A walkabout is a rite of passage- a person will go out into the wilderness to discover his or her identity and purpose, and then return home.

Friday, May 31, 2013


I. Have. Five. Days. Left.

Holy shit. [ <-- excuse the French]

My time in Nice (and Cannes) and Barcelona was really fun. Full of sun, beach time, cool people, and magical fountains. Plus, I snuck into the VIP section of the Cannes Film Fest and felt super badass. But you'll have to ask me about that in person.... I'm currently in the beach town of Tossa De Mar (north of Barcelona), just relaxing and soaking up some rays for the majority of my last week abroad. It's extra easy to enjoy being a beach bum when you know you have to hit the ground running with work literally four days after you get back home. Le sigh. Real life can be such a slap in the face.

But really? From eight months (!) to less than one week. How did this happen? Where did my gap year/walkabout/year abroad go??

I'm sure there's a similar feeling for those of you who just finished (or are finishing, Anri) your academic year. Especially if it was your freshman year of college. Yet your endings may have had a bit more jubilation and relief attached to them, whereas my thoughts about finishing up are sort of... conflicted.

On the one hand, I'm SO ready to be home. I want to see my family and friends. I'm ready to return to the familiarity and comfort of STP. And by all means give me some free, home-cooked meals, my own room and bed to sleep in, and access to a washer and dryer 24/7. Honestly, for stretches of days at a time within the past few weeks it feels like all I've done is count the days, hours, minutes until my plane arrives back in MN. At certain points recently I've just lost the will to travel: I don't want to walk around new cities, I don't want to pay for museums, I don't want to meet new friends I'll just say goodbye to a few days later, I don't want to take advantage of my legal drinking age, just get me HOME.

...But on the other side of that equation- I don't want to stop traveling. Returning home means going back to having parents [whom I love! But nevertheless it'll retract a bit of my complete independence], to beginning jobs and having responsibilities, to doing chores, to sinking back into "real life." No more exploring large, new, foreign cities at night with a crew of other travelers; no more "playing tourist" in the hopes of riding the metro for free; no more recounting travel tales without feeling like I'm bragging, and no longer will my biggest problem be whether or not the sun will stay out long enough for me to get five hours of beach time in instead of four....

As I've been discussing with other travelers recently, being away from your normal routine for an extended period of time is always an amazing, surreal experience. Yet once you get back, sure there's some culture shock or whatever, but soon enough you've settled back into your old ways of life, and you think to yourself "Did I actually do that? Was I really drinking Long Island iced teas in the south of France only one month ago?" It's depressing. I don't want to believe an experience like this- and especially one so [dare I say it?] life-changing- could just fade into a fond, dreamlike memory.

Because I can honestly say that this year- this decision to embark on a year abroad- has been the best thing I've ever done. I've learned so much about myself, about being self-sufficient, about how life really IS what you make of it. I've met incredible, fun, inspiring people, people who became my best friends for days, weeks, and months. I've had amazing, new experiences. I've seen beautiful, historic, breathtaking places. I [pretty much] skipped winter. I caught up a bit on my sleep debt. Traveling has lots of pros :)

I really did this by myself- was on my own, completely independent. And I've certainly grown from that. Maybe in ways that are apparent, maybe not. One thing I am sure of, though, is that I am NOT that same little, unworldly, sheltered girl who stepped naïvely onto a plane bound for Costa Rica last September.

No fucking way.

I'll see y'all soon!

xoxo, Cleome

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Big City Livin'

As I sit here in Paris, I have (slightly) less than three weeks of backpacking left. It's crazy to think that the end of not only this leg of my adventure, but my ENTIRE year of traveling, is in sight. When I touch down on June 6, I'll have been away from home for a total of eight months.... And as ridiculous as it sounds, I'm sure in just a few weeks after being back in MN, this whole journey will have felt like a dream. But that's traveling for ya- all about living in the moment and making the most of the present. Because in the future you could be stuck in a dorm room cramming for finals....

But coming back from the above musings, let me update you on how/where I spent the last 12 days.

Sooooo I got stuck in Berlin. Oh, nothing as dramatic as being mugged and left without money or official documents, no- by "stuck" I just mean I couldn't find enough motivation to leave the city for a while. Like, a full week a while.

