street market and at the dinner table with new friends and on top of Mt. Etna and in that taxi in Agrigento. Traveling lighter has taken on a new meaning for me after Sicily and now that I’m on the move again I’m lovin’ it.
Oh man, the last leg of the hike. I rarely set goals for myself, especially not physically challenging ones, so this was an exciting day for me. I had already walked three quarters of the way around Gozo Island, Malta. This section was supposed to be the hardest, the longest, and one of the sites I was most excited about seeing, Calypso cave, was on the way. My cold was feeling better, I had tons of water and food, and I was out the door hours earlier than the previous hikes so I could take as long as I wanted to and really get some good pictures.
I took the bus to Marsalforn and set out towards my starting location on day one, M’garr. I had everything plugged into google maps (I had no other option but to give her another chance, even after that major betrayal). I was stoked to kick some hiking trail ass and get some more amazing pictures.
But when I got off the bus and got going, it seemed to take an awful long time to get to an actual trail. The first maybe 45 minutes to an hour was along a pretty busy road. There was no scenery around, cars were flying by me and there wasn’t a sidewalk for me to walk on so I just kind of hoped that people wouldn’t smash me with their vehicles, dust from the cars was flying up into my face. It was a great work out, and Lord knows I could use a little uphill cardio, but where were the beautiful views I got right out of the gate on the last three hikes? Not what I was looking for in terms of the final day of a hike that I had really hyped myself up on.
Finally I started to see signs for Calypso cave. This is the cave, from The Odyssey, the famous 9th century poem. The nymph Calypso seduces Odysseus and keeps him as a a prisoner of love for seven years. This is the site that I was most looking forward to (along with the Azure window, which collapsed last month). AND IT WAS CLOSED. I walked an hour and a half up some miserable, dusty road with no scenery to find out that I wasn’t even allowed to go into the cave, or to the viewing platform above.
That combined with a crappy beginning to the hike was enough to really harsh my mellow. And the trail after the cave was just more stupid, dusty roads with no scenery. I was over it big time. And this was not an easy hike, so to be doing all that work without any sort of reward was only making my mood worse and worse.
At one point I think I was just climbing up this steep ass road, cursing under my breath like some female version of Joe Pesci’s character in Home Alone. I was getting hangry, but I hadn’t even seen a place along the way yet that I thought had a nice view that I would want to sit and eat my sandwich at. I had been spoiled the last three hikes and I wanted to sit and stare at the sea while I ate my PB&J dammit! Eventually I gave up and found a random bench to sit on and eat.
I sat down, pulled out my sandwich, and looked over and saw the biggest pile of dog shit I’ve seen in a long time. Great, I thought as I rolled my eyes, who needs a sea view when I can stare at dog shit? I turned away from it and started eating when a man approached me.
He walked up in his dusty coveralls and flashed me a huge smile, showing off the gaps his missing teeth had left behind. “I saw you in Victoria on Monday, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, probably!” I said, trying to conjure up some enthusiasm through the ice cold mood I was in.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from the United States.”
“America, I’m from America.” Anyone else notice how you’re an idiot if you say you’re from America (there’s tons of countries in both North and South America) but when you’re abroad that’s all anyone wants to refer to the United States as? Anyways…
“Ahh, yes. I really love America. I was in Colorado for a little while”
And we talked for a while about how he had been fishing today down by the water, and then he was going to go peel some potatoes, and he was going to make a ‘fantastic dinner for his wife if he caught some fish today’.
He was just such a nice man, and so happy with what he had going on that day, that I started to feel my mood shift. Crazy how that works right? I truly believe that your experience when you visit a place is made or broken by the people you encounter there.
Eventually we ended the conversation and he told me to have a good day and that he hoped I enjoyed Malta. I said thanks and started to pack up my stuff. But as he turned away he stepped right into that massive pile of dog shit. Just directly into it.
“Oh, God…Oh no. You just stepped into a huge pile of dog shit, sir. I’m so sorry”
He looked down and just started hollerin’ laughin’. Like a hard laugh, straight from the gut. And everyone knows those are more infectious than the clap so I started cracking up too. We just laughed and laughed, while he occasionally made exploding bomb gestures with his hands towards the pile he had stepped in. He would catch his breath occasionally just to say “I cannot believe how much dog shit I have just stepped in!” or “How did I not see that much dog shit earlier?” We just laughed for maybe three minutes about the most immature thing ever but I couldn’t stop laughing because he wouldn’t stop laughing.
I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
He headed back towards the water and waved goodbye over his shoulder, and I could still hear him chuckling as I walked away down the road. I’m sure he could hear my laughter trailing off as well. That totally turned the hike around for me. If that guy could get that much enjoyment out of stepping in dog shit, there was absolutely no reason I couldn’t enjoy the rest of this hike.
Four days of hiking and contemplation and a talk with my best friend (love you, Renae) made me realize that I’ve kind of lost track of why I started this blog in the first place. I think recently I have been a little too wrapped up in the Instagram likes and the page views and the retweets, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get the most perfect, most hashtag-able pictures I could get. I would see these other bloggers with 50,000 followers and 1,000 likes per post and just feel like I needed to somehow make my travels seem as perfect as theirs in order to get my blog to reach as many people as possible (we all know that Instagram page, with the photo of the beautiful girl leading the person behind the lens by the hand to some magical landscape). It’s too much pressure and it’s ruining my travels and my blog for me.
When I started that hike and realized that day four, the last day, wasn’t going to be the perfect, grand finale I imagined it was going to be it really got in my head. No mythical nymph cave? No crushingly beautiful sea views? Who wants to read something like that??
