4th November: I’m Home

Good afternoon, or morning, or evening, from Toledo!

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Not the best pic, but my balcony view!

So…it’s been two months since I wrote anything on this blog. Yikes. I think any “travel blogger” (or in my case, wannabe-travel-blogger) commits to writing a certain amount of posts before they take any big trip. But then, we actually get to our destination, and the adventure just takes over. Whether you’re cruising the Mediterranean, hiking the jungles of Brasil, or building a¬†life in a completely new country, it can be hard to remember to post. No worries to the few people who actually read this blog, because I am back, and pledge to write more every week!
In which case, you’ll likely hear from me again in two more months. ūüėõ

The main reason I haven’t posted on this blog is because I am super busy! Welcome to Spain as an¬†auxiliar de conversaci√≥n¬†or “language assistant.” I will post more about my school and a breakdown of the types of things I do in a different post, for anyone interested in doing a similar program in Spain and what to truly expect. But as a quick breakdown, I have been:

1. Teaching/Assisting
I work 24 hours per week (the maximum number of hours assigned at random by the BEDA program) at a¬†concertado, which is a school that is half-public, half private. Some things are paid for by the local authority while some are paid for the families who attend. I have 24 different classes of students ranging from 7 years of age to 18, from 2nd Primary to 2nd Bachillerato. In the Canadian education system, this translates to kids from Grade 2-12. It’s sometimes difficult to manage activities and games for such a diverse age range, but I love to prep for my classes and discuss ideas with my fellow teachers. They are all very sweet and eager to practice their English, but are also gracious in allowing me to practice my Spanish with them too! Every day we have a “coffee break” in the staff room which makes me feel super professional, haha. I am able to chat with the teachers there and we also have lunch together. I may work more hours than some of my other friends in different programs, and work Monday to Friday, with only weekends off, but I am really enjoying it and feel that teaching is, in some form at least, my true calling.

2. Private classes
Compared to Canadian cities of the same size, the cost of living in Toledo is fairly cheap, and the monthly stipend provided by my school is definitely enough to cover basic expenses like food and rent. I have leftover cash to go out with friends and grudgingly pay my student loan back at home since I wasn’t able to defer it. However, most people come to Spain with the plan to travel around Europe, which is half the fun! While I did save money before I came, I also took up the practice of doing¬†clases privadas here in Spain, all gained solely by word of mouth from my fellow teachers. Basically, I spend around an hour with each person (mostly children aged 8-15) providing English conversation practice. Education here in Spain is great when it comes to grammar and such, but like any language, English is best learned by speaking out loud! Parents know their kids can be shy in a class of 25+ and so they often get native speakers to provide this conversation time and pay a fee. I have 10-11 clients (depending on their schedule sometimes) that I do this with every week from Mon-Fri. Some of my friends also do lessons at English academies in their free time. It’s a necessary thing to do here if you want to save some money, but I really enjoy it!

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Just some prep!

3. Making friends
Lame, I know, but I’ve met a tonne of great people already here in Toledo! Besides my fellow staff members, I’ve made friends with many other¬†auxiliares¬†through connections like regional Facebook groups. We love to go out to explore the city, and I’ll admit that it’s really nice to speak in my own language in a non-academic/teaching kind of way. I’m so happy I’ve met so many people, although I’ve yet to meet any fellow Canadians ūüė¶
I also spend a lot of time with my roommates, who are all Spanish and don’t speak too much English. But I don’t mind, because my Spanish has improved immensely, even in just two months! We watch TV together and hit the gym, which has been an interesting experience on its own, without the foreign language thrown in! The families of my private-class kids have also been super welcoming, often making me a meal or snack while in their home.

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My roommates and I at the bar!

4. Trying to make the most of my down-time
Between teaching, private lessons, prepping for lessons, hanging with my friends, hitting the gym, and doing normal person things like, ya know, eating and sleeping… I’ve been trying to maximize what little down time I have by improving my Spanish! I got a library card to take books out in the target language instead of buying them, and that proved to be a big help, because the first book I checked out (a young adult novel) was written at a much higher level than I can comprehend. I have around a B1-B2 level in Spanish, which is to say, fairly conversation and can discuss a wide variety of topics with ease, but still not fluent and lacks significant vocabulary or grammar poignancy to be considered fluent. In order to learn more vocab, I borrowed some primary level books from my school, notably¬†The Adventures of Geronimo Stilton. I comprehend about 90% of the books, and although they’re a bit infantile, I love using the context of the words I know to learn new ones. Another favourite tactic of mine to learn is to watch TV with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles. I’m at a good enough level to understand most of it, but if I have the Spanish subs on, it forces me to read it and think, not just see the translation in English. I find it helps to watch shows I’m familiar with already, like The Big Bang Theory, Spongebob, or The Simpsons.

