Caveat Emptor OR Fuck you, Spirit Airlines

As promised, a rant.

I used to be a loyal Southwest customer. They had friendly skies and my bags flew free. Awesome. However, with increased fuel prices and just the inflation of fucking everything, even Southwest’s prices started creeping into unfriendly territory.

For more than a year, I’ve been using a website called It got me relatively cheap flights to Europe last year and, as the name suggests, has some great last minute deals if you’re willing to be flexible…to the last minute…when purchasing tickets. It’s basically like hotwire, expedia or similar sites.

I tried to use it again to book my NYC trip. However, for whatever the reason, the transaction wouldn’t go through. (A first for me, which I should have taken as a warning from the Universe.) Since I was looking at the quoted price for Spirit, I went to Spirit’s website directly and hoped the price would be the same. It was, so I preceded.

I’ve never flown Spirit before. I did not know the price I would ultimately pay for my cheap flight. I did not do my research and did not spend a lot of time reading fine lines on Spirit’s website. That was my bad. Had I known then, what I know now, the rest of the story would not have come about.

The first red flag was that they gave me the option to chose my seat and I took it. Why not? It wasn’t until I was at checkout that I noticed the extra charge. Doesn’t matter where you click on that plane, if you chose a seat, even in the very back of the plane, Spirit charges for your choice. Okay. I fucked up.

I was confused by the options and didn’t realize it would cost me money. Although, it was against their policy, Spirit refunded the extra $50 I paid for seat selection. Cool. However, I was charged for a carry-on bag. I was aware of this charge. Spirit charges for every level of baggage except for a small personal item. Thus, if you go anywhere for more than a day, you need to pay for your luggage. I didn’t like it, but I accepted this reality.

I fly out of O’Hare in Chicago and discover that Spirit charges for it’s snack and beverage service. Nothing is complimentary. I was grateful that I brought trail mix and my own water.

I was checking in at LaGuardia when the screen asked me to pay an additional $40 for my carry-on bag. Apparently, for round trip, I should have paid $50 at purchase ($25 each way, not total), but there wasn’t an option (that I could see) at the time to do that. In my mind, everything was taken care of. But no.

When I asked the ticketing person about the charge, she laughingly said “You thought you had to only pay $25 round trip?” Smirk.

I was livid. I paid the fee, got on the plane (which took off late) and got home around 1am cst. The next day, I called Spirit and asked for my $15 as I felt that I had been hoodwinked. The customer service rep said no. Then, I googled and found out that other folks had been similarly bamboozled. Ah ha! Validation! It wasn’t just me.

I found the email address of an executive and sent them a stern letter about my experience and asked them to give me my measly $15. I even told them that I planned to blog about them and their services.

The exec never replied. I was given an electronic ticket number and, a few hours later, a form letter response by a Spirit peon about how, actually, all their hidden fees are not so hidden and right there on the website for all to see. They did not address any of the issues I brought up in my letter save for one and they said that, no, I would not be receiving any kind of refund from the company.

So, I said to myself, fine. They got me. Fool me once and all that. I will never, ever make the same mistake again. I will never fly Spirit or any other sketchy cheap-o airline without doing my research first and thoroughly familiarizing myself with their policies. Sounds simple, right? And if I had just done that in the first place, I wouldn’t have gotten screwed, right?

The thing is, I’ve bought a lot of plane tickets in my day and shit’s pretty much the same all over, until it isn’t. I’ve never had to pay for carry-on luggage before and I’ve never been to a website where it wasn’t abundantly clear that I was being charged for every little thing. I’ve also never been to a website that didn’t have a “contact us” or a customer service number. I had to google in order to call them. Why don’t you want customers to contact you, Spirit? Hmm?

Perhaps all the information is there and I didn’t see it. Perhaps, I was in such a frenzy to get the cheapest tickets that I wasn’t that careful. Perhaps Spirit needs to put everything on one fucking page so I don’t have to click all over the place just to get an answer to a simple question?

Here endeth my rant and my warning. Beware of Spirit, beware of deals that seem too good to be true. Beware, buyer, beware…

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I’m Not Dead Yet AND New York on a Shoestring

Hello Faithful Readers! (If there are any of you left…) Over a year ago, I started this blog to track my three month long European adventure. I’ve since been back and have been dealing with other things, namely a year of underemployment and struggle as I begin my new career as a teacher in Chicago. If you would like to know more about my non-globe-trotting life, check me out here.

As far as this blog goes, I’ve been thinking for a while about turning it into a general travel blog, however, due to monetary constraints, I haven’t really gone anywhere. That is, until now.

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

Recently I turned 28 (LOVIN’ IT!) and I thought to myself, where does a broke 28 year old go for their birthday? The most expensive city on this side of the pond: NEW YORK! (Duh, right?)

In June when I made my plans, I looked at my finances and decided that I could make the trip under certain conditions:

  1. I had to find a super cheap flight. Like, super duper cheap.
  2. I had to find cheap Broadway tickets. Really, this was the whole purpose for the trip. I wanted to see The Newsies for my birthday.
  3. I needed free lodging.

So, I went online and found a cheap ticket to the play with seats at the back of the orchestra section (SWEET!) and, then, I checked to see if I could get a flight for the day before and the day after as I decided that a three day trip would make it all worth it. Spirit airlines came to my rescue…and then later they screwed me (more on that further on).

Confident that I could meet the third condition as I know quite a few folks in NYC, I booked my reservations. It was done and a week or so later, I had a spot on a friend’s couch.

Now, any body ‘n’ their mama can grab themselves free lodging, a cheap flight and show tickets with Lady Luck and a little help from their friends in the modern digital age. That’s not what this post is about. No, friend. What I tried to figure out and then wonderfully executed is this: How does one visit the Big Apple, one of the priciest cities in the world, when they ain’t got no monies AND not be disappointed?

