What Traveling Alone Through Europe for Two Months Taught Me

What Traveling Alone Through Europe For Two Months Taught Me

A 20-year-old woman's thoughts on history, the importance of not working too much, and rediscovering one's joy.

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At the start of this past summer, I, like most other college students I know, found myself in a state of utter burnout. I had been devoting every ounce of my energy to my studies, working, fighting for a turbulent relationship, applying to internship opportunities, and trying to find even a moment of free time for myself—an often-futile task. I had been willingly pledging myself to helping others with errands, babysitting, and offering physical and emotional support whenever I could, and as much as I was happy to do it, it left me with nothing for myself, until I one day, feeling both defeated and exhausted, knew I needed to be the one to make a change.

My mother is from Germany, so I had spent much of my childhood summers running across the fields adjacent the Rhine River, playing for hours on end with my brother as my grandma and mom watched over us. That feeling of spending time in a different place with different values, customs, and culture resonated with me, even at a young age, and made me always have a longing to get away from the familiar. Upon finding that I needed a break from my day-to-day, I worked and worked to save up as much money as I could to spend an indefinite amount of time abroad in Europe.

After a four-month work binge, I had saved about $2000, booked a one-way ticket to my first destination—Copenhagen, Denmark—and decided to plan the trip as I went along for the rest of the way. Although an undoubtedly risky decision, I could take my schooling with me online and I had several family friends living in various countries with whom I could stay, so my biggest concern became learning how to get from Point A to Point B wherever I ended up.

Two months later, I had explored the hip, yet history-laden, streets of Christianshavn and the anarchist republic of Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen; I had marveled at the picturesque castles of Sweden, and danced down the street to the tune of ABBA's Arrival album; I had learned how to country-hop by train, how to survive on fifteen euros for a week when my debit card was stolen and no ATM would accept my credit card, and where to find food when restaurants and supermarkets were closed on Sundays in Germany; I had hiked up one of the tallest mountains in the South of France to a town established at the turn of the century, swam in ice-cold rivers that flowed through steep gorges, and fell in love with La Socca, a thin, airy bread made of chickpea flour, water, and olive oil that is an essential (and indescribably delicious) part of Niçoise cuisine.

The places I visited themselves were beautiful beyond compare, but it was the people that allowed me to live a thousand lives in a limited number of days that were the most bewitching of all. I dined on roasted vegetables with Danish hippies on a patch of grass beneath the shade of one of the commune's lush oak trees, discussing the beauty of nature and man's over-complication of life; I was spontaneously educated by a retired German art dealer after staring at a painting I couldn't quite understand for the better part of an hour; I partied poolside with the crew members of a mega yacht docked in Antibes, listening to stories travels to exotic islands around the world with neurotic celebrities and impossibly wealthy public figures; I laughed with an English-Ukrainian physics teacher beneath a statue we did not know was famous until a group of tourists started taking what we thought were pictures of us; and I watched from a cozy window seat as hundreds of mothers and fathers took their children to school each morning on foot or by bike, relishing in that quality time.

"This. This is what life is about," I thought, almost daily.

I returned home completely out of money and exhausted, but what I took away from that trip was worth more than any amount of money could ever buy. After visiting countless churches and cathedrals with needle-like spires, intricate stained-glass windows, and almost unbelievable murals, I began to wonder how many souls had passed through those doors, had lit a candle for a loved one, or had prayed for a miracle on those pews. Walking down cobblestone alleyways and up steep, cliff-side steps I dreamt of the journeys of billions before me, just trying to survive and thrive in their own times. What had it taken back then to be great? Did they know something we don't? I imagined the simple, handheld tools and countless hours spent toward constructing the elaborate roofs that sloped almost poetically. How is it that modern structures crumble more in one decade now than others have in one century? Where did such skill, craftsmanship, and, most importantly, patience go?