But down-time with a lazy brain is also important. I finally watched¬†Stranger Things and loved it, I watch Vine compilations¬†a lot (RIP VINE), especially when I’m feeling down. I read books in English, write poems, research travel destinations, and make pros and cons lists of options for teaching/living abroad in the next few years. A big thing among expat friends here is that we feel we always have to be¬†doing something because, duh, we’re in SPAIN and should be maximizing every moment! But we’re also in Spain for seven more months. There is time. If you’re in a similar situation, just breathe, and take time for yourself.

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A cable car in Porto

This is getting pretty lengthy, so without going into detail, I have also: traveled to Portugal (my fourteenth country!), gotten a really terrible cough¬†AND food poisoning, navigated the Spanish red tape of getting my ID cards in order, been to the hospital (for the terrible cough, I didn’t know how to make a doc appointment), been to a Maluma concert in Madrid, went to a few Spanish National Day events, cooked a lot more for myself, embarrassed myself countless times at the supermarket, and stayed awake until 5am partying Spanish-style.

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National day celebrations (Guardia Civil)

I love it here, and encourage anyone who has a similar dream to go for it!

xoxo Cady

 

I Left My Heart in Varadero

I’ve been debating even writing about this on my blog, because I try to stick to my “theme” as much as I can: traveling solo as a woman, fighting my anxiety disorder, and attempting to accomplish my dream of becoming a teacher through teach-abroad experiences. But then I thought:

  1. It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to?
  2. In a way, it is sort of travel-related
  3. I have way too many feelings not to write about it

So here it is, and I’d love some feedback/advice/ideas from anyone who has ever gone through the same thing that I am right now.

I didn’t just leave Varadero in November with a new sense of bravery and another country ticked off my list. Amid the beaches and the cobblestone streets, the guava juice, the salsa music, I found something better. I left Varadero with a boyfriend… a Cuban one.

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We met at my hotel (which I swear I’m going to review sometime, I’ve just been really busy), where he worked at one of the souvenir stands. I was inspired by one part boredom because my friend had fallen asleep by the pool, one part attraction to this guy I’d seen sitting there for the past couple of days and exchanged nothing but smiles with, and one part egging-on of my brain to practice my Spanish skills after a dry spell of no Spanish interaction for several months. Whatever the reason really was, I ended up talking to him for a short time, leaving after realizing my Spanish skills had really deteriorated after not living in¬†Spain. Although, I can’t blame just myself, because the Cuban accent is a really difficult one laced with local slang and “swallowed” ends of words, like talking to a Quebecois. Still, I had to pat myself on the back for trying.

We ended up exchanging Facebook handles the night before I was to leave, because on the actual departure day, he had his¬†dia libre. I have to admit that our conversations didn’t become especially riveting until I was back in Canada and could just type in Spanish, rather than talk poorly and try to understand the Cuban tongue. Reading and writing slang-filled text messages became the highlight of my day, and not just because I was learning. I began to really fall for the person I was talking to, who seemed so genuinely kind and easygoing.

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My boyfriend’s grandma’s porch in Varadero, pretty much where I spent every day

Without going into too much detail, I definitely had some personal turmoil when it came to talking to him. Every Canadian gets the warning about Cuban people just wanting a visa or to escape their island, and while it’s a stereotype that’s really overdone and gross, I have to admit that I felt it sometimes too. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I think it’s important to say, because my relationship has given me an insight to the¬†real life of Cubans, not just what they show on TV about Che and Fidel-worshippers, poverty being rampant, and an ignorant understanding of the rest of the world. I’m not saying there aren’t¬†jineteros out there (hustlers that try to bring foreigners good food, trips, and yes… sex… and then get paid a lot for it) but since I was the one who approached my boyfriend in the first place, it didn’t seem likely that he was part of that, and he definitely is not.

