Slovenia

Slovenia: the only country with the word LOVE in its name!

After Austria, I took a bus to the capital of Slovenia, which is called Ljubljana.

***Apologies in advance for the amount of photos, but this place was just so darn beautiful!!

City: Ljubljana

How Long: 5 nights

Accommodation:

I stayed at Hostel Vrba in Ljubljana. At first, when I arrived I feared it would not be that social, but I found some awesome people at this hostel! Mainly a British couple who have quit their jobs and a riding their motorcycles all the way to CHINA! Crazy cool! (Check them out here) Lottie and Ryan were super fun and sweet to me, even getting me a bottle of champagne for my birthday 🙂 Anyway back to the hostel itself, there was a good kitchen/ common room and plenty of bathrooms and showers. It was about a 15 minute walk to the center of town, but it’s a lovely walk along the river. The lockers were good-sized and the beds had personal sockets for charging devices.

 

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Drinking Birthday champagne in the common room of the hostel!

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The walk along the river

Where to eat:

Because I was here so long, I went to the grocery store and loaded up one eggs, chicken, and cereal. Saved a bunch of money and hung out with people in the common room while cooking/eating. BUT the highlight of Ljubljana food was an ice cream store called Vigo. Ryan seemed to go every day and I managed to tag along a fair bit of the time. It was just so good (+ cheap)!

What to do:

Wow Slovenia has so many things you can do! The first day I was there I went on the free walking tour and saw most of the major sites in main part of the city, as it is not very big. I ran into an Australian guy I had met at my hostel in Vienna so we did the tour together and after walked up to the castle!

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On my way up to the castle

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Still on my way up

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The final stretch!!!

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Finally the view!

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and….. on my way down

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View of the castle from the town!

The next day I decided to do a day trip to small town about 30 minutes outside of Ljubljana called Škofja Loka. Lottie and Ryan joined me as we headed out to explore a bit of the countryside. The town was tiny, tiny, tiny, but super cute. Of course there was a castle and a church (as every town in Slovenia seems to have) and an old town so we walked around all these areas. We also grabbed a bite to eat and a beer (cider for me, though).

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The main part of town along the river

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View from the church

Then it was my birthday! I decided to book a day trip around Slovenia so I was doing something fun for my bday. I visited Predjama Castle, then the Lipizzan horses in Lipica, Piran, and the Škocjan caves.

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Predjama castle

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Predjama castle feat. me

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Piran, Slovenia

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Above the caves/river that runs through it

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Where we exited the caves

Overall thoughts:

I really enjoyed my time in the capital of Slovenia. After traveling for so long, I’ve determined that I tend to like cities on the smaller side with a few obvious exceptions (London, Paris, and of course BARCELONA!) Ljubljana is a good base for seeing other parts of the country as well! It’s a quaint town that only needs about 2 days for the city itself, but if you want to explore the region, add a couple more days to that.

City: Lake Bled

How Long: 3 nights

Accommodation:

I stayed at a great hostel called Castle Hostel 1004. I would highly recommend staying here if you ever get to Lake Bled. It was 5 minutes from the lake and 1 minute to the bus station. The hostel itself has a great communal kitchen and common room. There are big lockers in the room, but you needed your own padlock because sometimes they run out. The only annoying thing was that sometimes all the bathrooms were full (right before bed + in the morning) but overall wasn’t that big of a deal.

Where to eat:

I mostly ate food I bought from the grocery store to save money and then I would eat in the common room with everyone else while they were eating food they had bought, but the hostel had a deal with some of the restaurants in town so I went to Pizzeria Rustica. We got a 10% discount and the food was great!! I had a yummy white pizza with truffle oil and bacon.

What to do:

WOW, there is a lot to do in the Lake Bled region if you want to spend the time and money. You can go canyoning, sky diving, kayaking, rafting, hiking, swimming, and paragliding. It’s amazing all the outdoor activities that are within reach. As I am on a budget and I was here in April, where it wasn’t quite warm enough for some activities in my mind, I mostly stuck to the hiking. BUT the hiking is spectacular, so I definitely did not feel like I was settling. The first day I hiked around Lake Bled with a stop at an incredible view-point. It was about a 5 miles hike in total.

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Starting of the walk along the lake and already it is so beautiful

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Ducks!

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So peaceful

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Hike up to the viewpoint

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Unreal!!

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At the viewpoint I ended up sitting on the bench next to a girl from South Africa. We got to talking and decided to hike up to the Vintgar Gorge together. It was stunning. Definitely recommend going here. It’s a 5 euro entrance fee (cash only) and about 2 miles roundtrip.

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Headed through the gorge on these cool pathways

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So pretty!