See I went in thinking I'd stay three, maybe four nights. Because I'd planned to visit Cologne (and actually had already booked a hostel there) for a few days before arriving in Paris on the 14th. But after a few days in Berlin, I realized that 1) the city was too big to see everything in only a few days, 2) my hostel was a great place to hang out and full of cool people, and 3) Berlin was cheap. AND training/bussing it to Cologne and then Paris would have been extremely expensive. AND I really had no reason to go to Cologne except to say hi to a few people for a night. AND I was tired of moving around so fast.

Plus, the hostel had a decent kitchen and I was having a blast actually cooking. A girl can only live off of raw carrots, apples, and the occasional bag of trail mix for so long. Trust me.

All that ^ is to say that I stayed in Berlin the longest of any city on my backpacking adventure so far, and totally loved it. The city is gritty, raw, unrefined, and completely real. Remnants of Berlin's (and Germany's) tumultuous past litter the streets. The people are essentially all hipsters. The atmosphere is extremely laid back. Everything and anything you want to do is available there: parks, art and history museums, shopping districts, cheap hair salons, and tons of great bars/music/clubs. [Actually, such things as 36-hour clubs exist in Berlin- people enter Friday night and don't stumble out until Monday morning. Insane.]

It's interesting how my style of traveling has developed over the past month or so. At the beginning (up until Germany, actually) I was blasting through cities. Two nights, three nights, four only if it was reeeaaaally special. And I enjoyed moving around like that. It kept things fresh and interesting and I got to see a LOT.

...But try doing a month of that, and all the motion starts to get a bit old. And by 'old' I mean exhausting. Right around the time I arrived in Berlin (and if I'm being honest, maybe even a few cities beforehand) I felt in need of a break. A little bit of time where I could just plop my backpack down and not have to pack it right back up in a few days. Where I could buy food and store it in the fridge for more than a night. Where I could actually get to know people for an extended period of time. And Berlin hit the spot. (I think the rest of my visits to cities will last longer from this point on as well.)

I spent the first few days in Berlin doing all my normal touristy activities: sightseeing, taking a walking tour, wandering, museum-going, etc. And then I said a final goodbye to Alec (we'd actually split up before Berlin, anyway), settled into the hostel and a new crew of people, and just chilled. It got to the point where I'd plan one activity for the day (going to the grocery store, for example), and feel successful if I managed to complete it. So in retrospect I probably stayed one or two days too long (as I really don't remember doing anything my last couple of days), but the chill-out time was a great battery recharger. Especially because Paris was next, and I planned on doing nothing but walking the streets for five solid days (in the non-prostitute sense).

My last day in Berlin consisted of contracting major blisters on both my feet, as well as spending a sleepless night on the freezing cold airport floor before my 6am flight to Paris, but it in no way colored my view of the German capital. Berlin's a top-of-the-lister, for sure.

The capital of France, the city of romance, the location symbolized by a large metal tower... what a place! I think I'm in love. Seriously. And it's the kind of affection that really has little solid basis, because as I now try to pinpoint actual reasons I think I could stay here all my life, I'm sort of drawing a blank. The world-famous museums? The impressive monuments? The food? The vibe? The exclusivity the extortionate prices create? The weather? (<-ha, I'm so funny. It's been 60 and rainy/cloudy pretty much my whole stay...) Well, whatever the reasons, I really have enjoyed my time here.

True to my original plan, I did spend my days here just walking the city. I toured the main tourist attractions (though didn't make it up close to the Eiffel Tower/Arc Du Triomphe until my third day here), got a history lesson on the artsy Montmartre area, popped into some nifty shops, soaked up the intermittent sun in parks, and did a handful of the top museums [I did the Louvre last night for free, and after hitting the celebrity pieces like the Mona Lisa and Venus di Milo (who decides which artworks become so famous, anyway?) wandered to the Islamic art area. Where I'd step into a room and literally be the only person there. In the Louvre.... Sometimes the curators were even MIA. Kind of a surreal experience.]. Also hit the small-yet-beautiful Rodin museum. Totally recommend it.

My hostel here isn't the nicest place to hang out, but it was fine as I wasn't planning on cooking, relaxing inside, or (as sad as it sounds) meeting people in Paris. So all in all, even with the iffy weather, I think I may have found my absolute favorite city. Though I still have yet to visit a few others that may give Paris a run for its money.... But for now, it's top.

Now I'm off to really do nothing but read, tan, and stargaze on the beaches of the south of France. And the Cannes film festival. So pumped.

