An Invitation to the Mediterranean

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Two days after returning home from my 92-Day Mediterranean Trek, I invited some people over to my house for a Mediterranean Night. This involved a potluck of Mediterranean or European-inspired foods (many of which were left at my house and made delicious leftovers for the next few meals), and also featured a slideshow with over 200 of my trip photos. (This didn’t seem like many compared to all the photos I actually took!) It was a fun way to show and tell my experiences with many people who would be questioning me about my travels anyway. And while it just took place in a living room, it kind of felt like I was back in all those exotic cities, but this time I had friends and family right alongside me!

We discovered the evolution of the bridges over the Seine River and debated the merit of Love Locks.

Love Locks Paris Unlocked Bridge and Artist Paris

We laughed at how Disneyland Paris portrayed our American culture in It’s a Small World After All.Small World Disneyland Paris

We cringed in disgust from stories like how this horse statue in Madrid was once accidentally a death trap for birds! Horse Statue Madrid

They watched as I learned how to properly carve ham right off the leg…even if I didn’t want to eat it!Ham Cutting La Alberca

We questioned why this cathedral in Barcelona keeps 13 geese in the courtyard and whether or not the legend behind it is true.

Geese Barcelona

We marveled at the scenic landscapes of every city, and even the world’s second smallest nation of Monaco!

Monaco Monte Carlo Reflection

We were fascinated how places like Verona could just casually house so many millenia-old buildings and artifacts!

Verona Ruins

We shared a sunset over Venice.

Venice Sunset

Pinocchio and Gepetto’s workshop came to life to us in Florence.

Wooden Workshop Florence

We wondered why the Leaning Baptistery of Pisa doesn’t have the same fame as the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Pisa Baptistery Church Tower

We were in awe of so many magnificent pieces of art. (I had never pictured Mary or Jesus as being blonde before!)Blond Virgin Mary

We questioned if the guards at Athens’ Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was really a reverent location or more of a fun tourist stop.

Greece Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards Athens

We learned that Thessaloniki has its own leaning church akin to Pisa’s!

Leaning Church Thessaloniki

And we finally left Europe with a boat ride to Asia in the intercontinental city of Istanbul.Istanbul Europe Asia Divide

I know I couldn’t invite that many people into my parents’ living room for a night of personalized armchair travel, but over the next several weeks, I would like to invite everyone to journey with me for the inside experience of backpacking the Mediterranean, just like the ones mentioned above. We’ll explore each city together and have some fun along the way. Will you join me in reliving this Mediterranean Trek?

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Back… to the Future!

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Back in April, I got to visit one of the most iconic locations where Back to the Future was filmed. As you can see in the photo above, this place is often written off as a large empty parking lot at a mediocre mall. But for me, I could see the places where Marty skateboarded to the Twin Pines sign (which warped into a Lone Pine sign by the end of the movie), where Doc introduced his latest invention of a time machine, and where the Delorean took its maiden voyage back to the future.

Although the mall scenes only appeared in the first movie of the trilogy, something very significant happened in the sequel. Doc and Marty travel from 1985 to 2015. More specifically, they travel to October 21st, 2015. Of course many people across the country and around the world are celebrating this day in history, or should I say this day in future? Puente Hills Mall in City of Industry, California, better known to fans as the Twin Pines/ Lone Pine Mall, had to jump on board with the festivities. The photo below was taken today, in the same place as the photo above. Check out the cool mall sign!

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This month the mall added a Twin Pines sign in the same spot it is seen in the movie. But that’s not all. If you look down at the parking lot (just as Marty did in the movie), you’ll see a peculiar white truck parked down below, likely surrounded by people taking pictures with it. This is Dr. Emmett Brown’s truck that he uses to transport the Delorean time machine to the mall parking lot for a test drive in the movie.

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I was very thankful to have this unique opportunity on this special day. It wasn’t even the reason I went to California to begin with. I originally wasn’t even supposed to leave Oregon until tomorrow, but plans changed and things just happened to align! If you’ll be in the area, Puente Hills Mall has the sign and truck free for fans to view through the weekend.