But travel doesn’t always look like a perfect sunset in an exotic bay. Sometimes it looks like an old man with a few teeth missing. It doesn’t always taste like a lavish cocktail on a swanky cosmopolitan rooftop bar, sometimes it’s a smashed up PB&J from the bottom of your backpack. Sometimes it smells like dog shit and not a meadow full of wildflowers. For every time that you hear the Mediterranean sea crashing against a sea cave, there’s the sound of a crappy old car driving past you and blowing dust in your face. But there’s beauty and excitement and laughter and awesome memories to be found in all of those situations, not just the glamorous ones.
I realized on that hike that I was missing out on so much because of this blog and the way I was misusing it. How did I let that happen? This was meant to be an outlet so I could share my travel stories with people without having to wait until I got home to tell my friends in person, or write massive paragraph long posts on Facebook. And now I’m researching SEO tactics and stressing out about whether total strangers like me or not? Ugh, Jax, you have fuckin’ changed girl.
So no more whoring myself out for likes. My posts from now on are probably going to be a little more scatter brained unfortunately. They’ll be a little less helpful as far as travel information goes (of course if you ever want to ask me about any of the places I’ve been just do it, I’ll answer any questions you have), but I’m looking forward to treating this more like a genuine collection of my travel stories and the badass photos I take and less like an informational, vanilla flavored, perfected version of my life with a heavy filter over it.
I went to the store before I wrote this because I was craving gin because I wanted to have something to toast with. So cheers to authenticity, and me having more of it from now on. Cheers to me actually setting a goal for myself for once and following through with it, I feel like a badass and I don’t care how conceited that makes me sound. And cheers to traveling for every glam experience and every grimy one too. They’re all memories worth collecting and they’re all experiences worth traveling for.
I’m a pretty stubborn sick person. I am not the type to go to the doctor, or go get medicine for myself, or do anything but just go through my day as planned feeling terrible. If someone gives me medicine (which the guy at my air bnb did, bless his heart) I’ll take it but it has to be real bad for me to go out of my way to get medicine for myself. I always tell myself it’s just a cold and I need to and will eventually get over it, and for the most part I do. I don’t call out sick, I don’t cancel plans, it’s just business as usual except I’m a snotty, raspy mess and most people I encounter wish I would’ve just stayed home.
So when I woke up on day three feeling like an absolute atrocity, there was no way I wasn’t going on that hike. I could have woken up with the plague and I still would’ve dragged my highly contagious ass through that trail.
I talked to Rob that day before I left because I wanted to postpone going on the hike for as long as possible because I love him and wanted to talk to him, and I told him that this time was going to be different, I was really going to stick to the path. No bullshit, just get through it and go home and go to bed before the sun goes down.
Well that didn’t exactly happen, but it was because I actually ended up enjoying myself so much that I forgot what sick Jackie had promised herself and no longer cared.
I once got sick at the end of a long road trip that Rob and I did through the United States. Our last stop was Montana, and I was so excited to go hiking there and see all the amazing mountains and lakes. I was really sick by the end of our camping trip, but we both had decided that we really wanted to do this hike to Cracker lake (it was amazing and totally worth it, btw).
11 miles baby, and I blasted through it with an awful cold and running on almost no sleep. It was like my brain just went into my own little personal beast mode. I was Michael Jordan with the flu and that hike was the 1997 finals game. Rob had to stop me at times to make me drink water and rest because I was just trying so hard to prove something to myself (what I still don’t know). I don’t think I was even admiring the scenery as much as I should have, it was all about getting to the end.
And then by the end of the hike the adrenaline wore off and I was just a dead person with a pulse. And fun fact, I got a tick on that hike so the life was literally being sucked out of me as well and I didn’t know it.
Similar situation on this hike (the energy crash not the tick thank God). I started in San Lawrenz and was walking all the way to Marsalforn this time. I’m not totally convinced that their numbers are accurate, but the map logs this journey at 12 km. Once I started getting going I almost forgot completely that I was even sick. I passed a French couple on the path and after that it was straight into beast mode. For whatever reason I just had to get super far ahead of them, that way I could stop and take pictures and dick around on other random trails without worrying about them passing me. Why can’t I just let them pass me? Why in the hell would that worry me, you ask? I honestly don’t know, probably because there’s something(s) wrong with me.
Then, as I started to get close to Marsalforn, I slowly started to crash. Think like a battery powered talking toy that’s starting to run out batteries, and it starts to move all wonky and it’s speech is all warped and impaired. That’s kind of where I was at by the time I got to Marsalforn. Just a little battery powered hiking doll that was slowly running out of juice.
But I made it, 12 km later and I had kicked that trail’s ass. And because of this weird competitive streak that still lingers inside of me from all those youth basketball tournaments or whatever it is, when my head hit the pillow that night I had such a goddamn satisfying feeling. Suck it cold, nothing can stop my beast mode. That feeling combined with my complete and utter exhaustion lead to a pretty epic night’s sleep.