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THIS WATER

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My second day consisted of hiking around a different lake called Bohinj Lake. This lake is bigger and less developed when compared to Lake Bled. It’s about 40 minutes away by bus. I went with an Australia guy I met at the hostel the night before. He had just hiked to Base Camp of Everest so needless to say I was much less fit than he was. I managed to keep up with him (for the most part) up to the waterfall, but once we started on hiking around the lake, I was left in the dust. I meandered along at my own (slow) pace and enjoyed the marvel that was this valley, which had been created by a glacier many, many years ago.

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The start of the climb to the waterfalls!

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The valley as we climbed to the waterfalls

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THE WATERFALLS

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Lake Bohinj

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The day started off cloudy

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but the sun turned up for us towards the end of our hike!

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Can’t get enough of this place!

Overall thoughts:

I stayed 3 nights in Lake Bled, but really only got 2 full days out of it. At first I thought 3 nights would be too much, but I wish I had booked more time here. After spending so much time in large cities, it was so relaxing being here. I loved being in the nature! Overall, I would highly recommend a stop here in Lake Bled.

 

Off to Croatia now 🙂

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Warsaw + Krakow

 

After wrapping up my time in Spain (sadly), I flew to Poland to start the final chapter of my trip! I will be traveling from Poland all the way down to Greece, mostly by bus.  I will be traveling to 10 countries in about 7 weeks. First up: Poland + Austria.

City: Warsaw

How Long: 3 nights

Accommodation:

This was a bit of a different type of travel for me as I was here for a tech conference! My former boss invited me to help him at a conference he was speaking at so I got to stay at the same hotel he was staying at. It was quite the treat after staying in hostels with 5 to 11 other people for most of my trip.

Where to Eat:

Most of our meals were centered around the conference, so nothing too exciting, but we did eat dinner our first night in Warsaw at a great restaurant called Karmnik. We had delicious cocktails and traditional Polish dumplings. Definitely worth a visit!

What to do:

As I have said, most of my time was spent at the conference so sadly I did not do anything noteworthy. However, one thing I learned was that during WWII, Warsaw was pretty much leveled so all the “old” buildings we saw had are actually reconstructions and are not the original buildings.

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Warsaw

Overall Thoughts:

I did not really get a full sense of Warsaw, but I am not sure I would go back as there are so many other places in the world I want to go to. In general, I would not say Warsaw is a must see.

City: Krakow

How Long: 3 nights

Accommodation:

I stayed at an amazing hostel called Mosquito Hostel. Great sized lockers. Guest kitchen. Free breakfast and free dinner. Free laundry. Great location. Every night there were organized social activities and it was super easy to meet people. I HIGHLY recommend this hostel 🙂

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Playing Monopoly with some people I met 🙂

Where to Eat:

Because there was free breakfast and free dinner, I ended up mostly eating at the hostel. However, some friends and I found a delicious cupcake place in the old town called Cupcake Corner. Great cupcakes, but even more fun, we got bagels. For some reason I often crave bagels while I am in Europe, which is odd because when I am home I rarely eat them. Anyway, I got a cheese bagel with thyme cream cheese. SO GOOD.

What to do:

I booked a tour to Auschwitz through my hostel and it worked out really well. They picked us up from the hostel and dropped us back after. We had an incredible tour guide, who had worked directly with Holocaust survivors for many years. Overall, my time spent at Auschwitz was sobering, tough, enlightening, and so very powerful. I think it is incredibly important for us to understand the past and ensure we learn from it as we move forward. Auschwitz is a must while you are in Krakow.

In addition to Auschwitz, I went to Oskar’s Schindler’s Factory museum. Overall it was in interesting museum on the history of Krakow and a little bit on the Schindler’s role in WWII, but it was very heavy on the reading. I found that I didn’t get much out of it because there was an overwhelming amount of words on the walls. If you are interested in visiting this museum, you might consider going with a guide.

I also went to the Easter markets, which were in the main square in the old town. Very similar to Christmas markets, but with less Christmas ornaments and more decorated eggs.

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Main Square

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Tatum with her favorite new store

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Streets of Krakow

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Some friends!!

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Almost died in Krakow

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Wawel Castle

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Inside Wawel Castle

Lastly I went on a free walking tour that ended in the castle, which was super cool. Krakow has a very tough, interesting history.

Overall Thoughts:

Overall, I absolutely loved Krakow. I wish I could have stayed longer! I met amazing people and ate some delicious cheap food! I am already looking forward to returning to this city in the future. Krakow has easily entered into my top 5 favorite cities in Europe 🙂

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Living in Spain- Thoughts

This post will be a little different as it is not about traveling, and rather it is about my time spent as an au pair with two different families in Spain! My first family was in Galicia, which is in the Northwest part of Spain, right on the Atlantic Ocean. No really, right on the water.