Liked this post? Answer one of the following questions:

1. Did you do anything special for Back to the Future Day?

2. Have you ever visited a movie prop or set? What was it?

3. What do you think the future will be like in 30 years? Will we finally get flying cars and hoverboards?

Mediterranean Trek by the Numbers

Ninety-two days
Seven countries (well, eight if you count USA)
Fifteen hostels
Six shirts
Twelve socks
Five long-distance bus rides
Nine days of train travel
Six flights
Eighty filled journal pages

Countless people met
Countless memories made
Countless sights seen
Countless delicious Mediterranean treats
Countless once-in-a-lifetime experiences
Countless lessons learned
Countless reasons to go back

I’m home now. You just got the Mediterranean Trek by the numbers, but so much of what happened simply cannot be quantified, and maybe not even described. I’m not sure how this trip impacted my life, but it did. I’m not sure how this journey will affect my future, but it will. I’m not sure what I feel now that it’s over, but I am here and ready to start new adventures!

Money Mondays: Don’t Buy Drinks!

Money Mondays is a weekly post about how you can save money without sacrificing your travel dreams.

I can’t believe I only have half a week left of my three month Mediterranean Trek! I will miss seeing foreign countries every day, but I am also looking forward to a change of pace (even if it is pretty much back to the old routine). But even though I’ve been on the road for a long time, I can easily count all the times I paid for a beverage:
-I bought a bottle of Perrier in Paris because I wanted to enjoy the fizzy water in its home country.
-I bought a quart of milk in Barcelona so I would have something to go with my cereal. ( The hostel didn’t provide breakfast.)
-I bought two bottles of Gatorade  in Venice because I got sick and desperately needed that potassium and rehydration salt.
-I bought a slushie in Thessaloniki because buying a drink on a boat would entitle me to a free cruise around the bay.
That’s it.

I guess you could say I technically bought beverages when they were part of a prefixe meal, such as a tapas tour in Madrid or three course meals in Rome. But because these drinks were part of the package, if I had paid for everything else individually, it would have cost more than the price of the meal with beverage included. I think that’s almost like saying I pay for the tea and juice included in a hostel breakfast. I guess in a way I do, but I would be paying the same whether or not I accepted these free drinks.

So what have I been drinking? I occasionally come across a free beverage (last week in Athens, a restaurant offered me a free one to convince me to sit down at one of their tables), and you may remember that I brought some Traditional Medicinals teabags with me. But mostly, I’ve been drinking tap water.

Tap water is safe for Americans to drink in most European countries. Just make sure to look it up ahead of time. Today I’m heading to my final destination, and it’s the only place I’m going with unsafe tap water. I guess I’ll have to buy some water there! The good news is, bottled water is typically pretty cheap in places where you can’t drink the tap.

Needless to say, not paying for beverages can save a lot of money on a trip, and drinking only tap water doesn’t really change the experience. This is also something that can be done prior to your trip, and the savings can go to future travel. How much you’ll end up saving depends on your current habits. If you already mostly just drink tap, it won’t make much of a difference. If you drink a soda every day, consider how much that costs you over the course of a month or a year. If you go to bars, stopping drinking could save you a ton! Also factor in that beverages in restaurants, vending machines, and tourist destinations will probably cost more than at home.

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Here are some more tips to help you save on beverages:
–  Bring a large refillable bottle. My Camelbak worked well for me on this trip. But these water reservoirs are uncommon in Europe, so I got some weird looks and questions when I drank from its tube!
– Go to street fairs. I’ve been to three on this trip. The first one in Paris provided me with juice, cola, and lots of different food. The second one in Rome scored me milk, juice, bottled water, and Nutella Bready. The third one in Athens provided me with a hat, tee, and pin. If this trip is any indication, then two out of three street fairs will get you free beverages!
– If you really want a beverage, go to a grocery store for the cheapest selection.
– Some restaurants try to sell you bottled water, or may charge for tap. Discuss this with the waiter before you order, and make sure to bring a bottle with you so that you can drink from it if all liquids cost money.
– Look around town for places to refill your water. Oftentimes, if the water is flowing and there’s no sign that says “non potable”, it’s safe to drink.
-For those times when you do have to buy bottled water, buy it in bulk instead of individual bottles. You can always use a big jug to fill smaller bottles, and this translates into less waste and often lower costs!