First, I want to say that my tips, as they are, are not just for NYC, but for any trip. The first time I traveled abroad I had very little money and I spent 1.5 weeks in London (which, I’m certain is the most expensive city in the world) without spending hardly any money (future post anyone…?). In fact, I’ve gone through most of my life as a proud member of the working poor. The past few years and last summer were pretty much the first time in my life where I didn’t need to worry (too much) about finances. I am a pro at getting around and doing it on the cheap. Trust.

So, some things to consider:

  1. What do you want to do/see on your trip? When mulling this over, keep some things in mind: famous locales cost money. Are you able to go to a city like NYC and not see the Statue of Liberty up close and not be disappointed? Do you need to ride all the rides at Coney Island? Must you get front row seats at the latest and greatest Broadway show? If you’ve answered “yes”, then traveling on a shoestring is not for you. If you’re like me and like to explore off the beaten path locales, then read on.
  2. What are all the free things that interest you? Here is where I usually figure out where are all the historic/interesting spots that I can visit from a street or can get in for free/cheap. This includes museums. While many museums charge, places like DC have free admission and in NYC the museum price is actually a suggested donation. You can pay the full price or not. Special exhibits will cost you, but general admission is open. Also, if you’re like me and still carry around your student ID (and still look the part), see if you can get the student rates on any place charging admission that you want to go.
  3. Where do you want to eat? Hint: not in a restaurant. When I travel, it’s all about convenience stores and cheap sandwich joints. When I was in the UK this past year, almost all my lunches were from TESCO. They had this lunch special: a sandwich, fruit, and a canned soda/bottled water for £2.50. Also, street food. Tamales, kielbasa, hot dogs, all for a couple of bucks. It’s much more flexible as you can pick up these things almost anywhere and don’t have to worry about being somewhere specific for a meal. Traveling with healthy snacks helps you stay on your meal plan and away from temptation. I brought a container of trail mix with me to NYC and I nibbled on it for three days. Road food isn’t all that healthy to begin with and you don’t want to make yourself sick from too much garbage. Don’t forget to eat your fruits and veggies!
  4. How are you getting around the city? On the cheap, public transport is a must. NYC has an awesome subway system. But still, it’s a money suck. Sometimes, it can’t be helped. This trip I stayed in Brooklyn, so I had to ride the train back and forth, however, while in the city, I walked as much as possible to balance it out. In general, whenever I travel, I tend to walk as much as possible. It’s freeing to not have to depend on public transport, you get to see a lot of stuff off the beaten path and every time you walk from point A to point B, you save.
  5. Where are you staying? This is a biggie. After the to and fro of arrival and departure at your chosen vacation spot, this is often the next biggest expense. My personal policy? Don’t pay for lodging if you don’t have to. Simple as that. If you know someone in the area with a couch or spare bed or even a floor, why pay for a hotel or even a motel? Now, I recognize that I’m a young-ish person without kids or spouse and not everyone can pull this off, but I say if you don’t need to get your own room(s) and you can live without amenities, you can go anywhere.
  6. Are you flexible with your plans? I find that flexibility is always a must. You can’t see everything in one trip due to time and cost. Sometimes, you get lost while on foot and lose part of a day. Sometimes, shit just happens. I’ve experienced lots of set backs while on vacation. Frankly, a certain amount of flexibility is needed for a great travel experience in order to not be disappointed. Let go and have a good time. You’re on vacation, remember? Don’t be so concerned about getting up early and arriving at your various destinations by a certain time. Sleep in, take your time and feel the joy of the trip.
  7. What do you want to buy? Souvenirs are the enemy of traveling on a shoestring. It’s tempting, but you have to say no most of the time. I try to take as many pictures as I can for mementos instead of buying crap. Also, I have a few rules for souvenirs: It can’t be anything that I can get at home for cheaper or same price. I have to know the reason why I want it (i.e. knick knack, practical, decorative, etc.). If I can’t think of any legitimate reason why I want it (it can be a shallow reason, but there has to be a reason besides just wanting it), then I can’t have it. Small knick-knacks have to be under $20, but preferably closer to $10. No single item should be over $30, unless the nature of the thing (e.g. imported, size, precious stones, gold, etc.) gives it extra expense. Usually, I don’t buy these things, but there are a few exceptions to the rule, like when I bought my kilt in my family’s tartan in Scotland. There was no getting around the price for something like that. Generally, I try not to buy souvenirs unless I really, really want whatever it is. And, in all honesty, there are very few things in this world that I really, really want or can legitimately convince myself that I need.

These are my big guidelines and, I promise you, if you follow them, you will not only have a great time, but you will not be broke(r) when you get home.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything about getting there and back. Frankly, that’s a personal choice and I have taken everything from plane, train and bus. I don’t drive, so that’s never an option for me unless I’m traveling with someone else who is willing to do all the driving. I’ve never taken a boat long distance, so I can’t speak to that. In the past, I’ve always made the choice of how to get there based on my personal economic situation and what I’m willing to deal with at the time. It’s so very personal and most people know what’s best for them. My thing is, if you can’t at least afford to get where ever it is you’re going, then you shouldn’t be going there. Period. Once you get to your destination, it’s relatively easy to save money and have fun cheaply if you keep the above questions in mind. That said…

So, what did I do for my three days in New York?

At the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn

Day 1: Brooklyn

My first day, I decided to stick close to home, as it were. My host lives in Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, so I spent my first day in the borough. I met up with another friend at the Brooklyn Museum and paid the student price for admission ($4). It was a cute little museum, but not the most exciting. I enjoyed the Egyptian and Greco-Roman artifacts as well as the section on African tribal art (primarily Yoruba and Congo). There was definitely some good art there. There was also some weird art. Mostly, I just enjoyed hanging with my friend for a couple hours and commenting on the pieces.