And yes, I'm still trying to snag a ticket to a movie premiere. I'll let you know if I succeed.

xoxo, Cleome

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

To the East and Back Again

My time in Italy ended roughly one week ago, but damn does it feel like so much more time has gone by since then. In these past eight/nine days, my route took me through Vienna, then I hit the non-Western cities of Budapest and Prague, and am currently stationed in Berlin (just arrived). Kind of a whirlwind tour, but luckily I (so far) have lived to tell the tale.

[Oh, and if you happen to remember back to my possible list of cities to visit and their order... yeah, it's safe to say that has COMPLETELY changed. Like, everything after Italy. So get ready for some surprises :)]

Out of Italy #1~ Vienna, Austria
First on the trajectory was Vienna- a city that managed to secure a place on my list of favorite spots by the time I had to say goodbye (three days after getting in).

If I had to describe the vibe present in Vienna in one word, it would have to be "artsy." Everything had a creative bend: murals on the walls lining the river banks, art-nouveau architecture, random decorations on buildings... not to mention the hundreds of art museums all over the city. <- all the prettiness within Vienna made it so much fun to walk around and just marvel at the various types of public artwork.

I was mostly on my own in Vienna, but the city was so full of things to do and see, it didn't matter. To be honest, I generally prefer exploring cities on my own. I have gone out wandering with others, which is certainly fun, but I like to walk... like, a lot, and so when I'm going solo I can move around as much/little as I want. Also, I've devised the perfect method to get the most out of sightseeing in a city: grab a map from the hostel and figure out where that is located, then pick a direction that heads toward the main tourist attractions and put my map away until the evening when I realize I should start heading back to cook some dinner. Using that way of exploring, I invariably end up seeing more of the city than I otherwise would have, as I rely on my sub-par sense of direction (and which streets look coolest) to determine where I end up walking. Trying to make it back to the hostel with the map always turns into an adventure, as well....

So yeah, at this point I think Vienna would be one of the few cities I've visited which I could see myself returning to to live for a more extended period of time. Highly recommended.

Out of Italy #2~ Budapest, Hungary
Umm, it had never even crossed my mind to venture into Budapest, even briefly, until people I'd met in Europe (from Athens on) began mentioning the city as a cool place to go check out. But as I began rethinking my route- due to finanicial as well as interest reasons- I started to formulate a plan to hit a few more eastern cities (namely Split, Croatia; Budapest, Hungary, and Prague, Czech Republic) before stepping into Berlin....

Which happened to worked out perfectly when I met Alec (my travel buddy basically beginning in Budapest) in Rome, and it turned out he was planning on doing a similar thing at basically the same time (only he wanted to hit Vienna instead of Croatia). So we decided to keep in touch on our separate trips through Italy, and then just see if it would work out to meet up and travel together through Vienna [though we only arrived there together- he was staying with family friends, so we didn't see each other much in Austria], Budapest, Prague, and Berlin. And it did. By the time we split (at end of our visit to Berlin), we'll have traveled together for about a week.

Anyway, back to Budapest. My first real venture into "Eastern Europe." So cool.

Budapest the city, if taken solely at face-value, has little to offer tourists. You can see the monuments in a day, there are few museums, and it takes maybe 45 minutes to walk from one side to the other. But if you delve a bit deeper, there's a lot of cool things to DO. In my one and a half days in Budapest I: saw a $5 opera, went to a cheap Hungarian buffet, got caught in a torrential downpour, and visited "the 3rd best pub in the world" (according to Lonely Planet) in a cool ruins bar- building blasted in WWII and kept in its damaged condition. I had a lot of fun, and the vibe in the city (and among the travelers who pass through) is extremely relaxed and into having a good time. The atmosphere felt a lot more sunny than the majority of other European cities I've been to; it reminded me of Central America a bit, actually. Extremely comfortable and easy to immediately feel at home. Had I not already planned to go to Prague, I most likely would have stayed in Budapest longer. It was nice and cheap, too :)

[Also, Budapest reminded me that, though in Europe there are tons of possible routes to take/places to visit, the traveling community is weirdly small. I ran into not one but two different people I'd hung out with in my earlier travels (one in Israel, one in Athens) in the same day while walking through Budapest. Forces of the universe at work, I tell ya....]

Out of Italy #3: Prague, Czech Republic
Second (and final?) stop in the east was Prague- a city I'd heard a lot about, beginning in Costa Rica. It had the reputation of not only being extremely gorgeous, but also possessing a pretty active nightlife. Best of both worlds, right?