There are times when it’s more than appropriate to buy a beverage. You don’t want to miss out on a local drink that’s part of the experience. But if you’re addicted to soda or crave coffee, a simple switch to water will improve your health, the environment, and your spending!

What’s your favorite thing to drink? How long do you think you could go without it?

Money Mondays: Foreign Money Isn’t Monopoly Money

Money Mondays is a weekly post about different ways to have awesome adventures that won’t break the bank. Enjoy!

When I am within the United States, I know what my money is worth. I know exactly how many minutes I had to work to get a dollar bill, so I almost always made frugal and worthwhile purchases. I knew if prices were too steep or if a salesman was trying to rip me off. Sadly, I can’t say that most other Americans are that in tune with what they make, but I think I understand the value of a dollar.

But I don’t understand the value of a Euro. Or a Peso. Or a Nuevo Sol. Or even a Canadian Dollar!

It can be tricky to spend money in a denomination different from how it was earned. I hope to improve at this, but for now, I’m learning from my mistakes. Hopefully you can, too.

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Pesos: Chuck E Cheese Tickets

My very first time using foreign money was when I was 14 and on a cruise to Mexico. Like most tourist areas of Mexico, items are priced in pesos, but you can pay in dollars. At the time, signs were posted near the shops: $1=10 pesos. So if I bought something for three pesos and paid with a dollar bill, I would get 7 pesos in change. Now that I had these new coins, I might save one or two of them for keepsakes, but I had to pick out more things that could be bought with my newly converted money.

I had outgrown the thrill of Chuck E Cheese by this time, but apparently I didn’t learn my lesson of how arcades make money: convert your cash into tokens, convert your tokens into tickets, and then with those tickets you can buy prizes. The value of your prizes isn’t worth what you actually shelled out for them, but the tokens and tickets you got were only redeemable there, and you had a fun experience in the meantime. However, Mexico is not Chuck E Cheese.

Nuevo Soles: Trusting the Vendor

A few years later I ended up on two mission trips to Peru. Some stores here also accepted American money. But there were no signs stating what a dollar was worth in Nuevo Soles. In fact, most items in most stores did not have a marked price. So I would place the things I wanted on the counter, the shopkeeper would give me q total and, knowing a dollar was about three soles, placed at least that much cash on the counter. I would get change as the vendor saw fit. Obviously in hindsight, I was taking risks with my money, both with unpriced items and an unknown amount of change. I was on mission trips, so I figured whatever money I spent would just benefit the local economy. More likely I was enabling shopkeepers to stash some extra tax-free cash and teach them how to take advantage by profiling Americans in the future.

Canadian Dollars: It’s Cheaper Than It Looks

Last summer, I went to Niagara Falls, both countries. Since my time in Canada was short and close to the border, I decided that instead of exchanging money, I would use my credit card. And whenever I saw a price, I told myself that CAD is with less than USD, so I paid for things even if they seemed a bit pricey. When I looked at my statement later, I realized that the dollars at the time had a nearly 1:1 ratio. Plus, since my credit card charged a foreign conversion fee, I ended up paying more! I should’ve checked these things ahead of time to know what I was really spending. The other foreign countries I went to in the past had a lower cost of living and better exchange rate. You can’t compare placed like Canada to places like Peru or Mexico.

Euros: Everything’s the Same

Since I’m in Europe at one of the best exchange rates, I mistakingly think of Euros the same way I think of dollars. But a Euro is worth more (ranging from 10-14% more over most of this trip. When I make small purchases, that doesn’t seem like much of a difference. But with three months and a few thousand Euros spent, I’m seeing the difference now!