After, I made my way to Park Slope. I was meeting another friend there later and wanted to make sure I knew where we were meeting. I had a bad stomach ache, so I grabbed a natural ginger drink and then made my way to the Greenwood Cemetery.

If you’ve been following my adventures, then you know I enjoy visiting cemeteries and Greenwood promised to be amazing. It was definitely worth it.

I spent about 2 hrs wandering around. This place is huge. There are really big hills and a gorgeous landscape. I enjoyed just wandering around. The chapel on the grounds was lovely. There was a big koi pond near some of the above ground vaults. I was sad to leave, but the cemetery was closing.

Eventually, I met up with my friend, we got dinner and spent a couple hours just chilling on a church stoop talking and eating and catching up. All in all, a good day.

Day 2

I started this day by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. I, then, walked to Chinatown and spent a couple hours just looking in shops and seeing what there was to see. I found a cheap lunch special and got some cashew chicken ($6) and rice which I ate in a nearby park. Of course, there was so much food that I was able to eat the rest for dinner (double meal score!).

I left Chinatown and went up to 51st Street. I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Should you ever go to NYC, the cathedral is worth the visit. Seriously, even if you aren’t Catholic (which I’m not). If you can appreciate good architecture or just beauty, then you should go.

It was an interesting experience for me. I’ve been in plenty of churches before, but this is the first time that I felt compelled to light candles and pray. I lit a candle at St. Joseph’s shrine and another at the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochawa, who I fell in love with while in Poland.

Upon leaving the cathedral, I went to Rockefeller Plaza and took pictures of the iconic spot and hoped to catch a glimpse of Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy. No such luck.

By this time I was running late to see another friend and I raced to Wall Street. After a bit of confusion, I found my friend and she showed me around the block and then I stuffed my face while we got caught up in each other’s lives. I had to leave all too soon, though, because I didn’t want to be late for The Newsies. My friend and I made lunch plans for the following day and I raced back uptown to W. 41st Street.

A block from Times Square

I’m not going to bore you with details about the show (IT WAS AWESOME!). I’d recommend it to anyone. They changed some stuff from the movie, but that was to be expected. It was still good.

Afterwards, I returned a birthday phone call from a friend, sat on a bit of scaffolding and talked for over an hour. I love how at no point, did I worry about my personal safety while in NY. People are on the streets at all times of day and night and at no point did any scary folks show up. It was great. When my phone died, I got on the train back to Brooklyn.

Day 3

Front of the Stonewall Inn

My final day in the city, I said goodbye to Brooklyn and headed to Greenwich Village. I ate a scone on a bench on Bleeker Street. I took a gander at all the cutesy shops and stopped at one that sold Tibetan goods. I loved that little shop and wanted to walk away with tons of stuff, but settled for a wooden beaded necklace and a Ganesh pendant.

As I was on my way to catch the train back to the financial district, I found myself on Christopher Street and standing in front of the famous Stonewall Inn. I took a moment to bask in the history before heading down into the subway.

I met my friend, S, who I had to dip out on in order to make the show, for lunch down in Battery Park. She surprised me by lighting two candles in my turkey wrap and singing “Happy Birthday”. It was so sweet.

My birthday sandwich!

S had to go back to work, so we took our leave and I headed towards Central Park. I got lost for about an hour or so. I was carrying my luggage, a duffel, and though it was light, the weight started to…well…weigh on me.

I was looking for the Balto statue commemorating the bravery of sled dogs during a diphtheria outbreak in Alaska. After wandering around for, like, ever, I finally found it. Then, I went to the MET gift shop. By this time it was around 4 and I still wanted to see Harlem before taking the bus to the airport. So, I just looked in the gift shop didn’t see anything I liked, so then I crossed the park and went to the Natural History Museum gift shop. Still, didn’t buy anything (good on me), but I had my look around.

On the corner of African Square and MLK, Jr. Blvd

Without further ado, I took my leave and headed further uptown to central Harlem. I exited the subway at 125th Street and soaked in the sights and sounds. By this time I was exhausted and didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Also, it was after 5pm, so I didn’t really “do” anything in Harlem besides what I had been doing. I walked up the street, enjoyed the sight of my beautiful Africana sisters and brothers. I did my part to stimulate the local Black economy by purchasing a dashiki dress from a small shop where the African men sewed the shirts and dresses by hand. They even did custom work.

Finally, I decided it was dinner time. For the first time on my trip, I ate at a fast food restaurant, Wendy’s. I took the opportunity of being a paying, sit-in customer and camped there with a book and rested and read until it was time to catch the bus. The awesome thing? My bus to LaGuardia picked up on 125th Street, so when it was time to go, I just grabbed my bag, crossed the street and got on the bus.

Thus ended my three-day NYC get-away on the cheap with minimal money spent. Overall, I was quite satisfied and I can’t wait until my next trip. As previously mentioned, I have a rant about Spirit airlines, but I’m going save that for my next post. Yes, I will indeed post here again.

While, I don’t have any upcoming travel adventures planned, I realized while writing this post that, though, I’ve never had a lot of money, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling and I think I have some info to share in this regard. So, I think there will be a couple of upcoming posts on my various travel experiences and getting around on the cheap. I hope old readers and new will enjoy my ramblings. If not, well, :P.

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So, I came home….Final Blog Post

As the second part of the title indicates, this is the FINAL BLOG POST for my Eurotrip 2011 travel blog (capital letters for ridiculous, epic emphasis).