Despite several places back home in America having these ornate features too (for example, St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City), what is it about Europe that keeps even the families who have lived on the same streets or in the same houses for hundreds of years always in awe of these commonplace things? I noticed most locals never lost that glimmer in their eyes of love for their home, their history, and their future…so why do we? Has The American Dream really become just about materialism and having everything the way we feel it should be or want it to be? Why can't we accept and love things for how they are? When did enough become never enough?

Another aspect of European culture that struck me as beautiful and missing across the pond, is the recognition that prioritizing working over everything, although it may provide a living, is not living. In Copenhagen, fifty percent of the city's working population bicycles to work, rain, snow, sleet, or shine, every day so that both taking in nature and one's own health can be among the morning's first priorities.

Most Danish employers allow their employees to adjust their work schedules to better accommodate their families' needs; both the father and mother are granted one year of ma/paternity leave if the couple has a child on the way; and during the summer, on days where the sun is shining and a slight breeze billows over the harbor, you'd be hard-pressed to find people indoors, even after a long day's work. Similarly, in Germany, government and regional holidays or days of observation mean both working adults and school-age children are given the day off to spend time with their families; as aforementioned, most shops and restaurants must be closed on Sundays for the same reason; and every employer is required to give each of their employees a minimum of four weeks paid leave.

So why do all of these statistics matter? Simply because a level work-life balance enables people to live, to enjoy their lives on their own or with those they care about, while also not having to sacrifice basic human necessities. Some rightfully argue that Europe isn't all joy and butterflies, and that's true. I acknowledge that each individual country, people, and culture have a plethora of issues, but who or what doesn't? Another argument is that what "they" have could never work here in America because of scale or deep-rooted value/cultural differences or practices, but has anyone really tried some of these centuries-old practices here for a long enough period to see what the result(s) could be? When did the importance of the pursuit of things overtake the pursuit of happiness?

Creating excuses is a mechanism that helps downplay one's fear, and most often of the unknown. I left America to escape my excusing others' inexcusable actions and feeling like I had been pouring from an empty cup for too long in a place I felt stuck in. This trip was me looking myself in the eyes and declaring, "No more, you deserve to be happy too!" It was not until I took myself by the hand and lifted myself out of my rut that I was able to finally fully embrace that truth. No one thing, feeling, or person is going to swoop in and save the day unless we can acknowledge that everything we have needed to walk forward has been here with us all along. Of course, however, it was the kindness, simplicity, outlooks, and laughs of each person that I met along the way that made the fear of taking those first steps, and the subsequent joy found, all the more worth it—fueling my growth, shifting my perspective, and encouragingly nudging me farther down my life's path, ever-toward the things that set my soul on fire. Find what ignites you, and do not be afraid of it. Run toward it.

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Top 50 Things You'll Hear A Southern Say

Y'all.
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For those of you who may need a little help understanding the slang of a southern, I made a list of the top 50 phrases and sayings, along with their translations.

1. Bless your heart.

My favorite saying. It is an empathetic phrase that is usually uttered when the speaker believes the recipient to be sweet, but misguided or stupid. It can also be used if the speaker believes the recipient needs to grow up and deal with it, when the speaker says it in a sarcastic tone.

2. Barking up the wrong tree.

Means being misguided or mistaken.

3. Aren't you precious?

Mostly this saying is used in a sarcastic tone in response to someone being offensive.

4. Britches.

Pants or underpants.

An example would be, "Your britches are too short, you can't wear those".

5. Coke.

Regardless if it's Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, or another carbonated beverage, it's called Coke here in the South.

6. Fixin' to.

Simply means that you are about to do something.

7. Get the short end of the stick.

This phrase means that you basically got an unfair deal or cheated out of something.

8. Give Me Some Sugar.

Simply means give me a kiss.

9. Hissy Fit.

A hissy fit is a grown-up version of a temper tantrum that is as bad as one that a toddler would throw.

10. Hold Your Horses.

Be patient.