I really did enjoy Prague, no doubt. But maybe if I hadn't already seen Vienna, I would've been more amazed by its Victorian beauty. And maybe if I wasn't coming from Budapest, I'd have been overwhelmed by the nightlife experience....

That being said, I still had a great time in Prague. The walking tour I took was my favorite of the five or so I've been on so far. Seeing the astronomical clock "performance" was pretty cool. I came across free-ranging peacocks one morning, which definitely made my day. The city was full of scenic views and elegant architecture. And trying authentic absinthe had been on my To Do list... ;)

Plus, met some cool people and had a good Prague-after-dark experience. A fun, beautiful, and cheap city.

Loving All the Moving, But...
To those of you who don't know much about backpacking, it may sound like one big vacation. And while it is most likely on average more enjoyable than a routine of studying/working day after day, let me tell you: straight traveling is exhausting. Most cities are a three or four day stop, and in that short amount of time you try and fit in EVERY single "touristy" thing to do. Plus activities you hear recommended by other travelers. Plus going out at night. And if you're me, you walk everywhere. Because you're cheap. And wandering around is fun, anyway. But put it all together and it's a lot.

No, I am in no way complaining. Honestly, the backpacker life is pretty stress-free :) However, I am quite looking forward to spending at least a week in southern France. I'm planning on beach-bumming it for a while, coupled with some daytrips to the Cannes film fest. Sounds like a good life, no?

Two more big cities and then the beach. Hope y'all are enjoying finals....

xoxo, Cleome

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ciao Ciao

Gray day in Venice. Luckily I've got a nice apartment, five cool American chicks, and- of course- this blog post to keep me going :)

My time in Italy is up! One day more and I head for the hills. Literally- I'm going to Vienna. And gaining a travel buddy (finally) along the way. It's crazy to imagine I've been solo-but-not-alone backpacking for essentially one whole month now. And I've got basically only one month (okay, five weeks) left until I return from my time abroad. I'll have been out for eight of the past twelve months once I touch down in STP. Insane.

But it's a bit too early to get nostalgic for experiences I'm still not through with. Let's talk about Italy.

Rome I already briefed y'all about. Amazing city to walk around in, but I moved on pretty quickly [in retrospect, definitely WAY too quickly] due to my severely lacking social scene.... C'est la vie.

Florence is where I left off in blog world. I stayed there four nights (the longest of any city in Italy- and actually in my backpacking journey so far) because I really just couldn't get enough of the city! To me, it felt like Rome on a smaller, more Cleome-friendly scale: less streets to get lost on, a bit calmer vibe, gorgeous river in the middle with actual grassy banks, and still lots of old buildings and museums to go check out.

Another reason I felt no need to rush out was thanks to the cool people I met (at last!). I met a guy studying in Rome, Max, my first night, who acted like my guide around Florence for a day. A fun group of five American girls studying in Grenoble (France) checked in the next night, and that's who I'm staying with in this apartment in Venice. And I found a museum-going buddy in Robin on my last full day in town. So a much better friend scene there, which allowed me to take my time and enjoy the sites a little less hurriedly than in Rome.

Florence is definitely near the top of my "Favorite Cities I've Seen" list.

Bologna [I think the English and Italian names are the same...]
Now this was a different type of tourist experience.

For one, I was only going to Bologna because I had a place to stay (my dad's old Italian girlfriend and family live there- not that I'd ever met them... but in traveling, any and every connection is valid). I don't even think there's a hostel there. And two, Bologna is not really set up in any way for tourists. Which is great! Makes for a very authentic Italian town experience. But for all the pros (no entrance fees, no one speaking English, no people trying to sell you stuff on the street), there are also some cons... mainly that NO ONE speaks English. Makes it tricky to, say, buy a train ticket, or, for example, understand when people are yelling at you for entering a private art showing....

But I loved walking around the city! I pretty much just walked down cool looking streets, under all the archways, and into any open door I could find. Not many large monuments, but enough to keep you occupied for a good chunk of time. Also, Bologna has parts that are incredibly green and flowery and gorgeous. Which I was able to find thanks to having a tour guide in the form of Cinzia- my mother for the two days I stayed in Bologna :)

Getting that homestay feel in the middle of traveling was an experience too great for words. In backpacking you're always in a hostel, no privacy, strangers everywhere, everything costs you money, and you feel the need to go go go. Being able to sleep in a non-bunk bed, in my own room, have my meals cooked for me and my laundry done, was almost too much. I felt immediately at home, and just went into relaxation mode. Which was desperately needed. [Though now I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to get out and do my normal eight hours of walking a day....]