Needless to say, our daily messaging and occasional video chats sparked passion on both sides, and it wasn’t long before I was planning another visit to Varadero, specifically for him. The days counted down and I got more excited, but also more nervous. I hadn’t traveled truly¬†solo since 2014, and I was going to Cuba mostly to hang out with a guy I’d only met a few times at my hotel. Was this absolutely crazy? Some of my friends and family said yes, while others were more encouraging. I stepped on the plane in early February, heart racing, with no turning back.

My week in Varadero felt like a dream. It was lovely to spend time with my boyfriend, who was just as happy to see me, and took me to meet his family and friends. I spent a lot of time in his home with his grandmother, eating ¬†great food and learning more about the fascinating dichotomy which is Cuba. Cuban laws prevent foreigners who aren’t married to Cubans from staying in a Cuban home, and they are not permitted to stay with foreigners overnight in hotels. He worked every single day, and I have to admit that staying in an all inclusive hotel and hitting the beach daily isn’t nearly as fun when you’re traveling solo. Still, I had a wonderful, yet bittersweet, time in Varadero, knowing ¬†I’d have to leave and being unsure about when I’d return. I’m still planning to go to Spain to teach if I get the job, and he knows it. There’s the question of money and time off, schedules, the lack of internet access on the island, long distance, cultural differences. I sometimes ask myself what the heck I’m even doing.

But here I am, back in Ontario for a month now, reflecting on that time in Varadero. I still have my boyfriend, and hope to return to see him before I go to Spain, maybe in June or August. I want to bring my mother next time if I can. I have a great deal of faith that somehow, despite all of the odds, this could just be something great. And if not, I’ll always have fond memories of my time in his city, watching stars on the roof, eating delicious ice cream.

Have you ever met someone special abroad? What do you think? How do you handle a long distance relationship?

xoxo Cady

Travel Book Review: “Wanderlust” by Elisabeth Eaves

Hi everyone! I’m still emotionally unprepared to write about my recent trip to Cuba (in a good way though), but I really wanted to write something on my blog anyways. So, I decided I’d try something new, and write my first review of someone else’s travel writing!

As well as my fellow adventurers’ travel blogs, I am really intrigued by full books that are about or involve traveling in some way. They don’t have to be true stories, but I like those ones a lot more, especially if they’ve been written by women. It’s not that I have a gender bias, but as a woman, I feel more empowered reading a story written by a woman, specifically if she’s traveled to some more “risky” places around the globe. Anyways, the first book I’ll be writing about is one of the latter; it’s a totally true travel memoir written by a fearless female, and it’s one of my favourite books in any category.

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My well-worn copy

The book in this picture is my own, and would likely appear even more worn-out if it were my original. I joined a book club that involved swapping our favourite reads with others to borrow, and then we were to return and discuss them and swap them back. Needless to say, the book club never met again, and the girl who had my first copy moved away from my university town. I went to Chapters to buy another copy of this book because I started to miss it. I read it‚ÄĒor at least pieces, excerpts, or chapters of it‚ÄĒevery week. I have read the entire book more than 100 times, probably, and highlighted anything that has stood out to me in times of need. This is how I felt without it; I needed this book back, hence the second purchase. It is¬†la biblia, it is my comfort object,¬†it is irreplaceable.

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Wanderlust is written by Elisabeth Eaves, who is now a journalist and frequently posts on her twitter (@elisabetheaves) about current events. Her tumblr, however, is much more travel-centric, and although she hasn’t updated in ages, it’s still worth a browse too (elisabetheaves.tumblr.com).

I hadn’t realized at first that the book was a memoir. I picked it up because I thought the cover was pretty, and I had always felt that I had Wanderlust too, even if it was only thinking about going up the Eiffel tower someday. It only hit me, once reading that the characters referred to the narrator as “Beth,” that I was glimpsing into something much better than fiction. The wild stories and exotic locales had all¬†happened to her, had all been touched by her, and recounted by her. This was new. This was fantastic. It made me think that I could do these things too.

Wanderlust follows Elisabeth from her shiny introduction to travel around age 9 during her father’s sabbatical, in Spain, to returning years later as a nanny in the same country (during which she gets up to a lot of naughty and raucous adventures‚ÄĒthis is probably one of my favourite segments to the story, since it reminded me a lot of my own experiences in Spain), to living as an adult in London, England and backpacking through treacherous trails in Papua New Guinea. I tried to count how many countries she visits throughout, but I always lose track. The narrator is Elisabeth herself and she tells her story¬†with an honest, thoughtful voice, with no detail spared. She has mentioned that the details came straight from her own journals. It feels, as well, that in nearly every country she ends up with a lover or several. Sometimes they last only the duration of her stay, or sometimes for years after she’s left the country, which is a feeling I can relate to that I’ve also carried ever since I first stepped off of a plane myself. Not necessarily lover-related, mind you, but the feeling of a person met or connection I’ve made haunting me long after I’ve left.