So really at this point the question isn’t how many pictures of stunning cliff views I can take, because now we know that I have this inner trail-beast of a woman hidden behind this slightly out of shape exterior and I can do this shit all day everyday. It’s really more about how many of those pictures you want to see. But you’re here so I guess you aren’t sick of them just yet 🙂 Here are some of my photos from day three of my Gozo coastal walk:
Most who know me know that I have a really terrible sense of direction. Not like ‘Ooops I’m on the wrong street’ but like ‘Ooops I’m in the wrong city.’ And I will walk for an hour in the wrong direction sometimes before the thought even crosses my mind of ‘Wait, maybe I should have turned left back there…’
This is something I’ve become aware of (how many times have I stressed the importance of knowing what kind of traveler you are?) and I now know to address this problem ahead of time. When someone tells me it’s only a 20 minute walk to get somewhere, I immediately ask if it’s easy to get lost on the way. Because a 20 minute walk for a normal person can easily turn into an hour long walk for me. Not that I mind walking, but it’s just good to know ahead of time if I’m going to be cluelessly wandering around some windy side streets or if it’s something I can easily handle. Like if I’ll be walking straight for 20 minutes. Even I can’t screw that up. *knocks on wood*
Before I started this trek, I made sure to ask every single person I talked to about how easy it was to get lost. And every single one of them told me that it was impossible to get lost on this hike. Plus, I didn’t really get lost at all on day one aside from some deviations, and those were on purpose. So they don’t count. I had a ton of confidence after day one and everyone telling me it was impossible to get lost.
Well, I sure showed them! Don’t ever let anyone tell you something isn’t possible! Anything is possible if you want it bad enough (or are careless and stupid enough)!
I started day two of my Gozo coastal walk in Xlendi, the town I left off in on day one with the amazing sunset. I would be walking from Xlendi to Dwejra Bay near San Lawrenz, which should have been an easy 11 kilometers (7.5 miles) along the coast. The beginning of the walk lead me through an adorable little town called Kercem, just up the hill from Xlendi. I plugged in a few of the other stops along the way into google maps before I left (my GPS works even when I don’t have service) so I would have a general idea which direction to go once I turned off the road and onto the trail.
But, like technology does sometimes, google maps betrayed me and I have little to no sense of direction to fall back on.
When I say google maps betrayed me, I mean that it completely lost the route I had plugged into it, and also tried to direct me to walk off a cliff. Sick burn google, telling me to go walk off a cliff. I mean I’ve probably yelled that at people before but to actually almost trick me into doing it was just a whole other level of maniacal. Props google, ya almost got me.
Anyways, I was basically just following a very overgrown trail that sometimes wasn’t a trail anymore, but then would turn into a trail again. At one point I was walking through someone’s farmland? That’s really not allowed at all, but I was no longer on the coastal walk trail I think, and the people in the field just waved at me, smiled, and pointed at where the trail picked back up. Have I mentioned that Maltese people are super friendly?
I knew that if I just stayed along the coast, eventually I would end up near San Lawrenz, so I just went with that and kept going.
This obviously added a ton of time and distance onto this hike. And a lot the walking was through a trail that hadn’t been used much, so it was very overgrown. I have a pretty intense fear of things that hide in long grass, so that was quite stressful for me. My thoughts while wading through the grass consisted of:
*rusting sound next me* Oh God what was that…?
Are there venomous snakes in Malta?
Why the hell didn’t I check to see if there were venomous snakes in Malta before I left?
Are there ticks in Malta?
Will the guy at my air bnb notice if I don’t make it home tonight?
Wow, look at that cliff! *runs to edge of cliff*
Definitely need a picture of that!
OUCH HOLY SH*T! Why do the pretty flowers always have f*cking thorns?
The one thing that helps me get over a frantic mentality like this is thinking about another time I got lost while hiking. It was absolutely terrifying. Nothing will ever be as bad as that time Rob and I were lost in the mountains in Slovenia, so when I think about that it always makes me feel better about whatever gummed up situation I’ve gotten myself into. Maybe I’ll post about it someday, when I’m ready to talk about it again.
After about an hour of walking along a beautiful, sometimes overgrown or non-existent, totally secluded trail, I saw some hikers off in the distance and realized that my trail and the real one were finally going to intersect.
The one thing I will say about this leg of the coastal walk is it was absolutely beautiful. There were so many wild flowers everywhere, and cliffs, and the occasional little cliff side hut (which reassured me that at least someone else had been there recently and I would be fine). The weather was perfect, the scenery was amazing, and I enjoyed it even more than day one. I was truly by myself, in the gorgeous countryside of Gozo, with only the occasional lizard or kind farmer to briefly keep me company and point me in the right direction. It’s so special to find an area that is so uncontaminated by outside influences, and that privilege was in the front of my thoughts throughout the entire hike (aside from a few panicky thoughts I had about snakes).
So I got lost yet again, but it was far from a failure. In fact, I’m extremely happy that I did the impossible and found a way to get lost! Maybe my subconscious took what those people told me about it being impossible as a challenge. I can now confirm that it is definitely possible to get lost on the Gozo coastal walk, and actually I highly recommend it.
Whenever I think of hiking and seaside cliffs and sunsets, I have always thought of them as very calm and peaceful. And on a hike as secluded as this one was, where I was by myself and had been in sort of an introverted and more reflective mood, you’d think I’d feel the same way. On the contrary. I was totally amped up during this entire hike and it finally clicked at the very end why.
I had already decided I wanted to do the Gozo coastal walk before I even knew it existed. I looked at a map of Malta after buying my ticket, and for some reason I told Rob, “I’m going to walk around that whole island”. Having never done any sort of multi-day trek like this, I have no idea why the idea popped in my head to do that, but once it did there was no getting rid of it. And when I found out how easy the Ministry of Gozo has made it for visitors to do, I was even more determined to make it happen.
The hike is broken up into four, seven to eight mile sections. Each section runs almost entirely along the coast, with a few necessary breaks to avoid private property/walking off a cliff and dying. So I’m doing one hike per day for four days straight. And I started it off with the trek from M’garr to Xlendi (the red trail featured on the map I linked to above).