I’ve been home almost two months and in a way, it seems silly to go back and comment on my time abroad. (That is sooo last summer…:P) But the weight of this final post hangs over me like a heavy cloud and a soft voice naggingly whispers “finish it…finish it”. Also, I’ve been contemplating reviving my old blog as I have much to ponder upon since my return and feel the strange urge to rant and reflect in a public forum and I feel that I can’t start it until I finish with this one.

So, I came home…and then my final semester of grad school started. After only four days of being home, I reported to my student teaching assignment, a public high school on the Southwest side of Chicago,  and, after a week there, I started teaching three consecutive classes a day. I have weekly reflections to write on my experience, lessons to plan and a final project to complete in which I am to prove my competence as a teacher by measuring my impact on the students I’m working with. Oh, and I joined the Drama Club (volunteering in the school community is one of the requirements for school) and I teach night school on Wednesday evenings until 6:30. Did I mention that I’m not getting paid for any of this? Student teaching is my job now and it keeps me busy.

Frankly, I don’t know what else to say that hasn’t already been said. This summer was one of the most wonderful and trying experiences that I’ve ever had. I was challenged in unexpected ways. I learned a lot about myself and other people. I found some places outside my home country that I would consider “home”. Even as I made the journey back to America and as my current financial situation keeps me from planning anything concrete, I KNOW with absolute certainty that I will be making another trip to Europe in the next year. Two years at the most, if a year isn’t doable.

I have my heart and mind set on learning Scottish Gaelic and Slovak to fluency. I’ve been thinking about learning Ukrainian. Despite feelings related in previous posts, I haven’t yet completely ruled out studying Polish. But it is no longer a priority, by any means, and if I don’t revisit it, I will not be sad. Of all the languages that I have studied or currently have an interest in (minus Ukrainian, since it’s so new), Polish is the only language for which I have no materials (textbooks, workbooks, audio tapes/cds) in my home. That should tell you something right there.

My predictions about the result of my sojourn abroad were correct. I was changed by the experience, but not in visible ways, though the expressions are definitely tangible. When I first arrived back, jetlag and the comfort and reassurance of being home kept me out of circulation. Then all the school stuff started. When I wasn’t at school or in class, I was chilling out at home. I didn’t clean, and although I put my clothes away, I still had all this “Europe stuff” (brochures, souvenirs, etc.) cluttering up my living space. I was dragging, which, unfortunately, was business as usual. I felt caught in stasis and, frankly, was a bit depressed about it.

I had no idea what the next steps where to be. While abroad, I lived day-to-day. I had no re-integration plan. I just…came home. And that was it. I was also a little disoriented with the fact that I was unemployed. It’s been a long time since I was unemployed and, although I had things to do upon coming home, (making sure my lights, gas and internet were turned back on and mail started coming to my house among other things) I felt a bit lost. I spent three months as a vagabond, a traveler, a wander. What was I now?

It has taken a while to come back to myself, to re-acclimate to the U.S and school, and realize the changes that have taken place. While I do let myself get lazy far too often, it has happened much less in the past month. I’ve had a greater drive to work in general though I’ve been having difficulties with concentration. I’ve been working on myself more in terms of self-improvement and have begun seeing a therapist to deal with some of the issues that have kept me emotionally in stasis for so long. I have been working on making my apartment less of a hovel and more of a home. I have been working on restructuring my personal spiritual practices (an ongoing, never-ending task, but one in which I feel I’m finally making some progress). More than before, I feel a stronger pull to work with my Ancestors. Their presence in my life is incredibly tangible and a great comfort to me. Now more than ever do I need their spiritual guidance and support. I definitely receive it and I’m grateful for it.

Besides the pounds I lost (some of which I have gained back…damned American cuisine), not much has changed, outwardly, but I am definitely not the same as when I left. And that’s enough.

I have to say, though, that since I’ve been back in the States, two people (one known and the other unknown to me) asked me out. Like, on dates. This may not seem significant, but given that nobody (not even weirdos on the street…okay maybe a couple of those, but nobody legit) has even approached me for a date in the last several years, this is quite significant. At first, I didn’t think much of it…especially since I wasn’t particularly interested in either one, but the words of a friend caused me to reflect on the whole business. She suggested that I’ve become more “open”, emotionally, to such advances and perhaps these people were picking up on that. At the time she mentioned it, I wasn’t quite sure of all that as I didn’t perceive myself as more open.

However, upon reflection, I do think that I am more open emotionally. I’m open to possibilities. I feel that within my heart and soul there’s more “flow”, if that makes sense. I see possibilities for joy and I’m trying to do the work to make that happen for myself. I’m still very much a work in progress, but progress is the key word. There is progress and I hope there continues to be.

This chapter has ended, but my story has only barely begun. I hope to share other stories in the future and, if you want to stick around, you can catch up with me here: This new-old blog is generally more personal in nature and, as the subtitle states I share my take on “faith, life, love and…education”. That last I haven’t really touched on, but as I am actually teaching right now, I hope to include more education-related reflections.

I would like to publicly thank those who have stuck with the blog and who took the time to comment. I may not have responded to your comment directly, but please know that it meant something to me that you took the time to read my ramblings and shared your own thoughts and feelings with me. It is very encouraging and it makes me want to write more.

To those I met in my travels…I hope we meet again, perhaps in classes or on the street abroad or in the U.S. Consequently, if any of you come to Chicago and want to hang out, shoot me a message.

Peace. And thanks again.

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The Road Home & Author’s Retraction

I’m currently in No Man’s Land at London Heathrow Airport waiting to go through customs (the folly of separate flight arrangements!), so I thought I’d fill you in on my last days in Prague. But first, my retraction.

