#36 Learn to Hitchhike

[Note: I wrote this post two years ago during my time as an au pair in Germany, but what I feel about hitchhiking still stands today. More than just reliving the good ol’ days of thumbing my way around town, I would like to share again the beauty of this seemingly-outmoded way of travelling for those who are heading to Europe or the Americas, or wherever it’s legal and safe to do. Unfortunately where I’m living right now, it is an illegal (and unfashionable) way of getting around – a damn shame really. I hope this post helps my fellow wanderbugs out there. I have also made some updates — the price of a Happy Weekend Ticket or Schönes-Wochenende Ticket has increased from €37 to €44 now.]

There are mostly two reactions when people talk about hitchhiking. It’s either a lifestyle, or an absolute no-no. More than two weeks ago, I would rather walk or pay for an exorbitant ride than embark on such a supposedly dangerous activity. I mean, we often see on TV and in movies where the guy picking the hitchhiker up is some sort of serial killer who would undoubtedly kidnap the hapless traveller and slice him into pieces, not before torturing him à la the movie Saw.

I have never considered hitchhiking as a viable transport solution. First, I was worried that the driver might turn out to be someone on the wrong side of the tracks. Also, I did not believe that I was brave enough to stop a stranger’s car and ask for a free ride. I know tons of people probably do this everyday, especially seasoned but cash-poor travellers, but when you have already passed the coming-of-age period marked by wilful rebellion and a serious lack of inhibition, you become ‘old and boring’, that is, always fearful and suspicious of the people around you.

I wasn’t about to think of myself as ‘old and boring’! I want to think young, think wild, think freely. Or basically, stop overthinking and start doing. Embrace the situation. Have faith in people.

Finally, it took me a desperate situation to take the plunge. Continue reading

#34 Rome, Hacked

First, see the Sistine Chapel.
Visit Colosseum.
Eat more than one gelato.

Rome, as a travel destination, is haplessly done to death. Yes, it’s gorgeous, spellbinding, romantic. It is. You have to go to Rome, at least twice. You will come home gushing about your Roman adventures. But before that happens, you want answers to your burning questions, to make that first time so smooth you’d head back for seconds.

So, here I will tell you what I know, based on my experience.

The Roma Pass – do I need it?

Simple answer, no. Unless you are the sort to visit at least five museums in a 72-hour period (meaning crazy) on top of seeing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, you don’t need the Roma Pass. Granted, this pass covers public transportation (buses and trains), you are not likely to take enough rides to justify the cost. Seeing that a one-way ticket sets you back €1.50 and allows only one metro segment within a 100-minute period, you’re better off grabbing a map and walking before you finish figuring out how to connect.

Also, it doesn’t cover to the trip to the airport – so yeah, the Roma Pass is real useless, if you ask me. AND if you are an architecture student, a student in general or a senior citizen, please check for extra discounts not related to the Roma Pass.

Can I walk around Rome? How walkable is the city?

We walked from the Vatican City to Termini after a whole day of traipsing around the Old City. It takes 45 minutes, good shoes and an uncomplaining companion. So, the answer is yes. That said, on a bloody hot summer day, it will also cost you a few gelatos.

I don’t want to walk. Give me a public transport solution that’s simple to remember.

Continue reading

#33 Off Peak Travel and Hiking in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque fishing villages,
Far away from the world,
by the Mediterranean.

Off peak travelling has its obvious perks – less to pay for accommodation, no jostling at the ‘perfect photo spot’, and best of all, having plenty of beautiful spaces all to yourself. But then it’s also the season for locals to hoof it to their own holidays – meaning shops and restaurants are more likely to close, and it would be just the right time for maintenance works to take place – which could mean unexpected closures and potential disappointment, not to mention disrupting your itinerary (if any) and travel expectations (naturally).

Something’s gotta give, unless you perpetually hunt down the sweet spot of shoulder seasons, you’re bound to bump into either extreme. I used to shun travelling during the off time, because in my mind I would have painted a lovely picture of strolling down a cherry-tree lined promenade in Tokyo (did not happen) or a spectacular sunrise at Yosemite (did not happen either), and I have this immense fear that my experience is not nearly complete if the product didn’t look exactly like what was shown to me on paper. I’m telling you, these are silly preoccupations that the sooner you get over, the better off you are.