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One of my favourite passages from Wanderlust

But the sexy, sensational parts of this book aren’t the only reasons I enjoy it so much. In between the trips, the author details the tedious parts of life which must¬†occur: falling in love, settling down, breaking up, changing jobs, being broke, feeling trapped. No matter what she has in front of her, there always seems to be a singular desire to get away from it. She calls herself “an eccentric, who can’t find pleasure in quotidian life, and would rather pursue adventure and adventurers than stability in New York.” After a breakup with someone who I thought was the love of my life, this book really resonated with me, and reminded me that it was okay to pursue something other than a settled house + car + kids life that everyone around me seemed to expect. No matter where in the world Elisabeth is in Wanderlust, her words always hit close to home for me.

I’ve realized I can’t encompass everything that this book means to me into this review, and it’s beginning to get a little lengthy. The book itself smells like sunscreen right now because it accompanied me every day to the beach in Varadero, both the first and second times I went. It’s crossed both big oceans in my bag, going East and West. That’s how much this book means to me, and I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy, and discover this book for yourself.

Rating: 10/10
Would recommend to: women, only because it is fairly feminine-centric, but I feel like a lot of men would enjoy the stories too

Do you have a favourite piece of travel writing? A book, a blog, a magazine? Please tell me, I am legitimately always looking for good books about travel!

xoxo Cady

Pre-Trip Anxiety and How I (Sort of) Deal

It’s around 11pm on a cold Sunday night here in Ontario, and I’m feeling fear again. I’ve been sipping tepid water and brushing my teeth like mad. Tomorrow, conveniently timed 5 days before my trip to Varadero, I have my very first root canal scheduled. Every single person I’ve told has said the same thing: “It’s going to hurt.” The right side of my mouth throbs intermittently.

I’m not afraid of the dentist in the slightest.

I truly am not. I’ve sat through fillings and deep tooth scaling like a champion ever since I was old enough to even see a dentist. I have friends who won’t sit their bum in a chair until heavily medicated with laughing gas, whereas I could just as easily walk into a dental office as I would walk into work every day (disappointed to be there, but not uneasy…hahaha). It’s not that I’m looking forward to a root canal per se, it’s just that it’s not what’s driving my nervous feeling.

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Fearing no heights in Varadero 2016 – Photo credit to Victoria Chiasson

Nope, I’m feeling the fear for five days in the future. On Saturday I’ll be taking my first solo plane ride since China and my first solo trip since China, and while I’m majorly excited about it, my old travel anxiety is creeping back up as well. If you’ve never read my blog before, you may be wondering why often it always goes back to my experience in the Far East, which I detailed here.
Well, I just think of how awful I felt at that time. I was so panicked and on edge at every moment of the day, and couldn’t even enjoy sharing time with new friends without worrying about what was to happen to me. My anxiety disorder tends to focus specifically on my health; I’m always concerned when and where I can find a doctor, a hospital, my medications… the list goes on. I never want to repeat my China disaster, and cut a cool trip short for a fear of nothing in particular.

To be honest, I know that my trip to Cuba will differentiate from my trip to China in many ways. I’ve already been to Varadero and am somewhat familiar with the hotels and the airport. I speak Spanish semi-fluently, at least well enough to let someone know if I’m hurting and where in my body. I take my anxiety medication steadily, I’ve been eating well, and I’m going to meet someone in Varadero that I already know. I’ve got it planned out; I’m staying at a resort. I’ve read countless articles about solo travel in Cuba for girls, and it seems like it will all be okay.

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Does my fear trump my wish to be here again? No way!

Still, I have that impending fear. I know I’ll have to fly, which is something I’ve dealt with enough times to become somewhat okay with, but still don’t love. I always think: “What if? What if I have to go to the hospital? What if the plane goes down? What if I get food poisoning?” (That last one is very unlikely for me, as I have an iron stomach, but even that can’t get past my anxious mind sometimes.)

But I’m determined. I read accomplished travel blogs by men and women alike, and I continue to be inspired by the various hiccups that people overcome in order to travel: money issues, long distance relationships, processing visas, etc. Also, given the current situation in the United States right now, I feel blessed to even be able to travel freely with my passport to so many different countries. I know I’m privileged to travel to Cuba as often as I am, and I have high hopes for this trip.