I started the trek a little later than I had wanted to, because I was so eager to get out there that I decided to do it the first day I was in Gozo. After taking the bus from St. Julian’s, the ferry from Cirkewwa, getting to my air bnb and getting unpacked, and finding a grocery store, it was already 2:30 in the afternoon. The guy at the tourist information center told me this would be no problem, as the hike only takes about three hours and the sun won’t go down until 8:00 pm. ‘Great!’ I thought, ‘I have time for a quick beer beforehand!’.
I was so excited that I had time to start my hike that day that I chatted to my waiter about it when I was paying for my beer. “Oh, you should be really careful, some of the paths are quite narrow…” Whatever dude! I’m so excited! Don’t piss on my bonfire!
Well, he was right. Some of the paths were very narrow and I was kind of terrified. But that was only at the beginning and my fault for taking the more dangerous cliff side route out of the two trails you can choose from. Like I said, I was excited.
This hike was so amazing. There are so many different deviations from the trail and cliffs to climb down and places to explore. I was honestly acting like a little kid, running around off the trail and seeing how close to the edge I could get. It was such a rush to sit and have my dinner with my feet hanging off a massive cliff, the waves crashing against the rocks and caves below me. I’ve never been so exhilarated while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before in my life!
I had been walking for a while like this, meandering on and off the main trail to see what else I could find. The entire hike was just gorgeous. I do, however, kind of turn into a dog chasing a squirrel when I’m hiking. I get distracted and kind of forget about everything else. In this case, I got distracted and forgot about the time.
I passed a man and his adorable dog walking down the trail at one point, and of course I immediately ran over and started petting the dog. The man asked me where I’m from and what I’m doing, yadda yadda yadda. I told him I was walking to Xlendi and his eyes got wide. He looked at his watch, looked up at the sun (which unbeknownst to me was creeping closer and closer to the horizon) and shrugged his shoulders. “Meh, you can probably make it before it gets dark.” I looked up and quickly said my goodbyes. I definitely was not trying to walk along some of those narrow cliff trails in the dark.
So the end of my hike kind of turned into a motivated power walk. No more lollygagging, it was time to make tracks and fast. The rush and excitement of possibly having to sleep in the middle of a field somewhere was far from the peaceful, tranquil feelings I usually have while hiking.
Mother nature was doing what I’ve done to so many of my friends on so many different party occasions: she was trying to tempt me to stay out longer. Tempting me with the promise of more secret cliff spots and secluded trails, more exciting distractions. I had to put the blinders on just to get through it before the sun went down.
But despite mother nature’s best efforts, I made it to Xlendi just in time to find one more cliff to hang my feet off of, crack a beer and watch the sunset. And what a sunset it was. The reflection of the sun dancing off the water looked like glitter. The sky was colored in different neon pinks and oranges and reds and purples. The waves were crashing over and over again and the wind was blowing.
That’s when it hit me. Sunsets aren’t peaceful, tranquil settings at all and Mother Nature isn’t some soft spoken, harmonious, Gwyneth Paltrow type woman either. Glitter? Neon colors? Loud repetitive noise? Mother nature is an out of control, erratic and wild rave girl, and she wanted me to stay out and party with her all night. The beautiful cliffs and trail deviations and secret caves were all just an attempt to suck me in deeper and deeper until it was too late and I had to stay out until the sun came back up. What a brutal walk of shame that would have been.
Sorry, girl, I just couldn’t that night. I needed to get some sleep so I could come back out and party with you again the next day. And then the next day after that. And then again after that….
If you read my last post about the group of guys in my shared dorm, you know that I’ve gotten next to no sleep since I got to Malta. I wake up at 8:30 everyday (gotta get that free breakfast!) having slept for maybe an hour in total throughout the night. So going sight seeing is something I kind of had to force myself to do. It all just seems so daunting when I’m tired, thinking about taking a hot, crowded bus on a winding road for an hour to go see something that might be flooded with other tourists.
But as with most things I wine and complain about doing, the minute I start out on the journey I’m having a great time and and am totally enthused with all of the experiences I’m getting to soak up. Mdina was no different.
The thing I’m really loving about Malta is that there’s still this very old-fashioned charm to it. If you stay in the bigger, more touristy, party oriented places like St. Julian’s you’ll miss it. But take a bus an hour outside of the city and you’ll be totally surrounded by it.
The bus I took to and from Mdina was an experience all it’s own. Like the idiot that I am, I missed the 11:30 bus to Mdina from Sliema by five minutes. They only run every hour so I got to sit and watch the occasional car drive by for an hour until the next one came.
And this bus was packed. Standing room only, and even with that the bus driver eventually had to stop letting people on. ‘Sorry, you just have to wait an hour for the next one!’
The thing is, normally I can’t stand situations like that! I hate feeling crowded and uncomfortable, it really stresses me out. But everyone here is just so nice and friendly, I actually had a really good time bumping into them and laughing about how crazy the ride was for an hour. Before I knew it I had chatted my way through the long bus ride and we were at the stop for Mdina.