So I was really sad to leave Bologna. 'Nuff said.

Venice is one of those cities I'm pretty sure the majority of the [Western] human population wants to see. Because it's supposed to be magical- it's a floating city, for goodness sake. One that may go underwater in the not too distant future... but let's not think about that.

[Also, not sure if everyone but me realized this, but an aerial map of Venice shows that the city looks like a fish. How cool!]

I think Venice is a nice place to visit, certainly, but a few days is by far enough (for me). It's so cool walking around as there are no cars, narrow, twisting alleyways lead everywhere, and you're surrounded by water. But the city is also extremely touristy, expensive (literally everything costs money- and more euros than the rest of Italy), and has NO nightlife. I'm serious. It's like a ghost town at night. So I guess a decent spot for a family vacation, then... haha.

Walking around and stepping into church entries (so I don't have to pay <- cheap backpacker tip), plus the occasional artsy shop has been fun. And getting lost in the crazy, non-planned city streets is definitely part of the Venetian experience. But after one more full day tomorrow (in which I'll be kicked out of the apartment where I've been holing myself up...) I think I'll have gotten my fill.

Though walking around at night, having the streets to yourself and taking in the reflection of lights on the water is quite magical. Venice works well for lovers I'd say, too.

To sum up Italy, I enjoyed every place I visited for different reasons.
Rome for the history and the walking and the monuments.
Florence for the atmosphere and the people.
Bologna for its authenticity and my insider experience.
Venice for its novelty.

Italy is a terribly beautiful country that inspires romance with every scene you drink in. Incredible cities. Ancient histories. Wonderful people (locals and travelers). Delicious food.

...But traveling through this country also burned a not-so-attractive hole in my pocket. I'm ready to stop living in poverty. I'm ready for Eastern Europe!

Vienna- it's on.

xoxo, Cleome

Saturday, April 20, 2013

[Nearly] Three Weeks In

I'm currently sitting in the reception area of a hostel in downtown Rome, minutes from the main Termini station. Since all I really have on the agenda today is to make it to Florence by mid-afternoon (as opposed to my last couple weeks of what feels like non-stop activities crammed into each and every day), I figured this was a good time to write a quick update on my solo traveling adventures. Here goes!

Week 1: Jerusalem, Mitzpe Ramon (Israel)

I left my volunteer position at the Fauzi at the beginning of April- literally April 1. I, accompanied by my volunteer bestie Jake who had a few days off, headed to Jerusalem to base ourselves there for a couple of days. While there I finally got around to doing all the major touristy stuff, haha: hiked the snake path up to the ruins of Masada, swam (floated?) in the Dead Sea, and hiked through the natural oasis of Ein Gedi. I had fun, but mainly enjoyed being able to check them off my Israel to do list... they'd sort of been hanging over my head. <- And that may sound really flippant, but I think I've slightly overloaded on gorgeous treks and ancient Roman/Ottoman/Byzantine ruins. There happen to be a ton all over Israel. So while they were still nice to visit, I wasn't as wowed as a first-timer would've been, I'm sure.

Jake left me to return to Nazareth on Wednesday, and so Thursday morning I set out to my first real location where I didn't know anyone: Mitzpe Ramon, a town situated in the middle of the Negev desert. The draw of Mitzpe is that it happens to be right next to this huge crater-like thing (but it's not a crater!) called a makhtesh. Only seven makhtesh exist in the world; five in Israel and two in Jordan. I'm not exactly sure on the actual differences between a makhtesh and crater... but makhtesh aren't formed by meteors or eruptions or anything- it's all about the natural shifts of the earth that happen in a particular sequence. Anyway, I LOVED it there- stayed for three nights. I did a few different desert hikes that were just amazing, got some sun, and did I mention that the Green Backpackers hostel was incredible? Great vibe, intimate, run by accredited tour guides, and attracted the coolest people (other guests and volunteers). We had a communal dinner, movie night, poker game (which I won!), and lots of interesting conversations. I felt extremely comfortable there and was sad to leave. But I didn't stay as I had other places I really wanted to visit, too.