Do you get nervous before a trip? What worries you most? Tell me!

xoxo Cady

Busabout

A picture out the Busabout window

A picture out the Busabout window

I went through a lot of different options with a travel agent/my own research before settling on taking my first-ever solo trip (and Euro trip) with a company called Busabout. This is my review of everything, from the booking process to the trip planning to the actual rides.¬†Disclaimer: Busabout didn’t give me money or influence this post in any way. This is just a review for those of you who may be thinking about taking a Euro trip, and whether or not you should consider Busabout!

What Is Busabout?
Busabout is a company that specializes in budget travel for the 18-35 sector. They offer trips in Asia, North Africa, and operate a sister company in UK/Ireland, but their main area of focus is continental Europe.

What Trips Does Busabout Do?
They have some planned adventure trips you can take, like the Greek Sailing Adventure (island hopping on boats with a group) or the Festivals (Pamplona, La Tomatina, Oktoberfest). The main attraction of Busabout, though, are their¬†flexitrips and¬†loops.¬†Basically, they run buses on schedules that do certain city loops–say, Paris, to Munich, to Venice, etc etc. and you can simply hop on in Paris, and hop off in Amsterdam. No extra plans, they just leave you at a dropoff/pickup point (always a hostel, where you have the option of staying for the night or you can find a different hotel) and you’re on your own! You can also hop back on at a different point than you hopped off, as long as you’ve booked it!
After a lot of back and forth, this seemed like a great option for me. I was a bit nervous about being in Europe for the first time and possibly ending up alone at a train station with no hostel booked, or getting lost, or getting cheated. I’ll also admit that the Eurail pass thing confused me, and I wasn’t set on where I wanted to go or how much I was willing to spend to get there. I liked that Busabout picked us up and dropped us off at hostels, but we weren’t expected to stick with the group and be shuffled around to different sights like some 8th grade class trip. So, I booked my trip.

How Does It Work?
First, you have to choose your trip. The¬†Loops option allows you to choose a between North, South, West, and East (new for 2015!)¬†routes, and you can travel along this loop for as long as you want. You can hop off in Amsterdam, stay for a week, and then hop back onto the loop when the bus comes around (Busabout operates on an¬†every second day schedule, so if you arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday, you could either leave the next day, or wait until¬†Friday when the bus was ready to leave again). You can pick more than one loop (they all intersect), but you can’t deviate. For example, Spain is in the West¬†loop, but not the South¬†or the North, so if you’ve only booked yourself into the South loop, you couldn’t cross into Spain from¬†Nice, where the West and South loops meet. It sounds confusing, but it’s easy to plan out your times. Here is the loop page on the website, if you want to see what I mean (I don’t want to paste the photo, I’ll just link it).
The option I was chose was the¬†flexitrip, where you can travel any of the loops. You don’t even have to think of them as loops on the flexi, since that doesn’t apply. However, what you’re paying for is a certain amount of stops. For example: Your starting point is 0. You get on in San Sebastian and you take the bus to Paris. Paris is stop #1. You get back on in Munich, and you take the bus to Venice. Venice is stop #2. It’s pretty easy. Some routes have mandatory stops, since the driver has to rest, so there are certain cities where you’ll be forced to “spend” a stop, but it’s usually a big city like Paris, so it’s fun!
The minimum you can do is 6 stops, which I chose, and it cost me around $560. I did it very early as well, and got a bit of a discount for my early booking, but Busabout is always having promotions too, so you can usually find a promo code somewhere on their website. They also do last minute sales, so look that up!

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Stopping in Austria on our way to Italy

 

Planning Your Loop
Busabout has a handy guide on their website that gives dates and times for pickups and dropoffs, so you can see when the bus will be rolling into your city next. I then counted up my “stops,” knowing I had 6, and planned my way from my landing point to my final destination. It takes time to plan, and you should do it¬†before you book just to make sure it’s doable, but it’s not that hard once you get a feel for it. You then book yourself into the bus (i.e. Paris leaving on August 14th) so that when you show up in the morning, you’re booked on. Buses can be full, so¬†make sure you book yourself onto the bus. You can also book your hostel online so that there’s no hassle of trying to find a room once you’re off the bus! The booking option is available to you once you buy the initial loop/flexipass. Click here to see the timetables and route list.
Note: When planning, know that routes only go one way.¬†For example, Busabout has three buses that leave Paris; one to Bruges, one to Bern, and one to Munich. You can go any of these three ways with your flexipass, but¬†you can’t go back. You can’t hop off in Bruges, then take the bus back to Paris and head towards Bern. Once you’re on, routes go in one direction until you hit another hub city, like¬†Lucerne¬†(to Munich, or Nice).