Most people ogle at the pretty-as-pink villages but take some time to admire the breathtaking Ligurian coastal scenery found in Cinque Terre.

Most people ogle at the pretty-as-pink villages but how about taking some time to admire this breathtaking Ligurian scenery?

Cinque Terre between Christmas and New Year’s is something I’d consider off peak. People do go away on these dates, but I’d imagine most Europeans would be shredding snow and ice on Alpine slopes or sipping Chang beer on Thai beaches, while travellers from faraway lands would choose to go to places like Vienna or Hamburg, which are still sexy as hell when drowning in ankle-deep snow. I imagine that mainstream hikers would not find joy in bagging Cinque Terre hills in 10°C weather and the chilly winds on the slate-gray beaches would also make damn sure you won’t be frolicking in your bikini or board shorts (unless you are Scandinavian or suicidal), either.

Still, those are my guesses. Proof came in the form of having to drive around for more than an hour looking for somewhere to eat dinner on our first night in the Cinque Terre area. You might say, well we wouldn’t have a problem if we’d chosen to stay in Riomaggiore – but for me that’s considered cheating when you make things too easy. We ended up at a pretty decent pizza place (oh wait, it’s Italy) on the outskirts of Sestri Levante – the kind where everybody just pops in to pick up their takeaway pizzas and the doe-eyed pizzaioli spend a lot of time baking pizzas with just one another. We wolfed down the slices in the car, for fear the pizza guys might want to make conversation (no, not really), then drove back in the pitch-dark, winding mountain roads.

We stayed at the Perla del Levante hostel in a perched little village called Ravecca, still nearby but considered totally off the touristy trail (~42km to drive to Riomaggiore). The hostel has a terrace where you can enjoy a great ocean view and hear the sound waves crashing down below. We could also park our car for free at a nearby roadside.

Continue reading

#29 Thank You for Those False Expectations

I feel the most alive right before visiting a place I’ve never been in my life. I remember myself, sitting on a train heading south towards Lake Constance from Ravensburg (the town where I stayed with my host family), inhaling the familiar scent of leather upholstery mixed with black coffee, staring out at the emerald and sienna and earthy tones of the countryside, and the thing that occupies my mind the most, is imagining what the lake looks like in summertime.

Last time I was nearby, the trees were topped with snowy caps, everywhere, save for the asphalt autobahns and winding roads, was blanketed with a sea of white white white. What shade of blue would the lake be now that it’s summer? Would I still be able to see the mountains in Switzerland? Do the seagulls here squawk like their cousins in Brighton and the French Riviera?

The train slid into the station at Friedrichshafen Station, where I followed the flow of day trippers and bikers and everyone else to the other platform to catch a connecting train heading eastwards to the famed lakeside town of Lindau…

Continue reading

#26 Looking Back on My Year as An Au-pair

Working as an aupair, especially at a “ripe” old age of twenty-four:

Not the first thing that comes to people’s minds when you are fresh out of college.

Not your conventional resume building gig.

Not exactly the most intuitive job in the world.

Many people have their misconceptions about what working as an au pair entails, some (if not too many) assume that it is a glorified term for domestic servant, full-time nanny, home-stay programmes where one exchanges room and board for childcare. In a way, I don’t blame them for having the wrong idea, after all much of my work involves most aspects of a little bit of this and that.

Like all other jobs, you come away from it learning something.

Having being an au pair for nearly one year, I would like to think that there is something distinctly unique about this work experience that makes your person just more complete, more introspective and richer at the end of it.

Knowing that it won’t last forever, knowing that it is your own choice and not a volunteer stint, knowing that it will throw you into the deep end of the pool called life – I mean, it is a lethal cocktail and a hell of a rollercoaster ride, filled with anxiety, a huge sense of responsibility, excitement, hardship and lots of heartache thrown into the mix… not to mention the occasional stomach in the throat sensation. Continue reading

#17 The Luncheon Gentlemen of Negen Straatjes, Amsterdam

Exploring a little gem (or nine?) on a lovely spring afternoon in Amsterdam. I was weaving in and out of the aptly named Negen Straatjes (lit: Nine Streets) when my stomach began to growl in protest. Time for lunch!

For these gentlemen, lunchtime is not exactly what I had in mind. As the sunshine hit their glowing faces, they sat, relaxing by the quiet street.

Alas, the cigarette is probably their staple diet. ♥