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Vilanova de Arousa

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Vilanova de Arousa at sunset

Everyday I would go for a walk or run along the waterfront. So beautiful.

I spent 4 weeks there with a lovely family with three kids. Twin girls who were 10 years old and a boy who was 16 years old.

My next family was just north of Barcelona in a town called Vilassar de Dalt. Lucky for me, there was a direct bus to downtown Barcelona that was just 35 minutes, making it easy to head in to meet friends. The house here was also near the coast, although the Mediterranean this time.

Can’t complain, this was waiting for me after a 2 mile run from my house!

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Vilassar de Mar

I spent 5 weeks with this family, which consisted of one girl who was 6 years old, one girl who was 8 years old, and one boy who was 12 years old. This family loves to ski so almost every weekend we went to their ski cabin in France! Such a fun time!

I had such amazing experiences with both families, but life is definitely different in Spain then it is in the States! I wanted to write about some of the fun/funny/strange differences 🙂 (Also just want to preface this with the fact that this is just my observations from living with two different families. In no way am I saying these observations are applicable to a greater population.)

Eating times

This is an obvious one but it is such a big one that I thought I would still mention it. Here’s roughly the eating schedule in Spain:

Breakfast- 7:30-8:00.

Snack- 11:00-11:30

Lunch- 2:00-3:30

Snack- 5:00-6:00

Dinner- 9:00-10:00

I definitely struggled with eating lunch and dinner so much later than what I’m used to. My stomach would often grumble around 12:30 and 7:30, so I would grab a piece of fruit or some crackers to tide me over.

Another difference when it comes to eating is that lunch in Spain is the big meal of the day, whereas in the States dinner is more often the important meal. In fact, in the middle of the day, often people stop working and go home to eat lunch with the whole family. There is a pause in the work day for 2-3 hours to eat lunch in your home. Lunch is the heavier meal with more meat and sides, and often 2-3 courses. Dinner in Spain tends to be lighter. My first family actually only ate sandwiches for dinner. Every night. Like they had the same thing every single night for dinner. After the first week, I started to make my own spinach salad instead of eating a sandwich everyday.

Food quirks:

Speaking of eating, they have some weird food habits. Although for them, they thought some of the things I do is weird too! One example is that the grandma of one of the families would always give the kids milk as part of their snack in the afternoon, which of course isn’t weird at all until you consider the fact that she would put sugar in it. And it wasn’t non-fat milk, it was WHOLE MILK. I repeat, SUGAR IN WHOLE MILK. For me that seems crazy as whole milk already so sweet and fatty, but I’m sure it is tasty.

Another example is surrounding cereal. The kids in my second family would eat their cereal either dry, as in without milk, or with hot milk, but never with cold milk. When they saw me put the milk on my cereal right out of the fridge their jaws dropped. I was so confused as I had never seen another way to eat cereal. I mean, cereal without milk I understand because it is sort of like a trail mix/snack thing, but hot milk in your Cheerios seems weird to me. Sometimes they would even put their hot Cola-Cao (which is like a powder chocolate milk mix) on their cereal. To me, it seemed strange, although I’m not knocking it because I’m sure it would be good.

Another new one for me was one of the dad’s loved his toast with olive oil and sugar. At first I was suspicious but after trying it, I really liked it.

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The mom of one family would make fresh squeezed orange juice and add some lemon and honey to it before heating it in the microwave for when one of the kids was sick. Sounds strange to me, hot orange juice, but after trying it, I absolutely love it. It is super soothing for a sore throat.

As for things the families often found weird about my eating, one was my love of peanut butter and how I put it on everything. Cereal, apples, bananas, carrots, toast, ice cream, you name it. Peanut butter is not very common in Spain, so most of the kids hadn’t even tried it before, but after trying it, all but one loved it! I even gave the twins from my first family a jar of peanut butter each for their 10th birthday, which I happened to be around for while I was staying with them. Also on a peanut butter note… I made PB&J’s for the kids and they took it for school as a snack. They loved it!!

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Assembling the PB&J’s

 

 

They thought it was weird that I put butter on untoasted bread. They always dip their bread in the sauce of whatever dish they were serving or in olive oil.

They thought it was weird that I put salt on everything from salads and soups, to meats. (America is wayyyyy addicted to salt)

One night my second family made beef and as a side dish they made apple puree (or apple sauce), but it was hot. At first I thought this was strange, but, once again, it ended up being tasty!