I’d like to apologize to the Czech people & the residents of Prague in general for insinuating that they would want to kill me or, more specifically, assassinate me with a beer bottle. Some events that occurred on Wednesday evening led me to the realization that the so-called “assassination attempt” was, in fact, of my own making. Please bare with me as I explain the series of events which led to this very important epiphany.

So, Wednesday evening, I was shopping for dinner in the grocery store. I was looking for a cheap, cold, tasty beverage to go with my dinner sandwich. I saw this fizzy apple drink & I suddenly remembered that I had bought one on Tuesday, but I didn’t remember drinking it. I thought it must be in my backpack still. So, I didn’t buy a drink & went back to my hotel.

Once I unpacked my bag back at the hotel, I looked for the beverage. It wasn’t in my bag. I looked around my room thinking I pulled it out of my bag & forgot to drink it. It wasn’t on the table or in the wardrobe. There wasn’t any other place for it. Then, I remembered…

After the “incident”, I was walking up Wenceslas Square & this guy tapped me on my shoulder & then gestured towards my backpack. I had too much stuff in it & the zipper had opened. Nothing appeared to be missing & after some rearranging, I was good to go.
But apparently something was missing…the fizzy apple drink in a glass bottle, that to the untrained & partially traumatized eye looked like beer!
After it fell & nearly hit me, I had briefly wondered why the bottle hadn’t shattered. It seemed to defy the laws of physics, but I was too shaken to dwell on it long. But it would seem that the bottle didn’t shatter because it didn’t fall from that great a height. The impact was enough to shake up the CO2 & pop the top but not enough to break it.

Mystery solved!

**A lot of shit went down between the time I started this entry & now. I’m currently on the plane to Chicago. Looks like this is going to be a multi-part entry.

I also plan a big reflection for the last entry to sort of wrap up the summer.

So don’t touch that dial! We’ll be back in 9 hrs! (Or more cause I’ll probably be jet-lagged to hell.)

Countdown to America continues!

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Revisiting Slovakia

Bojnice Hrad

I didn’t give Slovakia the time it deserves. It is such an amazing place & I was caught in the whirlwind of all the touristy things I did while there & it’s all too speedy ending that I didn’t have time to process & when I had the time, I was too tired/lazy/whatever. So, I’m taking the time now.

Tatra Mountains

Truly words can’t describe. From the moment the sun came up & I could actually see the landscape that first day until I rolled away on the evening train, Slovakia was in my heart.
In all truth, Slovakia was in my heart the first time I heard Slovak all those many, many years ago. Now that I’ve seen it, it will never leave me.

While in Slovakia, I took up my study of the language &, with D’s help, I learned new vocabulary & practiced speaking. I shocked some Slovak restaurant staff when I was able to order my own food.
I also bought a dictionary & used it daily.
I still don’t have a lot of speaking confidence & find it difficult to produce language on cue. However, my ability to read & understand Slovak has improved. D continually told me that my pronunciation is good though sometimes I forget myself & pronounce a “j” like in Spanish or something like that. Sometimes, I’m baffled by the number of consonants in a row & then I imagine vowels where none exist, but it’s all so much easier than it was.

I already mentioned that studying Polish helped me. I understand some of the various cases & how to use them so that I can make accurate sentences. I am thinking that I should continue to study both languages so that they can inform each other for the improvement of both. I’m hoping that it works & I don’t end up forever confusing them.
I am seriously going to try to return to Slovakia in the near future for formal study, which I’ve never done for Slovak. Much more than Polish, I have a great desire to speak this language & work towards fluency.

Slovakia is one of those places that you have to see to believe. It’s absolutely beautiful. The cities are gorgeous & there is more countryside than anything but nothing is too far away. It’s not flat, like Poland. Everywhere you look there are mountains. The most beautiful mountains you have ever seen. The air is so clear & clean there. The sunsets are to die for.

The only down side I experienced is that I got a lot of stares as I was one of very, very few people of color wandering around. Slovakia is by far the whitest of the Slavic countries I have visited & everywhere I went people looked at me. However, I was not mistreated & some people were really nice to me. Like B’s (a friend of D) mom who complemented my Slovak & gave me banana bread. It was sooo good!

If anybody said anything rude to me or about me, I did not hear/understand it. But I don’t think so.

It helped that I had a friend there as well. There seemed to be less English-speaking people than in Krakow or Prague & there were definite times when I know I couldn’t have figured things out myself. I am grateful to know such a person.
It was also good to see Slovakia through his eyes. D is a proud Slovak man. He is proud of his country & his language & it shows. I was happy to be there. And I can’t wait to go back.

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When Beer Falls From The Sky

So, today I was nearly assassinated by a falling beer bottle.

I was walking in the centrum on my way back to the hotel when I hear this loud noise very close to me & then a wetness on my leg. A beer bottle fell (was hurled?) from the balcony above. I didn’t see anyone & the people near me looked as confused & shocked as I was.
Once I was over the initial shock of the event, I took it as just another sign that it is time to go home. My two days in Prague has been full of such signs.

First, let’s go back to my late night/early morning arrival.

I arrived at the train station at 3:45am on Sunday morning. I found a taxi & took it to the hotel. The taxi charged 980kc which I thought was a little steep but was only about $57, & I was in a strange city with no other mode of transport.
Now you might remember that I called the hotel & was told that I could check in when I arrived. Well, when I got to the hotel, there was no one there. There was a sign outfront that said to call a phone number after hours. I called & called & called & no one answered.
Across the street was another hotel & the lights were on. I stood over there while I continued trying to call my hotel because it was well lit & seemed safer.
While I stood there, someone came out & invited me in. Then he told me that the other hotel asked him to store my bags for me, but nothing else. While I was relieved to be off the streets, I was pissed that I had no where to stay. I was exhausted.
I used the hotel lobby toilet & sat on the couch. The reception guy said that someone just checked out & I could watch tv in their room if I wanted. I asked if he would give me some sheets & let me stay there. He said he could for €10.
The room was otherwise used but I didn’t care. I changed the bed sheets, set the alarm & went to sleep.
The bed was very uncomfortable but it was better than nothing. I got up in time for checkout & left my big bag at the hotel. I wouldn’t be able to check into my other hotel until 2pm.