Even if the money you spend doesn’t look the same as the money you receive, it isn’t Monopoly money. It has a value, and it’s up to you to know its value!

What is your mindset when it comes to foreign currency?

Local News When You’re a World Away

A few weeks ago, I excitedly met another Oregonian at Ciak Hostel in Rome. A favorite past time of ours was going to Fassi, a gelato shop just a couple blocks away. This was the original gelateria, but we found out that they have a Korean franchise. We joked that we should start a franchise in Oregon, but since she was in Eugene and I was in Medford, we would have to find a midway point. “So Roseburg, I guess?” I figured a franchise there wouldn’t do too well, since nothing really happens in Roseburg.

Now I wish nothing happened in Roseburg.

I got the news ping shortly after the news broke, and continued getting updates on my phone as more information on the victims was released. I know several people going to Umpqua Community College, and thankfully they all ended up being in the right place at the right time, away from the gunfire. But of course it still made my heart hurt that lives were lost, and that it was so close to home. Does it make a difference that I’m currently in Eastern Europe?

In trip preparations, I had thought about what I might do if tragedy struck in a city I was visiting. But I didn’t have a plan for if something like this happened back at home.  So what can I do? At first, it may seem like nothing, but in cases like this, here’s what you can do, no matter where in the world you are:

Keep Updated with the News. My Yahoo app has been a wonderful resource in keeping me in the loop throughout this trip. Despite not being in America for nearly three months now, people from other countries often ask me for inside information on American news. At least I know what’s going on.

Keep Updated with Those Close I’m pretty sure anyone who has had a close call with a disaster makes contact as soon as possible to let others know they’re okay. My Roseburg friends posted on Facebook immediately. I also waited for the list of victim names to be posted in case a former classmate or other long lost peer was involved.

Pray Sometimes seems like all you can do. But since prayer gives you focus, clarity, and meaning, it’s often the best thing you can do! Sometimes I equate prayer with worry, which is definitely not supposed to be. Truly praying for a situation means acknowledging its existence, and knowing that, unless you are called upon for a specific task, it is no longer in your hands.

Be Realistic Would I have made a difference if I were at home? Probably not. Sure, I could’ve visited shaken-up friends. But instead they know that people are thinking of them even on the other side of the world. And I could’ve responded as an EMT. Okay, if I actually worked on an EMT squad, and my jurisdiction included Roseburg, then there could be a tiny chance that I would be called to help the victims. But when I thought about that, I would still much rather spend three months backpacking Europe, and I can help others no matter where I am. (And this shooting has been a factor in persuading me to start using my EMT credentials again. I’m not sure yet, but I’m a step closer!)

Be Thankful for Life Remember after 9/11 when so many were terrified to fly? Every accident or tragedy seems to convince more people that the way to live life is to stay at home, locked away from the dangerous world. I really think that this is missing the point. Even if this lifestyle was physically healthy (which it isn’t), it is terrible for mental health. I think getting out there and being adventurous is the best way to overcome. It shows that we are not afraid and that the threat did not win. I think it would be really cool if a group of students had an adventure in honor of this event, to prove that the victims did not die in vain. Don’t live in fear!

I apologize if this post wasn’t up to par with my travel posts or if some of my advice sounded off. This wasn’t really meant to be an advice post, but more of a reminder for me as I still try to process everything that happened. In times like these, I guess it doesn’t really matter if it happened next door or a world away.

Update October 6th, 2015: Yesterday, Rogue CC, one of the colleges I attended, experienced a major bomb threat. As the bad news keeps coming, we need more brave and positive people to bring hope!

Update October 7th, 2015: There is news of yet another bomb threat at another college I attended. So in the past week alone, Southern Oregon colleges have experienced a mass shooting and at least two bomb threats. And the people there were concerned about the places I was going! Safety is not a guaranteed in any situation, so you can use this life fact to your advantage and take adventurous risks, or live in fear and a class sense of security. The choice is yours.