I have yet to write about Albania, but it was one of the countries that stuck with me most. While I loved the friendly people, little bits of chaos that infiltrated everyday life and the gorgeous Adriatic sea on my doorstep, the flowers are what immediately come to mind when I picture the country. It seemed like everywhere I looked, another new kind of flower peeked out between a fence or two buildings, brightening my day.
So I tried to make it a habit to stop and smell the roses. In other words, I photographed the shit out of those flowers.
Which flowers are your favorite? Have you ever seen any of these where you live or while traveling?
I’m back home now and beginning the immense project of processing my photographs from a long five months of travel through Europe. I visited what felt like city after city, and while many were somewhat like the others, blending into the background of extended travel, Zagreb, Croatia is one city that really stood out to me. I liked the contrasts of Upper and Lower Zagreb; the lower area felt like the metropolis you’d expect from Croatia’s capital, while the upper town stretched over hills and held beautiful green space. In fifteen minutes you could walk from a busy downtown to what felt like a secluded residential street and just as easily make your way back to the buzzing hum below.
When asked to describe the architecture of Zagreb to a friend shortly after leaving, I said this: It’s the weirdest mix of ugly and beautiful I’d ever seen in one place. And I like it. While I didn’t walk away with many photographs (just enough!), I did pick up some lovely memories of a city I’d be delighted to revisit.
Have you ever been to Zagreb, Croatia and what did you think? Would you like to go? How ’bout that retro passenger van? (I want one!)
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Planning next year has been a long and drawn out affair. I’ve cycled through probably a hundred different ideas. I’ve researched and contacted people in areas where I wanted to go, asked about opportunities galore and looked up flight costs and cost-per-day averages and border crossings and visa restrictions in what feels like half the world. And then I’d fink out on my plans or stumble onto something else amazing, and change my mind. And then I did it all over again.
It’s now less than a week until Christmas and less than two weeks away from the new year, but finally, FINALLY, I’ve figured it out. And booked the flight. And I feel so relieved and happy and excited, because this time, my plans fit like a glove and I don’t have a gut feeling holding me back on a single thing.
Before I reveal anything, let’s take a moment to mourn my discarded travel plans that weren’t able to come to life, at least not yet.
Backpack & Volunteer Around Mexico
This was plan numero uno, and after plenty of research, I came up with very little to actually do in Mexico. Well, there was one place on the West coast where I could work at an orphanage, and there were about a million opportunities in the city of Oaxaca, but the in-between was dark and unpromising, volunteer-project-wise. I’m sure more opportunities would have opened up once I got on the ground, but then idea numero dos popped up.
Backpack & Volunteer From Costa Rica to Mexico
I was alerted that an old family friend worked for an NGO in Nicaragua. Perfect, an in with a reputable place to volunteer. I also thought about the weather and that it would be a good idea to follow the warmth, so to say, and start South, instead, ending in Mexico during the summer months. My biggest dilemma in planning this was just how much I wanted to see in merely 8 weeks. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize AND Mexico? That’s only one week, per country. Impossible. And for some reason, I just had a weird feeling that kept stopping me from booking my flights.
Volunteer in Tanzania
Then I found a really cool volunteer project that was both local, cheap-ish and had a wide range of really inspiring projects I could work in. This plan died when I looked up how much all the vaccinations and visa costs were, though. I’d still love to volunteer and spend some time in Africa, but I need more than a month to get my ducks in a row, first. This is on my radar for the distant future. I’m 100% sure that at some point, Sally in Africa will happen.
Backpack The Balkans
I’ve always wanted to head through Eastern Europe, and with my parents relocating to an area near Berlin, the timing seemed perfect. The only thing about that same timing, though, is that I only have 10-11 weeks to do this and almost twice as many countries I want to visit. And if you know me, then you know that I can’t stand rushing from one place to the next. But deadlines are deadlines, and I need to be in Germany in April and the USA in July for some non-negotiable events; that’s just how the cookie/my Balkan-backpacking plans crumble into little tiny dead pieces.