The hotel where I spent the night gave me a map & directions to the center. I would first pass the train station on the way. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the train station is a ten minute walk from the hotel! I tried to reason that I did get a cab from the train station in the middle of the night & I was given the first rate on the chart I was shown. What I would later discover, however, is that taxis commonly inflate prices. When I would later check in at my hotel they have a chart in the lobby which says that I should have paid closer to 600kc. Thus, I was further enraged.

In any case, I spent my first day trying to get around the city using my map. I bought a Prague guidebook at a bookstore &, once I found it, bought a ticket for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. The tour bus goes to/near all the major sites of the city. I took the whole tour so that o could figure out where everything is.

After the tour, I went back to the hotel & checked in. The staff apologized & said that it turned out there wasn’t anybody to meet me & they had left word at the other hotel to take my bags etc etc.
I was given numerous keys (there is a man entry key, a key card for my block (I share a tiny foyer with the room next door), & my individual room key. When I made it to my room, I was greeted by a huge bed that takes up the entire room. So much so that I must squeeze by it to get to the bathroom. There is a small balcony facing the indoor/outdoor smoking area on the ground floor. I was later to find out that I would get all the late night smells & sounds of Prague from this area but it’s too hot not to have the windows open. Oh! And one side of the curtains has come off the track & it’s too high to fix on my own.
Despite all this, I tried to relax. I was tired & done for the day.

This morning I got up in order to make breakfast. I thought I would miss it but my shower didn’t take as long as I thought because the water was only warm for two minutes. So, I had a brisk start to the day.
“Breakfast” as it turns out was cornflakes & bread with a bit of salami. More like a hostel breakfast than a hotel breakfast. It was previously described to me as “full breakfast”. Thus, with all my grievances, I’ve taken to referring to my current place of residence as the “hotel”. There’s really no other way to call it.

After “breakfast”, I went to the centrum & took the tour bus to Prague castle. I had a tour of the castle with a Czech man with a British accent working with the tour bus company. He was a nerd & we talked Dune , Star Trek, & Star Wars briefly before the tour started.
In the castle, he first showed us the palace eagles & a giant owl. I used the Slovak word for owl, sova, & he was shocked that I knew the word. I told him in Slovak that I was studying Slovak language. Then he told me in Czech that his mother was Slovak but she was born there when it was Czechoslovakia & Czech was the official language, & that the languages was very similar. I was so excited that I could understand what he said! I understood about 80% of the words. He spoke slowly & deliberately, but it was a great confidence booster that I didn’t need him to repeat in English what he said.

It was a good tour & we saw all the castle grounds plus the St. Vitas cathedral, which was huge. After, I went walking & walked across the Charles Bridge, looked in some souvenir shops. I eventually went to a mall & got some new Levis. The one pair that I have been wearing all summer has holes in the crotch. They have been too big for me anyway the last two months.
I was slightly saddened that I only dropped one size, however, I was happy that I could fit the “regular” sized pant legs & didn’t need the “loose straight” legs, which they didn’t have anyway. Basically, I have big, curvy woman thighs & finding pants that fit my waist & thighs can sometimes be difficult. The weight loss took off enough of my thighs to fit the men’s pants. This is good news. Still, the price I paid for the new pants made me want to cry a little. They were not cheap. We won’t talk about it.

Immediately after the mall was the beer incident. I decided that I had had enough for the day & went back to the hotel.

Thus went my first two days in Prague.

Only four more days until I’m back in the U.S.! Stay tuned!

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Last Day in Slovakia

Well, my tour in Slovakia was fun. Hung out with a friend, ate some good food, saw some stuff…I had a good time.

Tonight I leave Slovakia from Poprad near the Tatra mountains. The train leaves at about 7:30pm & will get me to Prague at about 4am. I already called the hotel. They said someone will be there to receive me. Gods, I hope so!

In the meantime, I’m hanging out in Poprad. The centrum is nothing to write home about and it seems that everything closes at about 12, so I have nothing to do for the next few hours. Currently, I’m using the wifi at a cafe I’m dining in.

Prior to lunch, I happened upon a English-speaking German man. Or rather, he overheard me talking on the phone with the hotel & approached me.
He was born in the former Czechoslovakia, in Brno. He lived for a couple years in Nashville, TN, & is in Poprad for the next couple months gathering information for a book about the Tatra mountain region.

Church near Poprad

I asked him if there was anything that I should see before I left. He then took me to the next town over & showed me St. George’s church (which was closed for the day) & we talked while we waited for the museum to open. He is living in the apartment above it.
Once the museum opened, he introduced me to the lady who runs it & she gave me a tour. She didn’t speak English, only Slovak & some German. She tried to explain things as best she could & used gestures. She had some reading materials in English, but very little. She was eager to share the history & kept asking me to try to ask questions in Slovak, since I had explained that I was learning the language. But I only understood maybe 5% or less of what she said. Broad strokes only. It was rough, but she kept going & was very nice to me.

I’m nearly finished with lunch & I’m going to head back to the train station soon since there is nothing else to do. There’s a bathroom there (.30€) and I figure I can claim a bench & read until my train leaves. It’s going to be a long night.

I’m in Prague until the 26th. That morning I fly back to London & then back to the US. Expect at least two more posts before then.

Only 6 more days!