Pets:

Birds are very popular as pets because in small apartments in Barcelona, not much else fits. Dogs and cats are popular as well, but I noticed some interesting things about these pets. The most obvious and interesting one for me was that the German Shepard at my first house was not allowed inside the house. As in, it was kept outside 100% of the time. For me this is so strange! Even when there were thunderstorms and even when it was cold, he was kept outside. It also meant interactions with the dog were minimal as the only time spent with dog was when we left the house or were arriving. I think the whole month I was there they took him on 2 walks. The whole thing made me sad because my dogs are such an important part of my daily life. Whether I am walking them, or snuggling with them, I spend a significant amount of time with them. Also they fed him whatever human food we didn’t finish including bones or chocolate, which made me uncomfortable because depending on the type, they both are dangerous for a dog. But alas, different customs I guess. Also, there are a significant number of stray dogs and cats in both places I lived, although less stray dogs in my second town. I know this does happen in the US as well, but where I live I rarely see a stray dog and most cats I see are just outside cats, rather than stray cats.

Zapatillas (slippers):

Both families would take off their shoes as soon as they enter their house and put on zapatillas. They never were barefoot or walked around with shoes on. When I told them at my house, everyone either wore their “outside shoes” or were barefoot they were shocked. I always forget to put on my zapatillas so sometimes I would just be wearing my socks and the mom of my first mom would say that I would get sick without wearing my zapatillas. I figured in my head that if for the first 22 years of my life I managed without zapatillas then I would manage to not get sick the month I was there- and I was right- but as often as I could I would try to remember to wear my zapatillas.

Cleaning:

It was clearly quite important to both families that the house was always clean. And obviously that’s not a bad or unique thing, but it felt more important than what I have seen in my experiences in the States. I mean, my family has someone who cleans the house every week or every other week, so I can appreciate having a clean home. But one of my families had someone come EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to clean the entire home. This seemed a bit excessive to me. The other family had me vacuum and dust every single day. I didn’t mind doing it, of course, but it just seemed again a bit excessive. Another difference that I think might affect this behavior is that I’ve noticed a lack of carpets in Spain. Homes here tend to have a few rugs here and there, but in general it’s all hard floors, whether it is hardwood or concrete. This means dust and dirt is more visible and gets onto your feet more, as opposed the carpet which sort of ends up absorbing the dust and dirt. My house is certainly a higher percentage carpet than it is hardwood.

Playdates:

I don’t know if this is applicable generally to Spain or if I just got two families that don’t participate in this, but in my 9 weeks total with Spanish families there was not one playdate. The only time a kid came over to one of the houses was a birthday party for the twins in my first family. I asked the families about this and their replies were similar: Time away from school and work is for family time. Interesting right? This is so different to my experience growing up where almost every day I had some sort of playdate where I was going to someone’s house or someone was coming to mine. Not only was it great for the kids, it allowed parents some extra time to get stuff done. I never really met any of the friends of the 6 kids I au paired for. Sort of strange to me.

Vacations:

With my two families, it seemed vacations were for the entire family or no one. For example, when I told my first family that growing up sometimes my parents took a weekend away just the two of us or that in the past 7 years, vacations are spent with some combination of the family (as in sometimes my sister isn’t there, or sometimes my dad misses it), they again were shocked. To them, vacation is for the whole family. They don’t want to spend time with one family member missing. Between the playdates and vacations, my takeaway is that the family unit is very strong in Spain. They value spending time as a full unit and don’t want anyone outside the family a part of it. It’s not time for friends or other groups- just family. In my experience, once my sister and I were a little older, we almost always brought friends on vacation with us, or we went with family friends, so again just a slightly different way of doing things.

Family:

On the theme of family, extended family seemed to be much more involved in the daily life compared to my experiences growing up. Both families had one set of grandparents living about a 5-minute walk away. Often part of the daily routine was having a snack at the grandparent’s house before Grandpa would take some of the kids to an extracurricular such as track and field or music class. They pitched in to help with the grandkids on a daily/weekly basis. In my experience growing up, while I definitely saw my grandparents a decent amount because luckily they lived in the next town over, they weren’t part of the daily routine. Obviously, if my parents needed help in a pinch, my grandparents would help out, but like I said, they weren’t part of the daily routine. In fact, the mom of my second family had grown up in downtown Barcelona, but once married she moved out to the town they live in currently. Her parents, who had lived in Barcelona their entire lives, followed her and bought a house a five-minute walk away to be closer to their daughter and future grandkids.

 

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts and observations after living in Spain for just 9 weeks. Like I said at the beginning, I’m not saying these observations are applicable to all of Spain, just what I noticed after living with two families! Hope you enjoyed reading this!