Week 2: Petra (Jordan), Eilat, Mishmar Haemek, Nazareth (Israel)

I managed to pick up a travel buddy in Mitzpe Ramon- this cool Argentinian named Jose who happened to be a hostel volunteer at Green Backpackers, but used his free days to travel south with me to the beaches of Eilat. We missed our bus... but it turned out for the best as we hitch hiked and arrived at the resort town earlier and for free. We spent two days just picking out beaches to hit up, playing guitar, speaking Spanish (attempting to, on my part...), snorkeling (so good there! An amazing variety of vibrant fish), and chilling on the hostel patio at night. I had a great time, and parting was bittersweet. I hope we meet up again someday.

After Eilat I joined an old person tour to the ancient Nabitian city of Petra, located about two hours over the border in Jordan. I spent two days wandering around one of the eight wonders of the ancient world, and it was an incredible, impressive sight to behold. The city was just so picturesque- and extensive! Right when you thought you'd reached the outskirts, another little path was leading you up a million stairs to some other monastery.... I spent two days there and still didn't get to see everything. A definite highlight from Petra was also getting to stay in a real hotel (part of the tour package). A non-bunk bed. My own bathroom. A full-length mirror. I was in heaven. Took full advantage of my privacy and just stripped and flung myself on the bed. It felt soooo good. <- by far the nicest place I have stayed and will stay while traveling alone.

Once I was let back into Israel (there was a bit of border iffiness, but they finally let me through), I took a series of busses over the course of eight hours to get to my friend Jess's kibbutz in the north- about one hour from Nazareth. I'd been there once before for a day, so arriving again felt a bit like coming home... or at least to a relievingly familiar place with familiar people. It was so much fun hanging out on the kibbutz for a night with Jess and her friends again. They're always a fun group to see :)

On Friday I bid farewell to the kibbutzers and headed off with Jess to Nazareth (she wanted to come back for a few hours to say hi). We arrived at the Fauzi, and that definitely felt like coming home: we knew the town, the people, and it all felt so normal. Though I have to say, returning to a place you already left always feels a bit weird. Like you're coming into another dimension's version of that area, sci-fi- everything's the same, but different, too.... Regardless, it was really nice having a place to stay, eat, and do laundry for free before leaving Israel- the next day I'd be setting off for only unfamiliar locales where I have 0 connections. Which was simultaneously freaky and exhilarating.

Goodbyes while traveling are always hard, and even more-so when it's with people you've gotten to know really well. Saying goodbye to Jess was difficult- she was my best friend in Nazareth for almost a month, and we really bonded. Our goodbye was more of a see-you-later. I sincerely hope we meet again. Plus, I'll have gotten her some cool present by that point as a thanks for her incredibly touching gift of a hamza necklace (which I haven't taken off since I got it). Love and miss you Jess! I also had to say bye to Jake, but we can meet up in the States, so. And the last person I said goodbye to was Hagai, an amazing night receptionist, even if he hates people ;) He saw me to the train station, and from there I was on my way to fly to Europe!

Week 3: Athens (Greece), Rome (Italy)
And then I got to continental Europe! My first day in Athens was more of a catch-up-on-sleep day, as I'd been ridiculously interrogated by israeli security throughout the early morning hours for whatever reason. When I finally felt like getting out, I was immediately overwhelmed by a feeling of loneliness. Here's an excerpt from an email I sent my parents that first day:
"So much of a good time traveling is about meeting others. No way in hell am I going to spend 6 weeks walking around and doing everything alone. Maybe I'm not ready to be an independent backpacker. Maybe we all overestimated my abilities to get out there, be social, be alone, and SURVIVE. Or at least enjoy it.

Clearly I'm still not feeling very positive. I had a good thing going in Israel. I had friends, a community, knowledge of the transportation system and what to do in each location I visited. Out here I have nil. And a major dip in self-confidence.

Part of me wants to end this now and just come home.

I'm too afraid to hack it solo in this big world."

...So I was being a bit dramatic. But looking past the woe-is-me stuff, I actually was feeling like I'd made a huge mistake. And then literally as I was sitting in the hostel, about to write another depressed email, my knight in shining armor [hi MJ!] sits down next to me and strikes up a conversation. And from there my time in Athens was bomb :)

I found myself a part of an awesome crew of two other 18-year-old girl solo travelers (!), and this Canadian dude. We had dinners together, roamed Athens at night, went off to a lake, and just had each other's backs. It was great, and though we were only together two days, it was extremely sad parting from them. But I think we met because forces in the universe wanted to give all of us young, independent girls a confidence boost: you are badass, check out these other chicks who are just as amazing as you are! Oh, and Athens itself? A really cool city. All monuments are located in one spot, the city feels extremely safe, and walking around was fun. A great intro to Europe.