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Surviving Slovakia

Once I met up with my friend, we went back to his place and the adventures began. He had planned a ton of stuff for us to do & and after breakfast & a shower, we were off.
He took me to Pusty Hrad (deserted castle) on the top of a mountain. We climbed the mountain, slowly but surely, & for the first time in three weeks, I was getting real exercise. And it hurt.

Triumphant at Pusty Hrad (Abandoned Castle)

But it was worth it when we got to the top. It was really pretty up there & I discovered that Slovakia has thistle, which, together with the mountains, made me long for Scotland.
After Pusty Hrad, we went for lunch with D’s friend J. J is learning Spanish & could speak a little (very little, mostly words like “jamon serrano”) & I, of course, speak little Slovak. It was fun.

Despite not using the little Slovak that I have, my time in Poland boosted my ability to understand & communicate since the languages are similar. Not by a lot, but some. I have a tendency to pronounce Slovak words in a Polish way & sometimes I fuck them both up by pronouncing letters like I do in Spanish. It’s getting wild in my head. Too many incomplete languages.

I should also mention that in addition to showing me around Slovakia, D has made it his personal mission to make me taste everything that is specific to Slovakia. So, for lunch I had roasted liver in a thin bread with cabbage & carrots. I washed it down with a “kofola” (Slovak cola). It was really good.

After lunch, we went to another hrad that was not in ruins. It was turned into a museum & we looked at some artifacts, art & other historical awesomeness.

Later we walked the Centrum of the town near the hrad & had soft serve ice cream.

Banska Bystrica

Despite being ready to collapse, we went to the Centrum of Banska Bystrica & had palacinki (crepes) with nutella, jam & pineapple (oh yeah!). All with a sparkling wine called Vinea.

After a night of not sleeping, I slept very well that evening.

On Monday, D had to work & so I was on my own. He had showed me how to get to the Centrum on my own, so after taking my time getting ready & watching some Slovak TV, I went out into the world.

All roads in this town lead to this giant shopping mall called Europa & I stopped there first. I bought a Slovak-English dictionary, had some bad mall Chinese food & went on the the Centrum.

Once, there I bought souvenirs & partook of Slovak culture. I went to some churches, a cemetery, a museum, and walked about taking pictures & trying to communicate in Slovak.

It was really hot that day so went it was about 4 o’clock & I had seen all that I wanted to see, I walked back to D’s flat.

D was home & we had dinner & went to a small village in the mountains. We walked a mountain trail & read some information about the old mine that was there. We looked at some old-style Slovak homes & visited the local cemetery. It was dark by the time we made it back to the car.

môj kamarát (my friend)

Once again, we slept well.

This morning we woke up & went to yet another mountain (notice a pattern here). This mountain was a bit different because we went to a cave when we arrived at the top. We went deep into the Earth & saw some awesome rock formations. There were no bats at this time of year, though.

Bat cave minus the bats

Me, rockin’ my Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (Gaelic College) hoodie

We went to lunch afterwards & I ordered us some venison with cranberries & something they called a dumpling which was a log of dough in the middle. It was tasty nonetheless.

After lunch, we walked along the river near the caves. Then we drove to another forest & saw a waterfall after hiking a ways. Then, we went a different way back, sort of got lost, & ended up in this village. D finally asked for directions & we made it back to the car.

Yet again, we are exhausted & we’re spending the evening hanging out in bed. Soon, I will sleep & it will be awesome.

My muscles are sore & my language skills are taxed, but it’s been really good so far. I like Slovakia. I also enjoy hanging out with D as we learn new vocab & try to decipher each other’s meanings. I look forward to the rest of the week here.

Tomorrow…? Who knows?!

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Into the East OR Do Widenia, Kraków! AND Ahoj, Slovensko!

*Post drafted on Saturday/Sunday (8/13-8/14) & concluded on Tuesday.

So, of course, I couldn’t leave Kraków without a “farewell” post.

I’m not sad to leave but it carries with it that bittersweet feeling I get whenever I leave a place. Now, I’ve got nearly 11 hours on the train through Prague, of all places, (seeing as how in a week, I’ll be back there) before continuing on to Banska Bystrica, Slovakia. Lots of time to reflect on my time in Polska & my final two weeks abroad.

…So that last bit was written while I waxed nostaglic. I’ve since moved on & feel that I’ve said all I have to say about Kraków. Now, let’s turn to my crazy overnight train ride & subsequent events.

I barely speak Polish, I don’t speak Czech or Slovak. How I managed to get as far as I have is beyond me.
It was easy enough to figure out how to get on the train in Kraków. I then managed to find a seat on said train. Very soon, I was joined by three Spaniards who were later joined by their racist, misogynistic non-Spanish speaking friends (who therefore spoke English) & liked to regale others with their tales of “pussy bars” in Amsterdam & their experiences with a “Negro” woman at said bar. In between laughing & joking about such abhorrent subjects, they were drinking beer & smoking cigarettes every time the train stopped so that they reappeared stinking worse & worse. They also smoked in the bathroom which made me loathe to pee even when needed.
Meanwhile, I shut my eyes & tried to sleep. I think I did sleep a little. However, they thought I was asleep & couldn’t hear their disgusting chatter.

Eventually, I had to change trains. That was a trip (literally). It was 1am & we were in Czech at a place called Bohumín (Bohemia?). Once I figured out that it was at that place that I needed to change, I got off the train & went looking for a toilet.
I neglected to change money before I left Poland. Czech uses koruny & Slovakia uses Euros & I’m in the land of the pay toilets. Luckily, this woman in the snack bar took pity on me & let me use the toilet for free.
Thus relieved, I made a bed for myself on a bench, set my alarm & tried to sleep. I had a three hour wait ahead of me, but I was suddenly awakened by a tap on my shoulder.
It was the policija. I thought I had somehow broken some rule but he asked me where I was going. I told him Banska Bystrica & showed him my itinerary. He went away & came back saying that there was a train I could take now to my next change point. He escorted me to my train & told the stewards where I was headed.