The Busabout Experience
The Busabout fleet is bright blue and easy to spot. They’re air conditioned and comfortable, with chargers [European] for your electronic devices and Wi-Fi on board (not free, but it’s a good connection). Every couple hours there’s a rest stop, and frequent stops at Euro highway superstars¬†Autogrill.¬†You’re allowed to eat and drink on the bus. There may be several stops you can make to different cities between two hub cities.
Onboard is a Busabout guide, who is there to help you with any questions you may have about your destination, your hostel, or Busabout services. I have to say that I had some pretty awesome guides, including a girl who was absolutely enamoured with history and gave us all a lot of background about the cities we were approaching. They were extremely helpful whenever I had a problem, even going so far as to call hostels for me about a lost necklace (not found though, unfortunately). If you’ve forgotten to book a hostel, your onboard guide can book it for you if there’s still room at the drop-off one. You also get a free guidebook (only with the cities inside that Busabout goes to though), a bracelet, and an international SIM card. Movies are shown on the bus, usually to do with the city you’re going to (i.e. VickyCristinaBarcelona en route to Barca).
All in all it was a good idea for me to travel with Busabout. Mostly, we reached our destination on time, but occasionally arrived half an hour or so late because of traffic, which is never the company’s fault. Busabout is a great way to make friends, and there are a lot of college-aged backpackers, most of them Australians. It’s easy to find a bar-buddy, or someone to get breakfast with in the morning.

Can't beat that view

Can’t beat that view

Overall pros: Great value, especially for students. I loved the security of being dropped off right at a hostel, but knowing that my days in the city I was left in were completely up to me, as was my destination route. Very easy to change my mind and stay longer/shorter in a place, hilarious and helpful guides. The hostels they brought us to were always fun and well priced. A lot of like-minded people close in age with me took Busabout, so it was easy to make friends, and lots of people had the same ideas too (I saved money on a gondola ride in Venice by splitting it with 3 new friends!). Lots of cool destinations including a few hidden gems, and the buses were generally comfortable with the chargers on board being a big plus. I would give Busabout an 8/10 overall.
Overall cons:¬†Only a few reasons for that extra 2 being left out of the score, so here it goes… This almost led me to an embarrassing situation on a highway in Italy because¬†there are no bathrooms on the bus.¬†Yes, no bathrooms at all. None. Every few hours we’d stop for a rest and a washroom break, but sometimes it was just not enough. I mean, not everyone’s bladder is the same, and there was one time I waited for almost an hour, practically bursting, while the guide tried to distract me because there was nowhere the driver could stop. As a person with a small bladder this kind of sucks. We also took detours to get to smaller cities on our route, so a 3 hour trip between Rome and Florence became¬†almost nine hours after stopping in Siena and Orvieto., and taking bathroom breaks!!! (And trust me, once you’ve eaten at¬†Autogrill five or six times, you’ll be happy to eat anything else.)
Secondly, the flexitrip thing is cool, and I know they can only have so many destinations, but I had to veer away from the Busabout for a while when I wanted to go down to Sorrento and Pompeii. They do offer an Italian adventure that includes Sorrento, but that would have been 3 extra days of planned activities for more money… so no thanks, not this time. I wish they’d add more routes or have a “go back” option.
Finally, I should have realized this before I booked, but I was blinded by the price: I absolutely hate riding the bus. Not just the Busabout bus, but any bus… city, Greyhound, school, you name it. I don’t know what it is about riding the bus, but it makes me easily nauseous, and more claustrophobic than an airplane bathroom. This is just a personal issue, and if you don’t mind riding the bus then I would say go for it.

If this is your first ever Euro trip and you’re a bit nervous about getting around and booking transportation, but you still want to have your freedom, I do highly recommend Busabout. How did you get around Europe? Tell me!

xoxo Cady

Rome

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I specifically gave myself the most time (three whole days) for Rome, because it’s a city full of things to see and do, and I happen to be a pretty big ancient history geek. The only place that could ever get me more excited would be Egypt! Needless to say I had a lot of fun in Rome, but my lack of planning led me to a few difficulties, like having a place to stay…
For this section on Rome, I’ve created a separate post here¬†detailing the hostels I stayed at while in Rome, in order to not make this already-lengthy post even more clogged! Read on below for my whirlwind adventure in the eternal city, Roma!