11. Holler.

When you say "holler" you are basically letting the other person know something.

Example: Holler at me when you are ready to get something to eat.

12. If the creek don't rise.

This saying simply means that if nothing bad happens, everything will go as planned.

13. You're as slow as molasses in the wintertime.

This phrase means that you are being EXTRA slow.

14. Muddin'.

Off-road four-wheeler riding with the intentions of getting mud everywhere and possibly losing control.

15. Skat Cat.

A phrase that can be used instead of saying "God bless you" when you sneeze.

16. There's Not A Pot Too Crooked That A Lid Won't Fit.

There is someone for everyone.

17. Pitcher.

We mostly mean a plastic container that holds sweet tea, not the position of a guy on the baseball team.

18. Reckon.

When you say "I reckon", you believe that something is true.

19. Hoot With The Owls, Soar With The Eagles.

This simple phrase means that if you are going to stay up all night, you should be able to get early in the morning.

20. Too Big For Your Britches.

Simply means that you take yourself too seriously.

21. Stompin' Grounds.

Your hometown or where you grew up.

22. Back In The Day.

Back in the day could be a month ago, a year ago, or 20 years ago.

23. You're A Spitting Image Of (Insert Family Member).

Yes, I know I'm a spitting image of my mother. "Spitting image" simply means that you look just like someone.

24. "Darlin, Sugar, Sweetheart"

These words are simply terms of endearment.

25. Buggy.

A buggy is a cart/basket at the grocery store.

Example: Who wants to push the buggy?

26. Quit Crying Or I Will Give You Something To Cry About.

This phrase simply means to quit crying and if you didn't then more than likely you got a spanking,

27. Where You Raised In A Barn?

If you are from the South, you have probably been asked this more than once, especially when you left a door open.

28. Close The Door. You Are Letting All The Good Air Out.

This southern heat is nothing to play with. It simply means to keep the door closed so the air (or heat if its winter) stays inside.

29. You Are Going To Make Me Lose My Religion.

When you say this phrase to someone, it more than likely means that person has done something to irritate you or made you mad. Thank goodness Jesus saves.

Example: You are going to make me lose my religion.

30. You Look Like A Chicken With Your Head Cut Off.

This is said when you are running around like a crazy person. It can be said if you are looking for something that you are searching for or if you are just really busy.

31. Y'all.

The southern way to say "you all".

32. You Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket.

If you've ever been told this, it means that you can't sing.

33. Have Their Feathers Ruffled.

You normally have your "feathers ruffled" when you are pouting.

34. Two Peas In A Pod.

When you and someone else are "two peas in a pod", it means that either you almost always together or that you two are almost identical in the way you think and do things.

35. Well Butter My Butt And Call Me A Biscuit.

This saying can be used when you are surprised or excited.

36. Don't Let The Door Hit Ya Where The Good Lord Split Ya.

When someone say this they typically mean to get out and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

37. You're As Good As Gold.

When you are "as good as gold", it means that you are well-behaved and obedient.

38. It's Raining Cats And Dogs Out There.

This simply means that the rain is really coming down hard. It's not actually raining cats and dogs, people.

39. I'm Full As A Tick.

This phrase means that you ate too much food.

40. I'm Sweating More Than A Sinner In Church.

When someone says this, it means that they are really hot and sweating A LOT.

41. Pot Calling The Kettle Black.

This phrase is used when one person is guilty of the very same thing of which they accuse another person.

42. There's More Than One Way To Skin A Cat.

It means that there is anyways more than one way to fix something.

43. Shut Yo' Mouth.

Means to be quiet or hush up.

44. Whatever Floats Your Boat.

This saying means to do whatever you want to do.

45. Slap Yo' Momma.

This phrase means that something is good.

Example: This BBQ is slap yo' momma good.

46. She's Like A Bull In A China Shop.

When you tell someone this phrase, you are telling them that they are clumsy or careless in the way that they move.