And last but not least, Rome! This incredible city I've heard so much about. And boy does it live up to expectations. I literally spent two full days (at least eight hours) wandering the streets of Rome. Part of that may have to do with my lack of map-reading skills as opposed to how far everything is, but hey, it's a great way to see more of a city than you were originally planning, yeah? There are not only important historic sites every street you turn down, but some of the neighborhoods are adorable, there is so much greenery, and the street fashions make people-watching super cool.

The only bummer with Rome is the people. Not the Italians or anything- my personal people. The people I'm bonding with and exploring all the nooks and crannies of Rome with. The people who don't exist. [Don't get me wrong- I've met people, and even went out to get authentic Italian pasta with someone, but I have no CREW. Which is what I want and what I'm missing.]

So I'm off to Florence today. You could spend months in Rome and still not know it all, but after two days I've hit all the major sites, and think I know what the city's about. I'll come back, maybe. But for now I'm moving on.

Let's go, baby.

xoxo, Cleome

Friday, March 29, 2013

Preliminary Itinerary

I've heard that for a lot of people, the planning of a trip is almost as (or even more) enjoyable than actually taking the trip.  While, maybe that'd be the case for me if I actually had a lot of time to plan... but backpacking is a bit different than vacationing, for one, and two, I think the most "planning" I can do at this point is just try and create a basic route to follow.

Below is what I've come up with so far. 

Will it change?  Duh.  Not only is it super bare-bones at this point (I'll probably end up cutting through some small towns I've never know existed before), but I'm sure it also includes way too many spots for me to feasibly hit [though you should've seen my first first draft...].  And I've no idea whether I'll like a place so much I want to stay for a week, or hate a place and be on the first train out after not even a day.  Plus, I'm still crossing my fingers that I meet cool people to hang with- who'll no doubt influence my route as well. 
But are these the places my brain believes I can (and want to) make it to in ~9 weeks?  Yup.

(By the way, dates are totally approximate once I leave Israel.)

April 1-14

>Negev (Desert) Region
-Ein Gedi
-Dead Sea
-Mitzpe Ramon
>Petra (technically in Jordan- I've got to see if I've got the time/funds to visit a wonder of the ancient world for a few days)
>back north to say goodbye if I have time?

Europe: April 14-June 6

April 14-17?

-day trip to Mycenae?

April 17-May 4?

-be there on April 21st for its b-day celebration?
>Naples (yes Mom, I'm still planning on going.  I'll try to find a guy to travel with...)
-grotto azzurra
-trips to Pisa for the tower and Cinque Terre for the view

May 4-16?

>Prague?  It's the most interesting thing between the two German cities, so I may have to pop over to the Czech Republic for a bit.
>Frankfurt or Black Forest or Geneva (Switzerland) or Aosta Valley (Italy) <-- clearly having some issues making up my mind... I know I just need to go south from Cologne

May 16-June 3?

-Film Festival May 15-26 <-- wierdly enough, this event has become what I'm orienting my whole trip around... not sure why, but ever since I realized I could get there timing-wise, it's become non-negotiable.  It also help that Cannes is located on the beaches in the south of France.  AND that I can see some of the premieres for free.
[Slight topic deviation: I've developed a small goal of meeting an actor/producer/director/etc. who I can then entice into inviting me to a VIP-only movie premiere.  I'll make sure to update the blog should any progress with that occur....]
>Nice, Marseilles, other beach towns in southern France
[>Biarritz or Bordeaux or Normandy if I find myself with some spare time?]
>Paris (and Versailles)

June 3-6


So my Europe route is sort of zig-zagging its way up through Italy, looping around Germany (possibly detouring into the Czech Republic), and then cutting down across the south of France, up to Paris, and finally ending in Amsterdam.  Definitely a bit bizzare and not at all what I'd have thought I'd be doing even a few months ago.  But I always wanted to go through Italy... and I met a lot of Germans, so Germany had to be included.... then I learned about the Cannes Film Fest and had already bought my ticket out of Amsterdam, so there you have it.

And while I'm trying to sound all professional and rational about this thing, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.  Yay!

xoxo, Cleome

Highlights, High Fives, and High Hopes

Alright, because I've been so lame about posting on the blog for the past month (or two...), I'm going to hit you with a long-yet-relatively-undescriptive list of Cleome's Favorite Things while having been a volunteer at the Fauzi Azar Inn.