Mdina is over 4,000 years old, and used to be the capital of Malta before the 1500’s when the capital was moved to Valletta. It has also been referred to as Citta Notabile because it was has been (and still is) home to Malta’s rich noblemen and royalty (more information can be found here)
After visiting, however, I prefer the nickname Silent City. There’s almost no traffic, it isn’t crowded, and it’s painfully romantic. I say painfully because walking around the cobblestone streets with the hanging baskets of flowers and only the sounds of birds chirping and the echoing of your own foot steps against the old stone buildings could have only been made better if Rob were with me. And all I could picture was me pulling him by his hand to nowhere in particular, and stopping for kisses whenever we wanted to since there was nobody there to see us. *sigh*
While I did miss him terribly, I was able to focus on every beautiful detail and really let all my senses soak up Mdina by myself. And it was amazing.
Mdina (and Malta in general) is just such a cool and interesting blend of the many civilizations that have resided here. And if you remember from my Granada blog post, I love places like that! Mdina is not quite Roman, not quite Arabic, not quite Spanish, not quite French and not quite British but they’ve all had their hands on this city at one time or another, leaving the people here (whether it was forced or not) with a little piece of their culture each time.
Maltese cuisine feels very Italian. You’ve got the old, walled in fortresses and cities you see in a lot of older Arab historical sites (hello Granada!). Everything shuts down in the middle of the day, just like the famous Spanish siesta. The colorful little fishing boats along the coast are reminiscent of the French Riviera. And you’ll have no problems finding helpful locals who speak English (they also drive on the opposite side of the road, a tell tale sign that the British were recently here).
After a few hours of walking and gazing and taking pictures in Mdina, I stopped for lunch and called Rob because I felt like my heart was going to explode. Then I went back to those wild buses and headed towards the Dingli Cliffs.
One thing about Malta that I’ve been really impressed by is how not crowded these tourist attractions are. I’m not sure if people just stay in St. Julian’s for the most part or if I got lucky by getting here just before summer vacation. But just like Mdina, the Dingli Cliffs had almost no people there.
Traveling by yourself can be kind of lame sometimes, but this is not one of those times. I could’ve sat at those cliffs for hours, just looking at the uninterrupted sea and the ancient farmlands below the cliffs. Thinking about how incredibly fortunate I am to be here. Thinking about everyone that I miss, everything I gave up to do this, the ridiculous things I let frustrate me sometimes. I might have sat at that Cliff’s edge all night if a sweet little group of french girls hadn’t interrupted my hour long space out to get me to take a picture for them. It was probably for the best, I was in the middle of nowhere and the sun would be going down soon.
Back on the crazy bus packed full of people to head down the windy narrow country road back to Sliema. This one was even more difficult to keep my footing, as we were going downhill and the driver was even more hasty than the one from this morning. And because the Maltese countryside is so unbelievably charming, he was also dodging men being pulled by horses down the road in their small, one-person wagons. Somehow I ended up not having a very good spot to hold on, so I really felt like a pinball in an arcade game this time, bouncing off of one person to another person and so on. I apologized to a younger British guy that I bumped into, probably a traveler like myself, and an older local woman stopped me and said, “No no no don’t apologize, it’s good luck.” All the other women nearby nodded their heads enthusiastically.
Malta has something special, that you really don’t find many places. The beautiful historic spots aren’t over run. People still talk to each other and can laugh at a seemingly annoying situation. They’ve got a little piece of a bunch of different cultures that you can still experience. There aren’t shuttle buses full of people passing you by on every corner and leaving you coughing up the exhaust fumes. It gives you the opportunity to really be by yourself, reflect on whatever it is that needs reflecting, and eventually get to a place that I did where you’re feeling incredibly grateful and fortunate. Thinking about where my head was at when I woke up that morning, I’m so happy that I gave the Maltese countryside a shot at turning my crappy mindset around.
Here’s a fun situation break down that I think will help explain why after an absolutely amazing day of sight seeing in Malta and plans to call it early tonight, I am sitting in an empty hostel kitchen in the middle of the night rage eating crackers and writing in my blog about inconsiderate pricks.
I’m fast asleep in my hostel when the five guys who are also sharing the room with me come back. It’s almost 1:00 in the morning. They turn on all the lights, start watching you tube videos and laughing and blabbing loudly amongst themselves in what sounds like Japanese. Huh I thought to myself, maybe they don’t realize I’m here, in bed, trying to sleep. Keep in mind that I also haven’t slept more than two hours per night because one of the guys in this group has a serious breathing problem and snores louder than anyone I’ve ever heard in my life. And he stops breathing sporadically throughout the night for a solid 45 seconds at a time, and then gasps for air and snorts. Really he needs to see a doctor because I’m pretty sure he’s got a really bad case of sleep apnea.
Anyways, I clear my throat, nothing changes except that one of them has now opened a bag of sunflower seeds and is shattering them one by one loudly in his shitty little mouth every four seconds. ‘Hey guys, can you not? I was asleep before you came back.’ Still nothing changes. So I walk around the side of my bed to their disgusting section of the room, there are now seed shells on the ground next to all their dirty laundry and empty pringles cans. ‘Hey, there’s a common area twenty feet down the hall where you can do everything that you’re doing in here without making me want to shake you. Why don’t you take this pathetic little party down there?’. I finally get a response from one of them. ‘Yeah, we’re all already, um, ready for bed and stuff we don’t really feel like getting dressed and going out there.’ Hmm, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that any room with bean bag chairs in it isn’t going to have a dress code but alright…?
I had an, um, we’ll call it interesting conversation the other day about if it’s ok to have sex in a shared hostel dorm. And as almost all Facebook comment threads usually go, I read some pretty infuriating arguments to why people who don’t want to be three feet away from trashy wasted sex between two strangers should just get over it. One woman said that if you have such a problem with public sex, you should just pay extra to get a private room (maybe she didn’t think about the fact that having sex in front of people that don’t want to watch you is sexual harassment).