So… what have I decided?
Did you catch what I just mentioned about Germany in April? (Now you did!) My parents are relocating to Germany for my dad’s work. So to figure out my plans once and for all, I went back to basics. I want to practice my Spanish. I don’t want to spend a million dollars on flights; I want to be closer to where I need to be for those big fixed events. Which led me to the conclusion that at the beginning of February, I should get on a plane headed for:
Only long enough to settle my junk into my dad’s nice new place (he’ll arrive before me, my mom will arrive later), because booking round trip tickets is a lot less of a headache than two one-way. As soon as any jet lag has passed and I’ve had a dark beer and some bretzel, then I’ll be taking a train to:
I’m sure you figured that out, right? Where else in Europe can I practice my Spanish? I have about two months before my mom arrives in Germany and I want to be there to help her settle in. So I’ll be… around Spain. I haven’t made those plans very well yet. But I’d like to spend the majority of my time outside of the city, as living in rural Korea has turned me into a little bit of a country girl. On my way back to Germany at the end of my two months, I want to make a stop in:
[February 2014 edit: These plans have already changed again! I’ll be spending only one month in Spain and then heading outside of the Schengen Visa Zone to Ireland and the UK for another month.]
How could I not? If I had another two months on my Schengen visa then I’d spend it exploring France, as well. Unfortunately I have to choose, so I’ll just spend a few days in the big city, take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and get even fatter than I already will be from eating tapas all day. Solid plan, I know.
Back in Germany…
I get to watch the shock on my mother’s face as she discovers all of these things about Germans are actually true. And pressure her into eating deli meat before 10am. I’ll probably just be doing a lot of boring things like visiting the post office and mapping the way to the local train station, but because it’ll be with my mom, in Germany, it’ll be kind of fun. I’ll also get a taste rural German life, because my parents will be living out in the countryside, thanks to my dad’s work.
Oh, and I’ll say hi to some friends along the way (Vienna, anyone?), but before long I need to head out to my next destination:
Somewhere in Eastern Europe
So vague, I know. Basically I want to be outside of the Schengen zone and not moving around too much, but still in a good place to take some two- or three-day trips. Bosnia, Serbia or Romania are all good contenders at the moment. We shall see! My trip will come to a close at the end of June, I’ll fly back to the USA for a wedding the second week of July, and from there, it looks like a return to Korea is in my future. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, planning until July is good enough for me!)
Wait, so… what will I be doing exactly?
Other than eating everything I can stuff in my face? Brushing up on that Spanish that I’ve let deteriorate a little too much. I’d also like to volunteer and maybe also work for accommodation, so I won’t say a WWOOF is out of the question. I would love to make some new friends, using Couchsurfing. And perhaps even run into an old friend or two, reunion-style. Whatever I end up doing, I don’t want to be living with my face in a Lonely Planet book. Sightseeing is great, visiting new cities is great, but I’m interested in a more culturally involved experience. Where will that take me? Well, who knows.
If I could know, maybe I wouldn’t want to find out. It’s the journey, right?
How You Can Help
Seeing as I haven’t planned out my time in Spain or Eastern Europe yet, any knowledgeable input would be really appreciated. I can use all the info you can throw at me!
What do you suggest I see while I’m in Spain? Do you know of any volunteering opportunities that I could be a part of?
What’s a good base in Eastern Europe that you would recommend? What was your favorite country, there? How about volunteer projects in the area?
Trip insurance suggestions?
If you can’t tell, folks, I’m excited! And so glad that this plan is complete and set in plane-ticket stone; it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to have this settled so I can sit back and relax this holiday season.
So with that, I wish you guys a wonderful end of the year full of cookies, happy memories, things with bright lights all over them and as many laughs as your diaphragm can stand. I know I’ll be doing the same.