Which I figured I should do before I set off on my true backpacking adventure on Sunday (!)

Cleome's Favorite Israeli [fill-in-the-blank]:

•Caesarea- Huge city complex from Caesar's era.
•Megiddo- Where "Armageddon" is supposed to take place.
•Arbel Castle- Crusader castle carved out of the cliffs.  A real-life Treasure Island playground.
•Heridion- Kind Herod's castle on (and under) a hill.

•Yad Vashem- Holocaust museum.  Surprisingly not as depressing as I'd been expecting.
•Israel Museum- Lots of exhibits and art about/from Israel (duh).

- ones I learned from
- ones with crazy adventures
- ones I connected with and were fun to talk to
- ones that became possible contacts throughout the world
• My Israeli family I'd seen only once before (and definitely didn't remember).  So cool to have relatives in other countries!
• Locals.  Extremely hospitable and interested in showing off their culture.  Extremely friendly, for the most part.
• Other volunteers/staff members.  Of course.  Who I worked with and chilled with.  They're the ones with the most impact on making this experience what it was.  Shout out to Jess, Pat, Mike, Jake, Hagai, Elisa, Linda, Yafit, Marwa, Norhan, Maoz, Suraida, Gangaanai, and James.

Hikes and Nature~
•Yehudea- Golan Heights nature reserve with amazing natural pools and views.
•Arbel Cliffs- Crusader castles.
•Jesus trail- Varied landscapes on a fairly easy (but long) hike.
•walk from kibbutz to Nazareth- a six hour/30 kilometer walk I'm very proud of having accomplished completely on my own due to the lack of public transportation on Saturdays.  And I still made it back in time for my shift.  Booyah!

•going out (Patra, tel aviv, Jerusalem)- always fun
•visiting Jess- I stayed at her Kibbutz for a day and had a blast seeing her again :)
•peanut butter find- yes, I am including inheriting two jars of peanut butter left by guests as one of my favorite events. Stereotypical American, what can I say?
•learning Arabic- sort of...
•guitar playing at the Fauzi- I have been practicing, Dad.

Extended Trips~
•Jerusalem- Breaking the Silence tour of the South Hebron Hills, seeing Israeli family, free official pub crawl, stalking Obama, visiting museums, walking around, seeing Bethlehem & Banksy originals
•Tel Aviv- meeting cool people, getting a taste of the nightlife, visiting the old port city of Jaffa

First Times~
•smoking hookah/nargila- didn't really like it, but was definitely entranced by the smoke rings others could make.
•official pub crawl- at 18.  In Jerusalem.  Totally free.  Yeah.
•hitch-hiking alone- during daylight and picked up by a girl.  Stop freaking out Mom.
•visiting west bank- my second week I went to the town of Jenin with Jess.  It really stuck with me as I honestly hadn't even imagined I'd feel safe enough to go to the West Bank.  Clearly perspectives change when you actually arrive in a place you'd heard nothing but negative things about before... 
•staying on a kibbutz- yeah, I really liked the night I spent on the kibbutz with Jess.  Do I think I could live on one (or even volunteer there for a couple months)?  Probably not.  But for a short visit it was incredibly fun to experience a different way of life.

And those are just the highlights I could come up with off the top of my head.  I've had an amazing time being based in Nazareth, and am conflicted about leaving in a handful of days.  On one hand, I've grown comfortable here and have a community, friends, and bed to sleep in that I can call my own.  Alternatively, I think my life here is now too familiar.  I more or less have a daily routine, talk to the same people (mainly), and have lost the motivation to explore/go on day trips [though being sick the last week may have contributed to that also...].  Anyway, I think it's a good time to be moving on.  I'm not yet sick of the place, but I am getting there.  Some days have been almost boring, and at times I've wanted to punch a few people in the face I was so annoyed by them... so it's probably best I'm on my way soon ;)

Being a hostel volunteer at the Fauzi has been by far my favorite volunteer experience I've had on my year abroad- I've met some incredible people and had some unparalleled experiences.  I can't imagine having chosen anything more fun or beneficial, and I know what I've learned here will help ease me into traveling on my own [regardless of how terrifying that still seems].

I thank the Fauzi, Nazareth, and all the incredible friends I've made for a great two months volunteering.  

And here's to a fucking awesome final two months of my walkabout- bring on the backpacking!

xoxo, Cleome