So I’m sure that person would say the same to me about this situation. ‘If you have a problem with people being loud and disgusting and messy at 1:00 in the morning in a hostel, you should just pay extra to get a private room’. Except that that isn’t true at all, and that woman is an idiot (don’t worry, she already knows she is because I told her).
Why should I have to pay extra when I’m not the one who struggles with the concept of sharing a room with other people? Why don’t the inconsiderate pricks of the world have to pay extra? If these guys had split the cost of the one extra bed in that room it would have cost them three euros a night extra, and then they wouldn’t even be acting like thoughtless pricks because they wouldn’t have anyone else in the room to consider.
If you are the type of traveler that wants to get absolutely annihilated and bring home whatever club mongrel you meet on any given night, GO FOR IT! Catch as many cocaine faltered dicks as you want. I’m really so OK with people doing that, it doesn’t bother me at all. But goddammit don’t screw them in a room full of complete strangers that are trying to sleep and not trying listen to wasted people attempting to have sloppy, tequila fueled sex. You are the one that needs to shell out the extra money for privacy and your own space. If I shell out the extra money for privacy, sure I’m happy, but the other eight people in that dorm are still pissed. You are the problem, you need to go, not me.
I don’t have a problem with people getting drunk while on vacation. Guess who has two thumbs and also loves to gets drunk while on vacation? This girl! But I come back like I’m in high school and sneaking in the window of my parents’ house after curfew, and sleep in my clothes so I’m not shuffling through my stuff and waking everyone up. Or if you’re going to party act like you mean it. Stay out until 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning so everyone is already waking up anyways. And if you really wanted to make sure you feel particularly filled with regret the next day and hook up with a drunk stranger, it’s common knowledge that you don’t have sex with them in the dorm at 4:00 in the morning you do it in the bathroom. Everyone knows that, it’s like hostel unwritten rules 101. Or, here’s a crazy idea, LITERALLY GET A ROOM. When the originators of that saying came up with it, they didn’t just mean any old room. They meant the private kind that other people aren’t in.
Be honest with yourself about the kind of traveler you are. I don’t struggle with the concept of showering daily, being quiet after midnight (or being loud somewhere other than the sleeping quarters), not leaving garbage and food everywhere, or sleep apnea therefore I am able to stay in a shared dorm and save some money. The snoring I kind of understand, nobody means to snore, the only part of it that’s inconsiderate is not trying to wear a nose strip (there’s no way that this guy’s crazy snoring has gone unnoticed his entire life). But when you’re tossing the lights on at 1:00 am and watching fucking you tube videos, you’ve hit a point where you aren’t even trying to pretend to care about anyone but yourself. Cool, watch you tube videos all night bud, I could care less. But do it in a private room where others aren’t trying to sleep.
Can we stop taking the blame for these people? I’m guessing people have been doing that their entire lives, and that’s how they ended up this way. Stop victim blaming! If you’re not the problem there’s no reason you should be the one to try to fix or alleviate the situation that someone else’s self-centered ass is causing. Those guys are pieces of shit, they should just recognize it and adjust accordingly. There’s no shame in that at all, there is however shame in doing what those guys are doing.
So, since I’m up now and drinking a can of beer, cheers to the people of the world who can handle staying in shared dorms, and to people who know they can’t and plan accordingly. You are all awesome, I want to buy all of you beers.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I just saw that all the lights in my room went off. So I’m going to slowly finish this beer and give those deadshits enough time to fall asleep, then come barreling in, switch all the lights on and throw one of those Fast and Furious movies on full volume. Nothing says ‘sweet dreams bunk buddy’ like a car chase scene and some Ludacris.
I mentioned in a previous post that I really don’t want to be one of those bloggers that pretends like every single day of their life is amazing and traveling solo is always inspired and thrilling. Screw those bloggers and instagram accounts.
While I know I am very lucky to live the life that I live, I’m kind of in a rut. I’m trying not to spend too much money right now, and while Rotterdam really isn’t an expensive city it isn’t particularly cheap either. Plus Rob just went back to the ship, and that always completely bums me out for at least a week.
Among other things, I’m just feeling very blah. Not interested in going site seeing or anything. I just got my 5 year visa for the Netherlands (suck it Schengen!) and of course I was happy. But normal Jackie definitely would have gone out for a million shots a celebratory beer and talked to every single poor soul at that bar about it until I had made ten new friends and spent all my Euros for the day. Instead I went home and watched ‘My 600 Lb Life’ on TLC and cried over a bottle of crappy white wine (seriously that show gets me every time).
But I’m heading to Malta in just a few days. There’s so many beautiful places to see, and there’s this big multi-day coastal walk around Gozo that I’m planning on doing. Then I’m going to Sicily and Italy. Basically I need to snap out of it and quickly! I don’t want this little storm cloud hanging over my head for all the awesome stuff coming up (I want to get a decent tan, after all).
So how does a solo traveler like myself get pumped? It should be easy, you’re going to effing Malta, betch, how can you not be excited for that? But the truth is, while traveling by yourself for an extended period of time is empowering and liberating, it’s also kind of stressful at times and in all honesty, it’s a little bit lonely. It’s one thing to be by yourself in a city for an extended period of time, I can handle that. It’s a whole different beast, however, when you also don’t speak the language. And after a while you get a little tired of having to put in so much effort just to be social and active, and you start to miss your comfort zone a little bit.