I was so happy! Instead of waiting three hours, I had arrived & left the station within an hour. Not only that, but there was space to lay down in the new cabin. I managed to sleep a little & was quite comfortable.
Now, here’s the kicker. I should have arrived at my final destination three hours ahead of schedule, but that was not to be.
The train stops at various locations but they never announce the locations & the signs aren’t always visible from the train windows. I knew by the time that I was close to Vrutky, but didn’t see the sign until too late. We were leaving the station when my cabin mates pointed out that I didn’t get off the train at Vrutky.
I quickly found a steward who told me to get off at the next stop (& told the newly arrived Slovak girls in my cabin to tell me when to get off) & wait for the train going back to Vrutky. I would still make it to Banska Bystrica at the original time.

So, I got off & the same steward got off the train & told the station manager at the stop what happened & asked him to make sure that I get on the right train.

Note: much of the described dialogue is based on contextual evidence as well as some spoken word recognition. I paraphrase as I do not know for sure exactly what was said as it was all in Slovak.

I had a twenty minute wait & then the train came. The station manager came out & pointed for me to get on the train. This train was not ancient like the others, but shiny & new. It announced the stops & I was back at Vrutky within 30 minutes.

At Vrutky, I had 2.5 hours to wait for my train to Banska Bystrica. There were no big benches & no toilet. Actually, when I realized that I couldn’t wait to pee on the train, I asked for the toilet & when I got there it was closed. I still didn’t have any Euros anyway. I went back to the information desk & explained that I couldn’t wait for the train (she tried to tell me that my train would be here in 1.5 hours) & I didn’t have Euros.
She sent me across the street to the bus station but the toilet wasn’t open on Sundays (!). I asked the woman at a nearby kiosk & she sent me to a restaurant around the corner.
Note: it was before 7am & the restaurant was open & people were drinking alcohol. I was a bit nervous but the lady at the bar said I could use the toilet.
On the way out, this older man with long white/gray hair & beard wearing a cowboy hat, jumped up & grabbed my arm. He yelled at me & pointed to the bathroom. Everyone was looking. I chose to pretend not to understand & as his grip wasn’t so tight I was able to get away. I just walked normally to the door. The lady at the bar was telling him something but I didn’t understand. I was just glad to get away.
In the moment he grabbed me, I was terrified. I felt so unsafe in there & in an instant I believed I was about to be a victim of a hate crime.
Clearly, I survived, however, & eventually my train came. Thus, I arrived in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, to meet a friend I hadn’t seen for 8 years.

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Financial Difficulties

Hello all! Shit has hit the fan in Krakow with just two weeks left on my Super Crazy European Adventure (TM).

Apparently, my phone usage has been such that I owed more than I had in my bank account. Unbeknowst to me (and perhaps, I should have known this) roaming was not included in my plan and I’ve been roaming every minute of every day that I’ve been away. Also, I am charged just for having my phone on with a signal without using any applications because there is a data transmission.

So, now I’m broke and I can’t come home early without spending more money changing my tickets. But all is well! I’ve dipped into my emergency funds (that’s going to really hurt later) and I’ll be okay. I will still have massive phone bills for the next couple of months, but I’m confident that I will work it out.

For the moment, I’m on my roommate’s computer (it’s a German keyboard so forgive any excessive spelling errors) so I will give you an real update.

After returning from Lviv, I felt that my time in Krakow was done. I went to class, I partied, but I wasn’t feeling it anymore. I’m not really confident speaking Polish, though my reading and writing skills are good for my level. I’m getting better at understanding, but only basic stuff. Everyone talks so fast, though! We had our written and oral exams today and yesterday (yes, we  had exams!) and it looks like I will be getting a “B” in the course. I’m trying to be content with that.

As I mentioned before, my survival Polish helped me through my time in Ukraine and as I prepare to leave for Slovakia tomorrow (yay!) I think about how useful it will be there as well. I began refreshing my meager Slovak language skills and already I feel confident about my ability to (sort of) communicate with others. What will be different, though, is that I’m staying with a friend so I will have my own translator, if need be, but I’m going to try to communicate on my own. Unlike Polish, Slovak is much more dear to me and I would like to try at least ordering my own meals and asking for directions or something. I will be on the train for over 10 hrs overnight so I hope I will meet a friendly Slovak person I can chat with.

So, tonight we have the closing ceremony and a special dinner. Some of the classes are presenting something. Our class is doing a skit and I’m playing the part of “girl with attitude” (snort!). At the end, I get fed up and pull the fire alarm so my class can escape phonetic drills. It’s quite amusing.

Tomorrow, is my birthday and I will be 27 years old. Twenty-fucking-seven. Where does the time go???

I plan to drink at regular intervals throughout the day tomorrow to celebrate. Some of us are also going out for Polish pancakes in the morning (my favorite thing!). There’s the final field trip in the afternoon to the salt mines and then I’m probably just going to hang out that evening until I have to catch the train. I don’t leave until about 10pm tomorrow night. I’ve already packed my bag.

That’s pretty much it. I’ll try to keep you informed about my doings, but things are pretty tight right now so there will be even less blogging than I’ve been doing the last few weeks, if that’s possible. I’m pretty proud of myself, though. I didn’t think that I’d be able to keep up the blog and we’re 51 posts in, 2.5 months later and I STILL get daily hits on the blog. It’s been great! Thanks, again, for sticking with me.

Countdown to USA: 2 weeks! I can’t wait!

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