47. Cuttin' A Rug.

Cuttin' a rug is used to describe dancing.

Example: Let's go cut a rug tonight.

48. Clicker.

A clicker is another name for a TV remote.

49. Slow Your Roll.

This also means to be patient.

50. You're A Hot Mess.

When you tell someone that they are a "hot mess", you are simply telling them that they don't have it together.

Cover Image Credit: silhouetteamerica.com

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Things To Do in Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver is a big city with a booming night life and beautiful scenery.

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I recently took a long weekend trip to Vancouver. Here are some things I did and some ideas and suggestions for those visiting the city for the first time.

Cocktails

You can't come to Metropolitan Vancouver and not go out for drinks at least one night. There are so many restaurants and cocktail lounges around the city, it would be a shame to neglect to try some Canadian alcohol. The first night I was in town, I went to Juniper Restaurant and Bar in Chinatown.

They had a wide selection of different mixed drinks, and I was impressed with the flavors of all the different cocktails I tried. Most restaurants around the city sell alcohol, so do some research and try the different alcohol selections in the different parts of the city.

The drinking age in Canada is 19, so it was strange for me to go out and order cocktails for myself. Some places ask for two forms of Government issued ID, so be prepared by bringing your Drivers License and passport.

Clubs

The Roxy

During my time in the city, I never went to any clubs. My hotel was on the same block as several of the popular ones, and they seemed like a pretty big deal. I am used to the clubs in my college town, so I was not prepared to walk myself into a real uppity downtown club.

Some of them have dress codes and other rules so be sure to do some research before planning your whole night around being there. One down the block from my downtown hotel was called The Roxy Cabaret. I heard if you are wanting just one club to give you the full Vancouver experience, that was the one to try.

Markets

Granville Island Public Market Entrance

The most popular market in Vancouver is the Granville Island Public Market, very obviously located on Granville Island. The market has art galleries, the market itself which includes anything from artwork to fruits and meats, little shops, and restaurants.

There is a lot of entertainment there. Sometimes they host music festivals and other events during the summer, so expect to spend several hours there if you are wanting to get the full market experience.

During the summer, North Vancouver hosts The Shipyards Night Market. If you are wanting a taste of North Vancouver, including food, drinks, and culture, this is the summer event to go to. I ate some tasty Greek dessert and drank a sparkling vodka while listening to a live band. It was a great way to enjoy the beautiful evenings on the shore.

Whale Watching

Killer Whales

Vancouver is known for its beautiful landscapes and its salmon fishing. While I was there, we went whale watching in Steveston, British Columbia located right outside of Vancouver. During our 4 hour trip, we saw bald eagles, sea lions, killer whales, all with the backdrop of the beautiful North Shore Mountains.

Make sure to bring warm clothes and food. It was a really beautiful trip but the breeze from the fast-moving boat was a little chilly. It was also a long trip, so it was nice to have something to snack on to make sure I wouldn't get sea sick.

Eat

Vegetarian Poutine

Morgan Fischer

Vancouver is a cultural center. There are so many different people there from all over the world. The majority of the people I met there had accents because they were not originally from Canada.

That means the city is filled with every type of food you can think of. You can get anything from Thai to Italian to barbeque and everything in between. Look up different culture areas of the city and try new food in each one.

I also suggest trying Canadian food. Poutine especially. Poutine is simply french fries with brown gravy and cheese curds on it. There are even restaurants that just serve poutine, but spice it up with different toppings and such. The one I would always walk by was Mean Poutine that was located downtown. There was always a line out the door so it must be good!

Finally, Just Ask a Local

Vancouver residents obviously know the best things to do in the city. All the people I interacted with were extremely nice and helpful. I even had a waitress write down a whole list of places to go get the best cocktails around the city.

Do not be shy while you are there. Talk to your waitress or the person helping you at the store. Ask them about the city and see where they think you should go. You never know a hidden treasure you may find or an adventure you may experience because of their advice!

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