So I’ve compiled a list of my go-to movies for travel inspiration. It’s impossible to watch these movies and want to do anything but go on an epic adventure afterwards. When I watch these movies I stop doubting myself. I immediately have get back that anxious and excited feeling in my gut, I’m a little more awestruck and appreciative of the beauty around me, and I crave the random conversations with strangers rather than feel like I’m forcing myself to be social. These are how I’m going to snap myself out of it and get pumped! My ace(s) in the hole!
This is the movie that inspired me to start to travel in the first place. And not to just travel, but to travel with more purpose than just getting drunk off margaritas in Cabo. It’s the story of young Che Guevara (still Ernesto at the time) riding through South America with his best friend and finding his true calling in life. I won’t go on some political rant, but it’s a very interesting insight into how Che became the revolutionist he was. And you get to see gorgeous South American landscapes, along side the heart breaking realities of life in South America during that time.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen The Motorcycle Diaries, but it’s a lot and I’m not sick of it at all. Every time I watch this movie I immediately want to walk out the door and go on my own journey of self discovery and purpose, and write my own motorcycle diaries (that’s hopefully happening in May-June but we’ll see). Plus Gael Garcia Bernal is just…*sigh*…he’s just too handsome, I can’t.
Warning: this movie will make you feel like (or realize that) all of the material possessions and social status you’ve wasted your entire life accumulating mean nothing. But this true story of a bright and successful student who gave up everything to find more meaning in life is a total inspiration. And if you’re like me and haven’t made it up to Alaska yet, you’re going to want to throw yourself on the next plane (or hitch hike there like the main character) to the wild and rugged Alaskan unknown when you catch a glimpse of the scenery in this film. Just make sure you don’t eat the wrong berries (too soon?).
While this movie has an important message about sexual assault and domestic violence, it’s also an empowering story of two women who have had enough and take matters into their own hands. And what an epic way to go out, on their own terms and in total control of their own fate. As a female traveler that’s doing exactly what she wants to do with her life, I feel a special connection to a movie like this about badass women taking control of their own lives. There’s a neat interview with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis from the 25th anniversary of the movie that you can read here.
This is such an incredibly well made series, I can’t gush enough about how much I love watching this. Whenever I’m sad at all, I just have to listen to David Attenborough narrate animals doing outrageous stuff and I feel like it’s all going to be ok. This is my chicken noodle soup when I’m feeling crummy. My sister got me this series for Christmas one year and it will still go down as one of my favorite and most used gifts of all time (it’s always good to have another wanderer in the family!). It’ll make you want to travel to places that you have never even heard of. And if, when you’re done reading this article, you immediately go and binge watch it and feel depressed when it’s over, don’t worry. They just came out with Planet Earth II, with even more amazing camera angles and even crazier animal behavior.
Ok so this isn’t a movie and it isn’t really about traveling. But whoever chooses the filming locations for Game of Thrones has found some of the most beautiful places in the world to do it. Seriously, how does one get that job? From the old section of Dubrovnik, Croatia to the black beaches of Vik, Iceland to the astonishing Royal Alcazar in Sevilla, Spain, I’ve kind of made it a mini goal to see all the awesome places featured in that show. Khaleesi and Khal Drago got married on a cliff that is actually located in Malta, and I’m going to add that to my list of Game of Thrones site places I’ve visited. I have a feeling that I, yet again, will not be disappointed. Really you could just pick maybe three scenes that you think the setting is beautiful in, look up where they are and go visit them. I guarantee you that you won’t be underwhelmed.
So I think tonight will definitely be a movie night! Because I really don’t have time for this bummed out, ‘woe is me’ bs. MALTA IS ONLY TWO DAYS AWAY. Then tomorrow I’ll have a new found ambition and it will be a successful packing day. And then by Saturday night I’ll be in Malta, totally gung ho and ready to soak up all that the rad little island has to show me!
So what are your favorite movies that make you want to hit the road and fill your passport with stamps? I’d love to hear what you watch to snap yourselves out of a rut! This will be my last post in the Netherlands for a bit, I’ll see you all in Malta! 🙂
I have to admit, I have a crazy huge advantage over most travelers who are thinking of visiting Rotterdam. My boyfriend not only speaks Dutch, but he grew up half an hour from Rotterdam and went to college at the Maritime school there. He also has a motorcycle. So yeah, we generally have a really good time exploring his hometown and the surrounding areas.
But even without all of the perks of having an expert tour guide with a motorcycle who you also really like spending time with, Rotterdam is a damn cool place to be. And I’m even going to throw it out there that it’s even cooler than Amsterdam. Is it more scenic? No, probably not. Is the nightlife as hip? Definitely not. Are the people as stylish? Are there as many tourist attractions? Is there a cafe where I can smoke weed on every single freakin’ corner? Nope. But even after considering all of that, I’m still fully convinced that it’s just cooler.
And I think that’s because of the people. They’re a little more rough, a little less refined, a little more real. Amsterdam is the prom king, the football the star, the one that everyone loves. Rotterdam is your best friend, who skips class with you and drinks with you behind the bleachers at the football games on Fridays. Maybe you want to be seen with Amsterdam, and take pictures with him, but who would you rather hang out with really? Just admit it, you know you’re going to have more fun with Rotterdam.
You’d think that Rotterdam and Amsterdam, being about the same age, would both have tons of equally historic and beautiful areas of town. But you would be wrong. Because for whatever reason, that sliver-lipped psychopath Hitler decided to bomb the hell out of Rotterdam during WWII and left Amsterdam’s infrastructure fairly intact. So you’ll actually see quite a bit of modern (and sometimes strange) architecture throughout Rotterdam. There’s still little pockets to discover, however, that the Nazis somehow missed on their destructive rampage. One of those is the neighborhood of Delfshaven.