Things to Do
Colosseum:¬†Like any super history nerd, my first stop was the Colosseum, conveniently located right next to the¬†Roman Forum¬†and Palatine Hill (two important ancient ruins, of government buildings and Romulus & Remus’ birthplace, respectively).¬†The metro stop is named after the site (Colosseo). You can buy tickets in advance or at any of the three aforementioned sites, but the Colosseum is the most popular one. Surprisingly, a three-site combo ticket was only 12 euros for me (Euro citizens can get even lower prices), and is the best value if you want to see everything in that area. The line up was not too bad, and once inside you can either wander by yourself or join a tour (or follow inconspicuously behind a tour). There’s no end to people outside trying to sell you a guide and they have them in many different languages. It’s a super cool place in the day or the night (I went three times, no shame) and a must-see in Rome.
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The¬†Roman Forum is very large and contains notable ruins within in, such as¬†Trajan’s Column. Make sure you have your walking shoes on.
Note:¬†One cool feature of the entire city of Rome is the convenience of fresh water fountains! There are over 1500 in Rome, and all of them flow with potable, delicious water that is FREE. There’s even one right inside the ancient stadium! Fill up often, because it’s very hot in Rome in the summer.
The Vatican:¬†Technically its own country, the Vatican is a little ways down the metro but easily accessible. You can see¬†St. Peter’s Basilica and the surrounding square for free, but the¬†Vatican Museums¬†and the inside of the basilica will cost you. Lines are long and you have to cover your shoulders/knees out of respect if you enter any church, so you can decide if it’s worth it (I didn’t go in). On Wednesdays, the pope addresses the people and the square is packed.
The Trevi Fountain: This site was one of my must-sees, but was unfortunately covered in tarp and scaffolding when I went in August 2014, as it was being touched up ūüė¶ Don’t forget to toss a coin in for a wish!
Pantheon: Another iconic building that I stood outside of and took pictures of.
Piazza Spagna¬†and¬†Piazza Repubblica: ¬†Different squares with food, shopping, and sights, respectively located at the bottom of the Spanish steps and the site of emperor Domitian’s stadium.
Circus Maximus: Located on the Circo Massimo metro stop, this is the site of the ancient Roman raceway, notably featured in the movie Ben-Hur and another cool stop for history buffs.
Shopping: From Dolce and Gabbana stores to cheap markets, Rome is a surprisingly great place to shop for clothes, jewelry, and more. I found a couple of cute things in the market behind Termini train station (such as dresses for 5-10 euros).
Clubs/Bars: If you’re staying at a hostel, they probably have a bar or do a pub crawl, or know somewhere that does. Rome is a hugely popular backpacking destination and if you seek, you will find.

There’s so much to do in Rome that, like London, I wish I’d had another month! Make sure you plan your days out with a metro map.

Food
Rome is more expensive than other Italian cities because they know you’ll be a paying tourist! However, it’s easy to find cheaper food if you wander away from the tourist traps. All of your favourite Italian pastas and pizzas are on every corner, and wine is never far. I also had a great gourmet burger at a restaurant close to the Colosseum, for a surprisingly low price.

Getting Around
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Unlike Paris or London, Rome’s metro is composed of few lines, and is less well-kept. Cars were covered in graffiti, and it was very screechy and hot. It’s the best way to get around Rome though, and it’s not unsafe–just dirty looking. Like Paris, most stations are named after the site they’re closest to, and the two main lines that cross Termini station are the ones where most of the sites are. ¬†Depending on your length of stay, there are different prices for metro tickets, but a single ride is 1.50 euro. Lots of sites are also close together, so you can walk to different places.
Many tourist site operators and hostel staff speak English, so you’re not likely to have to practice your Italian here. Still, saying grazie is pleasant, and speaking Italian could get you lower prices in some places!
A note about the local bus: An old drunk man tried to rob me on the local bus in Rome, which I was only taking because I had to to reach a hostel (see my hostel guide on the separate page). The local buses are alright, but the metro is the best bet for tourists.

Ciao! I hope you love Rome as much as I did!

xoxo Cady