We pulled up to this gorgeous little brick-lined street, parked the motorcycle, and walked around the corner towards the water. Shops, cafes and bars line the walkway that runs along the water. There’s a big windmill at the end of the street, and these amazing old ships parked in the canal. I looked around and knew I wanted to admire this place for a little longer so we stopped for a drink.
We went to an older bar, which Rob informed me is called a brown cafe in Dutch. We tried for a while to think of the American equivalent. I thought it seemed like a dive bar, or pub, or something like that but he was convinced that those were not good comparisons. It’s just a brown cafe, there is apparently no comparison.
But you’ve got all the usual suspects of a pub in there. The guys that have been in there since they opened, heckling the lady behind the bar because they know she’ll come back with an even more hilarious and clever response. That hammered guy who’s famous for this or for that around the neighborhood, and do you want to see the book he wrote? The guy who isn’t sitting with anyone but will sporadically crack up at something one of the other guys says.
And let me tell you, after five years of working in almost exactly this kind of environment, these are my people. This is my drinking atmosphere. This is where I want to have a beer. Give me a brown cafe over a hipster bar or trendy club in Amsterdam any damn day of the week (I mean that, I will go drinking with you on a Monday afternoon, don’t threaten me with a good time).
We also found another bar like this, in the Noordereiland neighborhood on a different day. It’s surrounded by water, so it’s a little secluded from the rest of the city. Everyone seemed to know everyone (or was comfortable enough to act like they did), and if it weren’t for us walking in right before they started a three hour BINGO tournament we probably would have stayed for more drinks there too.
After a couple beers in Delfshaven and the realization that Rob could no longer translate for me because the guy talking to us was slurring so much, we decided to hop back on the bike and move on.
The weather was gorgeous, so Rob told me that although it was a little out of the way, he really wanted to take me to Kralingse Plas. After a few wrong turns we finally made it to this lake just outside the city center. We found a park bench right near the water and sat and relaxed, watching the various birds there. We both agreed the birds there were hella active. The ducks were repeatedly diving under the water, the swans kept doing this thing where they would stick their heads and necks under water and their butts in the air, the geese were doing this crazy water skiing thing, it was awesome. Now whenever something is crazy, we use that as a measure of just how crazy it was.
We also got the chance to be in the city for the ever important Feyenoord (Rotterdam’s team) vs Ajax (Amsterdam’s team) soccer match. This rivalry is not a joke. Feyenoord are the underdogs. The scrappy, blue collar team with a heart of gold that you always cheer for in the movies. At least that’s what I was led to believe by a bunch of Feyenoord fans 😉
The game was taking place in Amsterdam, but because of previous riots and fights between these two teams, all Feyenoord fans have been banned from going to the Ajax stadium. That was fine for us, we were headed to the Biergarten anyways.
This place is awesome. If you ever find yourself in Rotterdam during a major sporting event check out if they’ll be showing it at the Biergarten and go watch it there. I found the website for the venue and I believe it’s also open every Friday (I’m guessing weather permitting) and man, that would be such a fun place to spend a Friday night during the summer too! Here’s a link to the website if you want more info.
We met up with Rob’s buddy from school a couple times during our visit and I’m now fully convinced that all Dutch dudes are hilarious and funny and just all around really nice. And tall. They’re all also really tall.
We had so much fun! Unfortunately the match was terrible, Feyenoord lost and did not clinch the championship title that day (although they still might!). So we sulked over a few beers afterwards to drown our sorrows and went to bed before the sun did because we’re amateurs and we were tired and we had no fight left in us.
One of the last things Rob and I got to do together before he *sigh* had to head back to the ship was visit one of the city’s markets. This is a great place to check out that you might not read about on other travel blogs, and a serious money saver so listen the hell up.
We went to the Markthal on Tuesday. The Markthal (or Market Hall translated to English) is this big fancy new market recently built in Rotterdam near the Cube Houses pictured above. Ok, I’ve totally heard of the Markthal and it’s not even that cheap. Yes, but right behind it is the real market. The Binnenrote market (open on Tuesdays and Saturdays) was there long before the Markthal, and it offers the excellent prices that a traveler might be more used to seeing at an outdoor market. It may actually be even less expensive than what you would expect.
Here’s a few of the things we bought to give you an idea of how cheap it really is: eight avocados for one euro, three whole smoked mackerel fish filets for five euros, an entire wooden crate of strawberries (maybe like four normal cartons from the store) for two and a half euros. This place is awesome. Even if you don’t need groceries, there’s tons of vendors selling huge fish filets or different types of smoked fish for dirt cheap so just go there for lunch!
There’s food vendors, clothing vendors, guys selling electronics and phone chargers, people selling their antiques, a guy selling turkish rugs. Everything. And added bonus, you get to surround yourself with all those rad South Holland vibes I’ve been telling you about.
Don’t sleep on Rotterdam people! I know Amsterdam is great but you’re missing out on a whole different side of Dutch culture that’s just as amazing if not more. It has it’s own identity, that doesn’t have to bend or strain itself to please the masses. A blue collar port city with a deep history, and at the same time a forward thinking community sprinkled with modern architecture. A place with a strong sense of community, where the locals can still afford to live and don’t mind welcoming a stranger into their world.
If you do find yourself in Rotterdam, remember what I’ve told you about how charming they are. Because if you aren’t careful, you might find yourself having quit your job, on the back of a motorcycle, in a foreign country having the time of your life.